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  • What does a working mother look like?

  • If you ask the Internet, this is what you'll be told.

  • Never mind that this is what you'll actually produce

  • if you attempt to work at a computer with a baby on your lap.

  • (Laughter)

  • But no, this isn't a working mother.

  • You'll notice a theme in these photos. We'll look at a lot of them.

  • That theme is amazing natural lighting,

  • which, as we all know,

  • is the hallmark of every American workplace.

  • There are thousands of images like these.

  • Just put the term "working mother" into any Google image search engine,

  • stock photo site.

  • They're all over the Internet,

  • they're topping blog posts and news pieces,

  • and I've become kind of obsessed with them and the lie that they tell us

  • and the comfort that they give us,

  • that when it comes to new working motherhood in America,

  • everything's fine.

  • But it's not fine.

  • As a country, we are sending millions of women back to work

  • every year, incredibly and kind of horrifically soon

  • after they give birth.

  • That's a moral problem

  • but today I'm also going to tell you why it's an economic problem.

  • I got so annoyed and obsessed with the unreality of these images,

  • which look nothing like my life,

  • that I recently decided to shoot and star in a parody series of stock photos

  • that I hoped the world would start to use

  • just showing the really awkward reality of going back to work

  • when your baby's food source is attached to your body.

  • I'm just going to show you two of them.

  • (Laughter)

  • Nothing says "Give that girl a promotion" like leaking breast milk

  • through your dress during a presentation.

  • You'll notice that there's no baby in this photo,

  • because that's not how this works,

  • not for most working mothers.

  • Did you know, and this will ruin your day,

  • that every time a toilet is flushed, its contents are aerosolized

  • and they'll stay airborne for hours?

  • And yet, for many new working mothers,

  • this is the only place during the day that they can find to make food

  • for their newborn babies.

  • I put these things, a whole dozen of them, into the world.

  • I wanted to make a point.

  • I didn't know what I was also doing was opening a door,

  • because now, total strangers from all walks of life

  • write to me all the time

  • just to tell me what it's like for them to go back to work

  • within days or weeks of having a baby.

  • I'm going to share 10 of their stories with you today.

  • They are totally real, some of them are very raw,

  • and not one of them looks anything like this.

  • Here's the first.

  • "I was an active duty service member at a federal prison.

  • I returned to work after the maximum allowed eight weeks for my C-section.

  • A male coworker was annoyed that I had been out on 'vacation,'

  • so he intentionally opened the door on me while I was pumping breast milk

  • and stood in the doorway with inmates in the hallway."

  • Most of the stories that these women, total strangers, send to me now,

  • are not actually even about breastfeeding.

  • A woman wrote to me to say,

  • "I gave birth to twins and went back to work after seven unpaid weeks.

  • Emotionally, I was a wreck.

  • Physically, I had a severe hemorrhage during labor, and major tearing,

  • so I could barely get up, sit or walk.

  • My employer told me I wasn't allowed to use my available vacation days

  • because it was budget season."

  • I've come to believe that we can't look situations like these in the eye

  • because then we'd be horrified,

  • and if we get horrified then we have to do something about it.

  • So we choose to look at, and believe, this image.

  • I don't really know what's going on in this picture,

  • because I find it weird and slightly creepy.

  • (Laughter)

  • Like, what is she doing?

  • But I know what it tells us.

  • It tells us that everything's fine.

  • This working mother, all working mothers and all of their babies, are fine.

  • There's nothing to see here.

  • And anyway, women have made a choice,

  • so none of it's even our problem.

  • I want to break this choice thing down into two parts.

  • The first choice says that women have chosen to work.

  • So, that's not true.

  • Today in America, women make up 47 percent of the workforce,

  • and in 40 percent of American households

  • a woman is the sole or primary breadwinner.

  • Our paid work is a part, a huge part, of the engine of this economy,

  • and it is essential for the engines of our families.

  • On a national level, our paid work is not optional.

  • Choice number two says that women are choosing to have babies,

  • so women alone should bear the consequences of those choices.

  • You know, that's one of those things

  • that when you hear it in passing, can sound correct.

  • I didn't make you have a baby.

  • I certainly wasn't there when that happened.

  • But that stance ignores a fundamental truth,

  • which is that our procreation on a national scale is not optional.

  • The babies that women, many of them working women, are having today,

  • will one day fill our workforce, protect our shores,

  • make up our tax base.

  • Our procreation on a national scale is not optional.

  • These aren't choices.

  • We need women to work. We need working women to have babies.

  • So we should make doing those things at the same time

  • at least palatable, right?

  • OK, this is pop quiz time:

  • what percentage of working women in America do you think

  • have no access to paid maternity leave?

  • 88 percent.

  • 88 percent of working mothers will not get one minute of paid leave

  • after they have a baby.

  • So now you're thinking about unpaid leave.

  • It exists in America. It's called FMLA. It does not work.

  • Because of the way it's structured, all kinds of exceptions,

  • half of new mothers are ineligible for it.

  • Here's what that looks like.

  • "We adopted our son.

  • When I got the call, the day he was born, I had to take off work.

  • I had not been there long enough to qualify for FMLA,

  • so I wasn't eligible for unpaid leave.

  • When I took time off to meet my newborn son,

  • I lost my job."

  • These corporate stock photos hide another reality, another layer.

  • Of those who do have access to just that unpaid leave,

  • most women can't afford to take much of it at all.

  • A nurse told me, "I didn't qualify for short-term disability

  • because my pregnancy was considered a preexisting condition.

  • We used up all of our tax returns and half of our savings

  • during my six unpaid weeks.

  • We just couldn't manage any longer.

  • Physically it was hard, but emotionally it was worse.

  • I struggled for months being away from my son."

  • So this decision to go back to work so early,

  • it's a rational economic decision driven by family finances,

  • but it's often physically horrific

  • because putting a human into the world is messy.

  • A waitress told me,

  • "With my first baby, I was back at work five weeks postpartum.

  • With my second, I had to have major surgery after giving birth,

  • so I waited until six weeks to go back.

  • I had third degree tears."

  • 23 percent of new working mothers in America

  • will be back on the job within two weeks of giving birth.

  • "I worked as a bartender and cook, average of 75 hours a week while pregnant.

  • I had to return to work before my baby was a month old,

  • working 60 hours a week.

  • One of my coworkers was only able to afford 10 days off with her baby."

  • Of course, this isn't just a scenario with economic and physical implications.

  • Childbirth is, and always will be, an enormous psychological event.

  • A teacher told me,

  • "I returned to work eight weeks after my son was born.

  • I already suffer from anxiety,

  • but the panic attacks I had prior to returning to work were unbearable."

  • Statistically speaking,

  • the shorter a woman's leave after having a baby,

  • the more likely she will be to suffer from postpartum mood disorders

  • like depression and anxiety,

  • and among many potential consequences of those disorders,

  • suicide is the second most common cause of death

  • in a woman's first year postpartum.

  • Heads up that this next story --

  • I've never met this woman, but I find it hard to get through.

  • "I feel tremendous grief and rage that I lost an essential,

  • irreplaceable and formative time with my son.

  • Labor and delivery left me feeling absolutely broken.

  • For months, all I remember is the screaming: colic, they said.

  • On the inside, I was drowning.

  • Every morning, I asked myself how much longer I could do it.

  • I was allowed to bring my baby to work.

  • I closed my office door while I rocked and shushed

  • and begged him to stop screaming so I wouldn't get in trouble.

  • I hid behind that office door every damn day

  • and cried while he screamed.

  • I cried in the bathroom while I washed out the pump equipment.

  • Every day, I cried all the way to work and all the way home again.

  • I promised my boss that the work I didn't get done during the day,

  • I'd make up at night from home.

  • I thought, there's just something wrong with me that I can't swing this."

  • So those are the mothers.

  • What of the babies?

  • As a country, do we care about the millions of babies

  • born every year to working mothers?

  • I say we don't,

  • not until they're of working and tax-paying and military-serving age.

  • We tell them we'll see them in 18 years,

  • and getting there is kind of on them.

  • One of the reasons I know this is that babies whose mothers

  • have 12 or more weeks at home with them

  • are more likely to get their vaccinations and their well checks in their first year,

  • so those babies are more protected from deadly and disabling diseases.

  • But those things are hidden behind images like this.

  • America has a message for new mothers who work and for their babies.

  • Whatever time you get together, you should be grateful for it,

  • and you're an inconvenience

  • to the economy and to your employers.

  • That narrative of gratitude runs through a lot of the stories I hear.

  • A woman told me,

  • "I went back at eight weeks after my C-section

  • because my husband was out of work.

  • Without me, my daughter had failure to thrive.

  • She wouldn't take a bottle.

  • She started losing weight.

  • Thankfully, my manager was very understanding.

  • He let my mom bring my baby,

  • who was on oxygen and a monitor,

  • four times a shift so I could nurse her."

  • There's a little club of countries in the world

  • that offer no national paid leave to new mothers.

  • Care to guess who they are?

  • The first eight make up eight million in total population.

  • They are Papua New Guinea, Suriname and the tiny island nations

  • of Micronesia, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Niue, Palau and Tonga.

  • Number nine is the United States of America,

  • with 320 million people.

  • Oh, that's it.

  • That's the end of the list.

  • Every other economy on the planet

  • has found a way to make some level of national paid leave work

  • for the people doing the work of the future of those countries,

  • but we say, "We couldn't possibly do that."

  • We say that the market will solve this problem,

  • and then we cheer when corporations offer even more paid leave to the women

  • who are already the highest-educated and highest-paid among us.

  • Remember that 88 percent?

  • Those middle- and low-income women are not going to participate in that.

  • We know that there are staggering economic, financial, physical

  • and emotional costs to this approach.

  • We have decided -- decided, not an accident,

  • to pass these costs directly on to working mothers and their babies.

  • We know the price tag is higher for low-income women,

  • therefore disproportionately for women of color.

  • We pass them on anyway.

  • All of this is to America's shame.

  • But it's also to America's risk.

  • Because what would happen

  • if all of these individual so-called choices to have babies

  • started to turn into individual choices not to have babies.

  • One woman told me,

  • "New motherhood is hard. It shouldn't be traumatic.

  • When we talk about expanding our family now,

  • we focus on how much time I would have to care for myself and a new baby.

  • If we were to have to do it again the same way as with our first,

  • we might stick with one kid."

  • The birthrate needed in America to keep the population stable

  • is 2.1 live births per woman.

  • In America today, we are at 1.86.

  • We need women to have babies,