The Financial Stress Of Having A Baby In America Nearly Cost Me My Life

"After losing three months of income, taking out a loan on our house, paying enormous medical bills and paying for unexpected child care expenses, the financial stress compounded the 'mom-guilt.'"
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As we begin to unpack the horrifying ramifications of the Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs, little discussion is given to what happens after birth. Those celebrating the decision for “protecting life” ignore the millions of women who lose their life from the physical and mental complications that follow a pregnancy. I know because I almost lost my life to postpartum depression.

My husband and I were surprised, but excited, when I became pregnant within the first month of trying. After giving birth to my beautiful son in March of 2016, I returned to work three short months later. I began experiencing what I now know was postpartum depression ― though I didn’t realize it at the time.

I felt like I was stuck in a tunnel, where life passed me by, and I was on autopilot fighting to make it through the next minute. During my long commute to work, I’d figure out how I would theatrically make it through the day, planning the words, emotions and the faces I’d use to make everyone believe that I was okay. Sometimes my thoughts drifted to images of what would happen if I was in a deadly car crash.

Suicidal ideation is a strange thing to explain. In the middle of doing a perfectly normal activity, my brain would drift into “what ifs?” No one knew what laid behind my eyes as my brain created a detailed image of everything that would happen if I died. I began to think it would make everyone’s life easier, and everything would be fine without me.

Looking back, I realize that my postpartum depression was triggered and exacerbated by the financial stress that came with having a baby in America. I grew up in an unstable household surrounded by emotionally unstable adults and experienced periods of homelessness as a child. I was determined to give my child a better life.

In the midst of my suicidal ideation, the stress of becoming a financial burden scared me out of indulging the thoughts. But it also scared me out of seeking help, for fear I’d be a financial burden on my family.

My life changed overnight, but I never got the time to adjust to motherhood. I worked for a small business and was only able to take 12 weeks of unpaid maternity leave after giving birth to my son. In order to pay bills, my husband and I took out a home equity line of credit. No mother wants to leave their baby with a stranger to return to work, but I had this huge loan looming over my head and feared losing my career.

America is the only developed country in the world that doesn’t guarantee at least some form of paid parental leave. In its absence, parents, typically mothers, are expected to make a decision: Give up your career to care for your baby or return to work and find a way to pay for the exorbitant and ever-increasing costs of child care.

Lack of paid parental leave leads to physical and mental health problems for both parents and their babies. And in a country with the highest healthcare costs, many parents are forced to ignore their own health concerns. This contributes to America’s status of having the highest and only increasing maternal mortality rate of any developed country. Forcing people into parenthood only serves to worsen the physical and financial wellbeing of all Americans.

People like to place blame on poor planning or irresponsibility of families experiencing economic hardship, but nothing about having a baby in America is guaranteed. Our childcare plans fell through in my third trimester, when the family we trusted to be our child care provider moved out of state. When my son was born, he had medical complications that brought unexpected medical bills.

After losing three months of income, taking out a loan on our house, paying these enormous medical bills and paying for unexpected child care expenses, the financial stress compounded the “mom-guilt.” Women often feel pressure to have a thriving career and be a present wife and mother. But, when you pour everything you have into work and family, there’s rarely anything left to keep you going.

The final straw was feeling like I “failed” at breastfeeding. Through my postpartum stress and depression, I became fixated on “succeeding” at breastfeeding. But my son was born with a lip tie and tongue tie that made breastfeeding extremely difficult.

One night, while my son wailed out of hunger because I couldn’t feed or pump, I found myself on the floor, blinking through tears and staring at packages of formula, unable to bring myself to accept defeat in my internal battle to be the “perfect mom.”

As I began to succumb to these horrible feelings, I found myself alone in the kitchen with a knife in my hand. I thought it would be easier to die. I was sure my husband could do everything better than me ― better without me.

Luckily, my husband walked into the kitchen and found me holding the knife. After confiding in my husband, I started digging myself out of the pits of postpartum depression. He convinced me to seek out mental health resources and coached me out of my fear of the financial burden that taking care of myself might bring.

In therapy, I found strength to share my experience with others and realized I wasn’t alone. My friends and colleagues opened up about their own postpartum struggles and shared resources.

But even with a strong support network, and two incomes supporting our household, I had to fight to access basic mental health services.

When I think about the fall of Roe, I think that I “did everything right” in planning for a family, and yet, I almost lost my life. For the people with far less than I, how will they cope with something as life-altering as becoming a parent, without any support?

Raising a family in America is an adversarial process. If you don’t have time, money, familial support, an understanding employer with guaranteed income, great health insurance and you and your baby are fortunate enough to avoid any medical complications, you might not make it.

By placing people who don’t want to become parents into this situation, we guarantee more children will suffer in poverty while their parents struggle to exist in a system that sets them up for failure. And while I overcame my battle with postpartum depression, many parents won’t.

Forced parenthood won’t provide parents paid parental leave to care for their children. Forced birth won’t guarantee homes for children struggling in the system or surviving in abusive households. Stripping parents of reproductive healthcare won’t ensure their child has healthcare. The death of Roe won’t save a single life.

Rather, it guarantees more parents will suffer silently, or worse, until they lose the battle that I narrowly won.

If you or someone you know needs help, dial 988 or call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also get support via text by visiting suicidepreventionlifeline.org/chat. Outside of the U.S., please visit the International Association for Suicide Prevention for a database of resources.

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