I’ll Latch On, Mayor Bloomberg – If You’ll Wake Up

Recently, you probably noticed that I was irritated to learn about Mayor Bloomberg’s sudden interest in his female citizen’s boobies. Now that some time has passed, and more information and clarifications have come out regarding Latch On NYC, I thought I’d write a follow up to state that perhaps my first response was a bit harsh. No, I’m not admitting I was wrong – Me? Wrong? Never. But, yes, maybe I was a bit harsh.

It has been clarified that Latch On NYC was simply intended to be “a citywide initiative designed to support mothers who choose to breastfeed.” While original reports said that formula would be locked up and only given if medically necessary (and only after a firm talking to – don’t forget the talking-to), program representatives have since stated that when it came to those anti-formula details, they were totally j/k.  Whether it was that the p.r. for this program was just incredibly poorly handled, or that the city actually responded to the mommy blogosphere’s uproar about the infringement on women’s personal rights, we’ll never know.

What we do know is that it has now been clarified that there will be no locks, no fighting for formula, and no scolding. The program is simply intended to support mothers who state their intentions to breastfeed, allowing them to achieve the success they so badly desire without being sabotaged by easy access to formula. Well, why didn’t they just word it that way in the first place?

New York City has made great strides to support nursing mothers. First, they offer The New York City Mother’s Guide to Breastfeeding  as a resource to new mothers. They’ve established a Breastfeeding Mother’s Bill of Rights. They have established pumping at work laws. Truly, it looks like they are trying to trail-blaze a path when it comes to offering mothers information and education on breastfeeding. Now that some new light has been shed on NYC’s Latch On program, and they have clarified the fact that it will not be used as a weapon to berate formula feeding mothers, I’m changing my vote. I decided that this program is intended to be a positive step toward more education and support for struggling mothers. I am cool with it.

Maternity LeaveHowever.

{Pardon me while I mount my high horse.}

I think there is an easier solution, that still no one seems to give a rat’s ass about addressing. It’s that little thing called Parental Leave.

In the state of New York, mothers are eligible to receive short term disability due to medical reasons (ergo, childbirth) for a time limit not to exceed FMLA law (if the law applies to them). The state of New York will provide up to 50 percent of the mother’s salary, up to a maximum of $170 per week. An employer can offer additional maternity leave benefits, but there is no existing law that mandates any additional benefits be extended.

For my own knowledge, I did a brief poll within my online mommy group. There are a handful of women in the group from New York State. The response when I asked them about their leave policy was an overwhelming “Meh.” Nothing really to write home about. Pretty much on par with the rest of the nation.

You can find some more interesting (and more legitimate than my informal mommy group poll) factoids about NY maternity law in this article. A few things I’ll point out:

  • 70 percent of middle-class New York families have both parents working in order to meet the high cost of living.
  • Two-thirds of women work and nearly half of these women have children under the age of 18 at home.
  • Of these women, alarmingly, 40 percent have no paid sick days.

Oh, and that $170 – hasn’t been adjusted since 1989.

In 2006 the average weekly wage in Manhattan was $1,453, the highest among the largest counties in the United States, according to the Bureau of Labor.  Among young adults in New York who work full time, women now earn more money than men — approximately $5,000 more in 2005.  Average NYC rent is currently a whopping $3,418 per month.

I’m going to go out on a limb and say, “Duh.” It’s no wonder “90% of NYC mothers start breastfeeding, yet by the time the baby reaches two months, only 31% of NYC mothers are still exclusively breastfeeding.” (Cite.)

With a net worth of $22 billion in 2012 (i.e. the 11th-richest person in the United States), Mayor Bloomberg might not fully understand the implications and the correlation between these two things: maternity leave & breastfeeding. I’d venture to guess that his ex-wife could have stayed home when she had her babies, if she wanted to. But the fact of the matter is, not even the best “pumping at work” laws could make it easier for the rest of us working folk. The strict pumping schedule that must be maintained, combined with added job stress and the fact that pumping just plain sucks, makes it extremely, extremely hard to successfully provide breast milk to your child after you’ve gone back to work. Let’s face it, a large part of successful breastfeeding is supply and demand – if baby isn’t there to demand it, what do you think is going to happen to the supply?

I was a victim to this first hand. And I had it easier than most working mothers, being that I worked from home at the time. But my job was incredibly stressful – I was doing the job of my two colleagues that had been laid off during my leave plus my own, being asked to meet ridiculous deadlines, and getting phone calls at all hours. I was lucky if I had time to go to the bathroom, let alone sit for 20 minutes on my living room couch and allow myself to “relax” enough to get the 24 ounces that Charlie needed for his next day at day care. I would have just supplemented the shortage with my freezer stash, if my work hadn’t demanded I take a 3 day, 3 night trip away from my newborn son – which, of course, depleted my stash in its entirety.

My supply tanked. I did everything I could – drank disgusting teas, took herbal pills and liquids (that wreaked havoc on my intestines, btw)… I even contemplated ordering a non-FDA approved drug off the internet so that my supply would increase.

So what, you say? I was lucky to have a job and if I didn’t like it, I should just quit? Oh, I did.

But a new job didn’t solve my breastfeeding problems. When I started my new gig, I tried to keep up with the pumping in my first weeks. But I didn’t want to be the “new problem” that requested a 20 minute break 3 times a day and needed a special room. Yes, I know it was within my rights to ask for that – and if I did, they would have 100% complied I have no doubt. But, my supply was already almost non-existent.  I wasn’t interested in continuing to take the supplements that seems to stimulate my bowels more than my boobs – so I gave in at 6 months and one day.

Many of us do not have the option to be stay-at-home-mothers. Especially those who are paying an average $3,418 a month in NYC rent. It’s just not feasible – certainly not on $170 a week from the state of New York or the $0 a week provided by FMLA.

And before people start spouting “save money if you want to have babies.” We did that. My husband and I worked our butts off to get a 5-figure amount of money saved up before we decided to procreate. But lest ye forget, the majority of my generation (the ones making the babies right now) are up to our elbows in student loan debts, half of our paycheck is going to the federal government in order to support all the retiring baby boomers, and it’s safe to bet that a good chunk of us took it up the rear thanks to the recent mortgage crisis. (Oh, hey 80/20 loan with 9% interest that no one will refinance because we owe more than our condo is worth!) We are doing our best.

I’m not looking for a hand out. I’m looking for support. Like we support our unemployed with Unemployment Insurance. Like we support our sick with Long-term Disability. Like we support our uninsured with Medicare and state paid health insurance (MaineCare). Like we support our elderly and disabled with SSI. Okay, I get it, these social programs and insurance plans aren’t perfect. But my point is that they exist… Someone once thought “Oh, this person in society has it hard. Let’s create a platform designed to assist them.”  And thus a federally mandated program was born.

Working mothers like me (who didn’t get FMLA – which isn’t enough anyway) get practically nothing when it comes to support for birthing and caring for an infant. How is it that the value of motherhood is so low in our society? Not to mention, how is it that no one has correlated the fact that, if we mothers are better supported and able to stay home longer to breastfeed our children, healthcare costs may decrease significantly? Healthy baby – healthier adult – healthier society. No?

According to this article from the Daily Mail:

The U.S. has the highest maternal death rate of any industrialized nation and lags behind 30 developed countries for mothers’ well-being, a damning report says.

An American woman is more than seven times as likely as one in Ireland to die from pregnancy-related causes and her maternal death risk is 15 times that in Greece.

Only three developed countries – Albania, Russian and Moldova – had a worse maternal mortality rate than America’s 1 in 2,100, a Save the Children report said.

The U.S. is ranked 31st in the Mothers’ Index behind nations such as Estonia and Latvia, with its under-five death rate behind 40 other countries at 8 in 1,000 births.

An American child is therefore more than twice as likely as a child in Finland, Luxembourg or Singapore to die before reaching the age of five.

You want me to breastfeed for a year? Give me the support I need to do it! You can inform and educate until you are blue in the face, but that doesn’t negate the fact that until we have adequate parental leave, our maternal health and breastfeeding statistics probably are not going to change.

The Latch On NYC program is intended to “support mothers who choose to breastfeed.” And it’s a step in the right direction. But it’s a baby step, and we need a leap. Our maternal conditions are so poor here that we are literally dying. Our mothers and our babies need more help and more support than anyone cares to acknowledge.

So I’ll Latch On, Mayor Bloomberg – if you’ll Wake the Fuck Up. Give moms support where they need it most.

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