By Allison Stevens
Monday, May 24, 2010
Three provisions in health reform give mothers some needed help. In addition to mandating lactation breaks at work, there's money to fight postpartum depression and to bring nurses into the homes of new mothers.
(WOMENSENEWS)--I now have the luxury of closing the office door while I pump. But it's not always been that easy. I've pumped in bathroom stalls, in empty rooms and in front of open windows.
I've searched in vain for outlets while my breasts were bursting. There were also times I ran out of batteries mid-pump. I had to learn the hard way not to wear a dress to work. And I don't even want to talk about those damn breast pads.
The worst of it all came last week, when I left two half-sealed bags of breast milk in a paper shopping bag overnight on the top shelf of the office refrigerator. I logged in to my work e-mail account the following morning only to discover that my milk had spilled all over the fridge--and a co-worker had already cleaned up the mess. Sigh.
A recent online discussion explored further and possibly worse miseries.
One woman wrote of having to pump in an empty room with no lock, no chair, one eye-level plug and the occasional intruder bursting in.
Another recalled pumping in a clearly-labeled supply closet across from a conference room because it's the only private space available to her at work. "I've gotten more than one odd look when I come out of there after at least 15 minutes," she wrote.
Another told of having to pump in the bathroom stall for seven months. A younger coworker was so mystified by the "whirring machine" in the bathroom stall that she asked a colleague if she was self-administering chemotherapy.
Our ever-worsening horror stories remind me of the Monty Python sketch about the privations of childhood, where the characters keep topping each other until we get to the absurd recollection of waking up in the morning a half an hour before going to bed and working 29 hours a day.
Health reform to the rescue!
A little-mentioned provision in the new health reform law requires employers to provide workers with a reasonable amount of time and a private space--other than a bathroom--to express milk. The break time is unpaid and it lasts only a year, but still, this is a significant, long-awaited and much-needed victory for working mothers. Hallelujah!
Two other sweet provisions for mothers are also tucked into the health reform bundle.
One is the $1.5 billion for nurse home-visitation programs such as the Nurse-Family Partnership, based in Denver, which for three years will send registered nurses to the homes of first-time mothers who are low-income.
I can't imagine money better spent.
It's hard enough for women of means to keep up with the stream of prenatal visits, which, if I recall, start out at a reasonable rate of once-a-month but by the ninth month take place every week.
My two boys are now nearly 3 and 1, but it used to take a huge chunk out of my workday when I was pregnant to get to the hospital, park, wait in the doctor's office, see the doctor and then drive home. It also took a huge chunk out of my wallet to pay for gas, parking and child care for at least three hours, not to mention the co-pays and other insurance fees.
After my deliveries the doctor visits seemed endless. They start at birth and then take place at two days, four days, one week, two weeks, one month, three months, six months, nine months, one year, 18 months and two years--or something like that, according to my blurred memory of it all.
Throw in all the countless visits for everything from newborn acne to ear infections to feeding problems and new parents practically live at the doctor's office.
Another provision of the law provides $3 million for 2010 to support programs serving women suffering from postpartum depression and psychosis. Congress also authorized the secretary of Health and Human Services to supplement this funding with other available resources for 2011 and 2012.
Called the Melanie Blocker Stokes Mothers Act, the provision is named for a woman who committed suicide in Chicago in 2001 less than six weeks after giving birth.
"Millions of mothers nationwide who are suffering or will suffer from postpartum depression are among the winners as a result of the new health insurance reform law," said Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey at a May 6 press conference on Capitol Hill celebrating the passage of the act in advance of Mother's Day.
"These women understand that postpartum depression is serious and disabling and that the support structure to help prepare for and overcome it has been woefully insufficient. We will attack postpartum depression on multiple fronts--with education, support and research--so that new moms can feel supported and safe, rather than scared and alone."
That provision also supports research into the causes, diagnoses and treatments for postpartum depression and psychosis. Education on these ailments is also available for mothers and their families.
Health reform is hardly a panacea for young families, of course. My husband just went back to work last month after taking a two-month leave.
Losing him on the home front is a major jolt, making me wonder how families that barely get any maternity time off--much less paternity time--can possibly cope.
And then there's the ongoing issue of child care--but that's another column.
Allison Stevens is a writer in Washington, D.C. She writes for clients that lobby on behalf of women's issues.