Moms in the Workforce
By Krista Parry, CRUDE COO
May is Maternal Mental Health Month and I’m not sure it’s ever been more exhausting or challenging to be a mother in the workforce. There are currently 2.8 million fewer women in the workforce than before the pandemic and that’s not just a bummer for women’s equality - it’s an economic crisis.
Women have left the workforce at higher rates than men did even before the pandemic. A recent McKinsey & Company report found that women with children were significantly more likely than men with children to leave their jobs in 2021. That year, 1 in 3 women considered leaving the workforce or downshifting their career, versus 1 in 5 men. These pauses, stops, and downshifts directly impact women’s future earnings, furthering the already significant gap in workplace gender equality. There’s even a term for it: the Motherhood Penalty vs. the Fatherhood Bonus.
2022 has been a struggle. To start, we had to fight for Paid Family Leave when it was excluded from the Build Back Better bill. The originally proposed 12 weeks was whittled down to a mere 4 weeks and even that couldn’t get passed at the federal level. The U.S. is the only industrialized country in the world that doesn’t guarantee paid parental leave. Out of 193 countries in the United Nations, it is one of only a handful of countries that doesn’t offer paid family leave, with its peers mostly being small island nations in the Pacific Ocean. Instead, this burden is left up to the individual to take unpaid time off, an unsustainable practice for most regardless of role or industry.
And now, still in the middle of a global pandemic that has taken the life of millions, without guaranteed PTO or access to affordable child care, the U.S. is facing a formula shortage. Furthermore, instead of empathy and consideration of terrified parents unable to meet their child’s most basic needs, mothers are lambasted and chided for not breastfeeding.
“Why not breastfeed?”
“Mother’s milk is free…”
“Why do you need formula? Where is mom? Ever hear of mother’s milk?”
Even the famous Bette Middler tweeted her unhelpful opinion: “TRY BREASTFEEDING. It’s free and available on demand.”
Breastfeeding is not, in fact, the ‘easy’ or obvious choice. A year of breastfeeding equates to a conservative estimate of 1,800 hours of a mother's time. There are scant few who can provide that many hours of free labor, nor are there many companies that provide the flexibility and ease to allow working mothers to breastfeed or pump to maintain breastmilk. This recent breakdown dives further into the hidden costs of ‘free’ milk.
The decision to breastfeed - like any other decision involving one’s own body and how to raise one’s children - is highly personal, or may not be a choice at all. Mothers may use formula because they found breastfeeding difficult or painful, because of chronic infections, because their babies were unable to correctly latch, because their milk supply was too low, because their employment made it impossible—or because they simply made a choice that breastfeeding was not something that they wanted to do.
Prior to having my own children, I didn’t exactly think about how Paid Family Leave would impact me. I was an executive with a company where I had worked for nearly a decade and had saved up all of my PTO so I would be able to take time off when I had my baby. But that equated to only 5 1/2 weeks of paid time off and, as the breadwinner of my family at that time, that was what I could afford. I was fortunate that I had the means for child care and an extremely supportive partner who picked up all of the unpaid labor at home. Still, less than six weeks after delivering my boys, with my c-section scars barely healed, I headed back to work.
My breastfeeding journey was just that: a journey. It turned out that I didn’t produce enough milk, so from almost day one, I was supplementing with formula. But, society had told me that breastmilk was best so I kept pumping just hoping that the little bit of breastmilk that my boys got would be enough.
Why I didn’t just call it quits then, who knows. Instead, I went back to work where I frequently traveled, my trusty pump always at hand. I pumped all over the country, braving disgusting airport bathrooms (O’Hare probably takes the cake) before I faced the truth. It made little difference to my boys if they were getting breastmilk or formula, but it made all the difference to my maternal mental health. I retired the pump, focusing instead on other ways to nourish and connect with my children. Years later, I’m glad to report I have two happy, healthy boys who were ultimately formula-fed and turned out completely fine.
The toll childbirth, childcare, and now child feeding has on the mother is almost too much, and my own personal story comes from a place of relative privilege. These already heavy burdens only increase for low-income parents and mothers of color.
The cruelest irony is that this formula shortage is happening at the same time that the Supreme Court is about to force women to carry unwanted pregnancies with the full knowledge that individuals and our communities are ill-equipped to provide the care parents, infants and children need and deserve. Once again, the impact all of this has on the most marginalized is not lost on me. Yet, it’s hardly a surprise that the same leaders who have failed for years to take meaningful steps toward universal paid family leave or affordable child care are indifferent to what babies and their caregivers need to thrive — or even just survive.
It’s going to take all of us to transform this country into one that truly cares for parents and is prepared to support them in the ways that they need. Only when we get everyone on board—moms and dads, those who aren’t yet parents, and those who never will be, people who love kids and even people who can’t stand them—can we hope to create a world that will allow moms and all parents to thrive at home and in the workplace.
I wrote this article two weeks ago, when American mothers couldn’t feed their babies with the formula shortage. And now, following another mass shooting, our mothers and fathers fear for their children’s safety in school. Enough is enough. We need to demand action.
We at CRUDE are committed to fighting for the rights of parents and children, at every level. We need you with us! Here are three things we can do now:
- Use Your Voice: Call or email your local, state, and federal representatives telling them they need to support women’s choice, paid leave, child care, maternal mental health, and common sense gun control. Find your House Representative here.
- Use Your Vote: We need elected officials who will FIGHT for women’s rights.
- Use Your Dollar: Support companies that are championing women’s right and that are picking up the slack in supporting flexible work places.
A burden shared is a burden halved. Tell us your experience of being a parent in the workforce in the comments!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Krista Parry is the Chief Operations Officer of CRUDE Personal Care, an outdoor enthusiast, a marathon runner, and a proud mama of two boys. She’s based in CRUDE’s home state of Utah and you can follow her on IG @kristaparry.