Why Americans Should Be Spending Less On Weddings And More On Maternal Care

 
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I find it strange how much we as a culture focus on weddings. People spend so much money on having a big party… for what? To announce their love for one another? Usually they’re already living together, in this day and age, with the ridiculous cost of rent. Weddings are such an outdated tradition, yet the industry is raking in tens of billions of dollars each year. The average cost of a wedding in the U.S. is $33,391.

I never had a wedding. I couldn’t rationalize spending so much money on one day of my life when we knew what we really wanted was to have children together and own our own home. I decided I would rather invest that money in our future than throw a big party.

In my personal opinion, parenthood is a much bigger step. It is mentally, physically, and emotionally challenging. Crossing the threshold into parenthood is a rite of passage; it shouldn’t be an afterthought. A couple should absolutely plan to allot plenty of resources to care for themselves through this transition. Just think of the comfort that could be afforded with less than half of what the average wedding costs!

Listening To Mothers Survey data brief reports that in the first two months after childbirth 51% of women reported physical exhaustion, 58% reported sleep loss, and 43% reported not getting enough exercise. About 1/3 of the women surveyed reported that their postpartum physical and emotional health interfered at least some with their ability to care for their new baby. Many women reported that they were not getting enough healthy foods and they were unable to handle stress well. The reported rate of clinical postpartum depression among new mothers is between 10% to 20%, and we are now finding that postpartum anxiety may be even more common than postpartum depression. Anxiety and related disorders were found to affect more than 15% of pregnant and postpartum women, and suicide is one of the leading causes of death in postpartum women.

Photo © Kate Pavlovsky

Photo © Kate Pavlovsky

With these statistics in mind, it is shocking to me that our culture spends so much on extravagant weddings yet is willing to spend so LITTLE on maternal care. It got me thinking… do people even know all of the resources available to them throughout the childbearing year? I think not! I think for too long we have assumed that having a baby just sort of happens. We didn’t consider the mental and physical ramifications of being unprepared and unsupported. We knew that we needed items and services to care for the baby after they arrived, but we forgot to consider the mother (and father, for that matter).

I would like to reframe everyone’s expectations around prenatal and postpartum care. We need to expect and budget for AMPLE care throughout the childbearing year whenever possible. We need to consider it an investment in our mental and physical health instead of an “extra expense.” It is not extra, it is NECESSARY. It can make all the difference!

One of the first ways we can influence this cultural shift is to educate everyone about the various options they have when it comes to taking care of themselves throughout this time. 

Prenatal Care

Pregnancy is intense! You need to care for your mental and physical health throughout pregnancy. It is important to be able to afford wholesome, nutritious foods and high quality prenatal vitamins. Not only is it important to have a good care provider, you can also benefit greatly from holistic care such as regular chiropractic, massage, and acupuncture appointments.

Your Choice of Care Provider

Whether you want to birth with an obstetrician or a midwife, you would have the ability to choose freely regardless of cost. I have had quite a few clients who felt forced into a certain birth plan simply because it was all their insurance would cover. You don’t want to feel stuck with a care provider who isn’t serving you well.

Your Choice Of Birth Location

A recent USA Today investigation showed that about one in eight hospitals have complication rates of at least double the norm. When your life and your child’s life is at stake, you want to have the ability to choose the safest place to birth. The United States is the most dangerous place to birth in the developed world. About 700 women die and more than 50,000 suffer serious complications each year. For many years, hospitals have blamed the rising maternal deaths on poverty and pre-existing conditions, but USA Today’s investigations suggest that the deaths can be blamed on a mix of misdiagnoses, delayed care and a failure to follow safety measures. USA Today released a database of childbirth complication rates at maternity hospitals that families can access when they are making a choice about where to birth. You don’t want to feel pressured into birthing in a certain location that may not be your safest choice.

Photo © Kate Pavlovsky

Photo © Kate Pavlovsky

Birth Doula

A Birth Doula is like your Birth Fairy Godmother. They are hired as early on in the pregnancy as possible so they are able to support you every step of the way. Your doula is like your very own encyclopedia for all things birth and babies. They are equipped with a great deal of knowledge about your local birth & parenting community, so they can act as your “birth/parenthood” planner of sorts, referring you to the people and care providers who will serve you best. Most of them are available to you for advice throughout pregnancy, labor (obviously), and postpartum. No matter what question you have, they will have the answer or find someone who does. That is invaluable! Wondering why your baby’s poop just turned green? Text the doula! Wondering if this is the start of labor? Text the doula! Wondering which birth or parenting books you should bother reading? Text the doula! She probably has a lending library as well. Your doula is like your parenting side-kick. We want you to feel at peace throughout this transition and we will go above and beyond to ensure that we make the transition as smoothly as possible. Not only does your doula act as the “wedding planner” of the maternal care world, we also STAY WITH YOU throughout your entire labor & birth to keep you as comfortable and calm as possible throughout the experience. Doula care has been linked to less complications during birth, less interventions, a lower chance of cesarean section for first time mothers, a higher likelihood of establishing a good breastfeeding relationship, and a higher likelihood that the parents will rate their childbirth experience positively.

Childbirth Prep Classes

If this is going to be your first baby, you might want to invest in some childbirth prep classes. You can take classes focused on birth, newborn care, breastfeeding, or a mix of everything. They vary greatly in price, and can last anywhere from a few hours to several weeks of recurring meet-ups. Some instructors teach their own curriculum, while others have been trained in childbirth education by organizations like Evidence Based Birth or Birthing From Within (a couple of my personal favorites). It is a good idea to take an in-depth course before jumping into parenthood head first. You’d be surprised at all the things you don’t know!

Chiropractic Care

Chiropractic care throughout pregnancy is important for treating sciatic pain and pubic symphysis pain, and for creating space in your pelvis for your baby to settle into the most optimal position for birthing. Good chiropractic care throughout pregnancy can reduce the length of labor and reduce your risk of cesarean delivery. There are even techniques a chiropractor can use to encourage breech babies to turn! Chiropractic care is the most beneficial when part of a regular care regimen.

Massage

Massage has a wide range of benefits— relaxation, improved circulation, better sleep, reduced swelling, less aches/pains/tension, reduced stress, better labor outcomes, and more! Toward the end of pregnancy, many massage therapists (such as myself) offer “induction” massages, designed to gently nudge your body into labor to avoid unnecessary medical intervention. I highly recommend having regular massage appointments scheduled throughout your third trimester, but having them throughout your entire pregnancy is even better!

Acupuncture/Acupressure

Benefits of Acupuncture/Acupressure during pregnancy include: Relief of morning sickness & nausea; increased energy levels; treatment of migraines; reduction of aches & pains; easing or diminishing symptoms of depression & anxiety; encouraging labor, augmenting labor naturally, & reducing length of labor; improved sleep, and more. I usually recommend my clients begin acupuncture treatments in the third trimester to reduce their anxiety and stress levels, then increase the frequency after the 38th week of pregnancy, when the practitioner can begin using the points to encourage labor to begin. This significantly reduces the chances of going past 42 weeks, which means less unwanted interventions. Acupuncture/acupressure are accumulative, meaning it takes more than one treatment to trigger a response in your body. This is why it is recommended you have regular appointments leading up to your due date, instead of going once at 41.5 weeks in hopes it will bring your baby.

Photo © Kate Pavlovsky

Photo © Kate Pavlovsky

Photographer

This may not be an absolute necessity, but birth photography is definitely a service that could be factored into the budget. After all, we spend a heck of a lot of money hiring wedding photographers, don’t we? I’d say that having a baby is a WAY BIGGER DEAL than your wedding day. Don’t you want to remember every detail from such a powerful, life-changing event? I know I cherish the photos that were taken during each of my births! Even if you decide you don’t want a photographer present for the actual birth, MANY birth photographers (including myself) offer a “Fresh 48” option. For a Fresh 48 session, a photographer is still technically on-call, but they agree to show up within 48 hours of your baby’s birth. That means they’ll capture all the fresh details of your newborn: tiny fingers, wrinkled feet, and precious baby hairs. During labor, birth, and the early postpartum, your body naturally produces hormones which cause you to forget the experience. This is why having visual documentation of this day is so priceless. Without these photos you will only have a fraction of this experience logged in your memory, but with them you will have an everlasting reminder of this wondrous time, down to every important detail.

Postpartum Care

Oh, you thought pregnancy was intense? The postpartum period kicks it up a notch! Many women describe their first postpartum experience as feeling like they have been hit by a freight train. You are feeling exhausted, vulnerable, and somewhat overwhelmed with the task of caring for new life. You are required to learn a long list of new skills overnight: how to feed your baby, how to burp your baby, how to coax your baby to sleep, and more! That’s not including the care you need yourself. Perineal care, cesarean incision care, pelvic floor care, a healthy diet to maintain milk supply and energy levels, etc. The list goes on and on. The services listed below are necessary for easing the postpartum load. Trust me, it’s a doozy. Especially since only 25 percent of fathers have more than a week of paternity leave and a majority take only a single day off work after their partner has a baby. What is a mother to do when her partner returns to work and she is left caring for herself and their new baby? HIRE HELP, whenever possible!

Postpartum Doula

Remember that long list of new skills I mentioned you’ll need to learn overnight? Your postpartum doula can help you with ALL OF THEM. Postpartum doulas are highly skilled in caring for all your postpartum needs, as well as your newborn’s needs. We provide emotional support, evidence-based information regarding caring for your newborn, and practical support like helping with the laundry or preparing/bringing a nourishing meal. Postpartum doulas help reduce postpartum mood disorders and improve breastfeeding success rates. Some postpartum doulas offer overnight services so that you AND your partner are able to get some much-needed rest!

Photo © Kate Pavlovsky

Photo © Kate Pavlovsky

Lactation Consultants

Lactation consultants provide advice and hands-on help for anything about breastfeeding. In the beginning, they can help you with positioning baby, solving latch problems, or handling night feedings. Even after you have established breastfeeding, a lactation consultant can help with things like too much milk, too little milk, making the transition to work, or learning to pump. An International Board Certified Lactation Consultant® (IBCLC®) is a healthcare professional who specializes in the clinical management of breastfeeding. IBCLCs have a unique body of knowledge and skill to provide breastfeeding and lactation care in routine and high-risk situations. Most of the time, a doula can assist with the most basic breastfeeding issues, but if a problem persists or a lip/tongue-tie is suspected, usually your doula would refer you to an IBCLC.

Therapist/Counselor

Birth and motherhood are challenging. Sometimes, unfortunately, birth experiences can be traumatic. There are therapists who offer special birth trauma counseling to help women heal from PTSD following childbirth. Sometimes, even if you had a wonderful birth experience, depression and anxiety creep in during the postpartum period. If you have had depression or anxiety symptoms at other times in your life, this is even more likely. Plan on reaching out for help if you need it. Don’t suffer silently! Studies have shown that 1 in 5 postpartum deaths are suicide related. Don’t wait til it is overwhelming to talk about it. This is why it is important to have people checking in on you postpartum- people who know the signs of postpartum mood disorders, who can refer you to a counselor if you need one.

Pelvic Floor Therapy

Photo © Kate Pavlovsky

Photo © Kate Pavlovsky

There are many birth workers who agree that seeing a pelvic floor therapist after giving birth should be the norm. Many women have pelvic floor issues after childbirth! A weak pelvic floor can cause pelvic pain, pain with sex, leakage (fecal and urinary), back pain, rectal pain, and even organ prolapse. Even something as simple (and common) as bladder leakage after birth is not normal! Seeing a pelvic floor therapist can restore your pelvic floor before the problems get worse.

Other Self-Care

There are many other expenses to consider when it comes to taking care of yourself postpartum, mentally and physically. Self care can include gym memberships (with childcare), hiring babysitters so you and your partner have time to yourselves, hiring a maid to reduce your work load at home, and even things like ordering food or grocery delivery. I know MANY parents who take advantage of at least one of these services postpartum (usually food delivery… because let’s be real, grocery shopping and cooking can be overwhelming with a new baby to care for).

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Maternal care shouldn’t be an afterthought. Just as we plan for the baby’s needs, we should plan extensively for the mother’s needs during the childbearing year. If we can find the money for a wedding, why can’t we allocate those funds (or at least a portion of them) to our health?! The answer to maternal health does not lie in $34,000 drug infusions. We need to be providing high-quality holistic care to mothers throughout pregnancy, birth, and postpartum. Maternal care is not a luxury– it is a necessity. It is an investment in the health and future of our society as a whole.