TIME

Why Having Kids Won’t Fulfill You

hand in hand
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Jennifer Aniston, take note. You haven't failed as a woman if you don't have kids.

I was struck by the comments Jennifer Aniston made to Allure magazine this week about the badgering she gets on a topic that she finds painful: her lack of children. She tells the magazine: “I don’t like [the pressure] that people put on me, on women – that you’ve failed yourself as a female because you haven’t procreated. I don’t think it’s fair. You may not have a child come out of your vagina, but that doesn’t mean that you aren’t mothering — dogs, friends, friends’ children.” For Aniston, 45, the topic is fraught with emotion. “Even saying it gets me a little tight in my throat,” she said.

I thought about Aniston’s comments—what many women in their early 40s without children are forced to feel—and then I thought about my own life. In some respects I’m Aniston’s exact opposite: I’m a 41-year-old mother of two who spent my entire adult life telling myself that children were my destiny. I did what society and my family expected, never questioning the choice. But sometimes I wonder how much of the blueprint of my life was drawn by me, and how much was sketched by experiences I had when I was way too young to be the architect of my own destiny.

For all intents and purposes, my mother was single parent. My father left when I was twelve, but long before then my mother had taken over the head of the household role. She worked full-time as a waitress while my father flitted between different construction jobs. There always seemed to be an injury or a reason he wasn’t able to work. The image of him lying on our living room floor in front of our television is burned on my brain. He was there so much — diagonally and on his side with his head perched upon on his hand–I actually thought it was odd when I went to friends’ houses and their fathers weren’t in that prone position. I also found it odd that my friends’ parents shared a bedroom. My dad had taken up residence on the couch for so long, it seemed normal.

It was the obviously unhappy marriage that birthed the mantra my mother would repeat to me throughout my young life: “Do not depend on a man for anything.” That was followed closely by: “You and your sister are the best things I’ve ever done.” My mother made it clear that we were her reason for living. There was never a time I didn’t feel loved by my mother. But there was also a latent message that became clear after my father left: I am not alone because I have children. If it weren’t for you two I would be falling apart.

Before I hit adolescence, I decided that children were the only things that could fulfill me when I grew older.

“I’ve always wanted kids.” I don’t think I could possibly count the number of times in my life I have uttered those words. But, the same enthusiasm never escaped my lips when talking about marriage. I was never that girl who fantasized about her wedding day. So I skipped the marriage part, feeling like a renegade who was bucking the patriarchal confines of society.

It took five years for my partner and me to have a pregnancy that didn’t end in loss. After the third miscarriage, I began to panic: what if I really couldn’t have children? What would my life become? I was a bartender at the time that we were trying and my partner was a musician — we were in no way financially prepared for children. But the panic and fear that the narrative I had chosen for myself so many years earlier was not going to play out made me a woman consumed.

For five years we spent month after month trying for a child. The obsession I had with ovulation calendars and pregnancy tests only paused when a test came back positive, then the obsession switched to worrying about whether the pregnancy was going to last. I gave birth to a healthy baby boy in 2010, when I was thirty-eight. I was finally a mom.

My life changed — but only the daily tasks. I was still working full-time. Once we added a baby, the only difference was we now had no downtime. I was not a new person. I was the woman I had always been, I just added another label to my list of identifiers: friend, photographer, bartender, girlfriend, writer, mother. I reached the endgame, and nothing about myself had changed — save my ability to multitask.

My assumption that I was destined to be maternal made me never consider the idea that maybe I wasn’t. The possibility that I wasn’t actually hard-wired to mother never occurred to me until I looked into my child’s eyes for the first time and didn’t feel that thunderbolt everyone talks so much about. Those overwhelming feelings of love arrived eventually, but they certainly weren’t automatic.

Had we continued having infertility issues and not been able to conceive, I am certain that I would have felt that there was something “missing” from my life. But only because I believed the narrative my mother sold that children bring fulfillment. Since I’ve become a mother and seen that the essence of what makes me who I am has not changed, I’ve learned that nothing outside of you can fulfill you. Fulfillment is all about how you perceive the fullness or emptiness of your life. But how can a woman feel fulfilled if she’s constantly being told her life is empty without children? How can she ever feel certain she’s made the right decision if society is second-guessing her constantly?

There is nothing wrong or incomplete about building a life with a partner or alone, unburdened by the added stress of keeping another human being alive. This is something that men have always been allowed – women, not so much. A woman is constantly reminded of the ticking time bomb that is her biological clock. We don’t believe that a life without children is something a woman could possibly want. It’s why successful, wealthy women like Aniston are still asked the baby question every single time they sit down for an interview. Everyone is always looking for the latent sadness, the regret. What if it’s not there?

It’s been 40 years since the women’s liberation movement told us that just because we have a uterus, doesn’t mean we have to use it. We still don’t believe it. Whether we realize it or not, the necessity to tap into our maternal side is so wired into our being that we can’t escape it. If we could, there wouldn’t be debates about whether women could “have it all” or whether we were turning against our nature if we decide not to procreate.

I never questioned my desire to have children, because I didn’t have to; I took the well-traveled road. That desire is expected of me – it’s expected of all women. It took me decades to realize that the maternal drive I carried with me my entire adult life, the one that led me to try for five years to have children, may not have been a biological imperative at all. It may just have been a program that was placed into my psyche by the repeated mantras of a woman who was let down by a man and comforted by her children. That’s okay. I love my children and I’m happy about the experiences I’ve had and the paths that have led me to this place. But if this isn’t your place—whether you’re a famous movie star or not– you didn’t take a wrong turn.

 

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TIME motherhood

YouTube CEO: America Needs Paid Maternity Leave

Vanity Fair New Establishment Summit - Day 2
Youtube CEO Susan Wojcicki speak onstage during "Who Owns Your Screen?" at the Vanity Fair New Establishment Summit on October 9, 2014 in San Francisco, California. (Kimberly White--Getty Images for Vanity Fair) Kimberly White—Getty Images for Vanity Fair

It's not just good for women, it's good for business

YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki wrote an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal Wednesday reminding everyone that paid maternity leave isn’t just good for women, it’s good for business.

She cited a 2011 survey from California’s Center for Economic and Policy Research that found that, after California implemented paid leave, 91% of businesses said the policy had either a positive effect on profitability, or no effect at all. Wojcicki, who was the first Google employee to go on maternity leave and now runs YouTube, which is owned by Google, says she’s seen this firsthand:

That last point is one we’ve seen at Google. When we increased paid maternity leave to 18 from 12 weeks in 2007, the rate at which new moms left Google fell by 50%. (We also increased paternity leave to 12 weeks from seven, as we know that also has a positive effect on families and our business.) Mothers were able to take the time they needed to bond with their babies and return to their jobs feeling confident and ready. And it’s much better for Google’s bottom line—to avoid costly turnover, and to retain the valued expertise, skills and perspective of our employees who are mothers.

Best of all, mothers come back to the workforce with new insights. I know from experience that being a mother gave me a broader sense of purpose, more compassion and a better ability to prioritize and get things done efficiently. It also helped me understand the specific needs and concerns of mothers, who make most household spending decisions and control more than $2 trillion of purchasing power in the U.S.

As Wojcicki notes, paid maternity leave can reduce risk of post-partum depression, keep babies healthy, and encourage mothers to stay in the workplace, yet only 12% of private workers and 5% of low-income workers in the U.S. have access to these benefits. Every other developed nation in the world has government-mandated paid maternity leave, and when the UN‘s International Labor Organization surveyed the maternity leave policies of 185 nations, the U.S. was one of two countries that don’t guarantee paid maternity leave. Papua New Guinea is the other.

She wants America to get cracking on paid maternity leave, stat.

[WSJ]

TIME Parenting

Jennifer Aniston: People Call Me ‘Selfish’ For Not Being a Mom

"Life Of Crime" Premiere - Arrivals - 2013 Toronto International Film Festival
Actress Jennifer Aniston attends the premiere for "Life Of Crime" at Roy Thomson Hall on September 14, 2013 in Toronto, Canada. ( J. Countess--WireImage) J. Countess—WireImage

And correctly defines "feminism"

Even after years of the prying questions and condescending sympathy, it still bothers Jennifer Aniston when people ask her why she’s not a mom.

“I don’t like [the pressure] that people put on me, on women—that you’ve failed yourself as a female because you haven’t procreated,” she told Allure for their January issue. “I don’t think it’s fair. You may not have a child come out of your vagina, but that doesn’t mean you aren’t mothering—dogs, friends, friends’ children.”

The actress, who has gotten critical praise for her role in the upcoming film Cake, explained that she finds the incessant commentary about her maternal status hurtful. “This continually is said about me: that I was so career-driven and focused on myself; that I don’t want to be a mother, and how selfish that is…Even saying it gets me a little tight in my throat.”

Aniston also seemed well-prepared to answer the now-omnipresent questions about feminism–and why it’s such a complicated issue. “Because people overcomplicate it,” she said. “It’s simply believing in equality between men and women. Pretty basic.”

[Allure]

TIME women

I’m a Mommy Blogger and Proud of It

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Tetra Images—Getty Images/Tetra images RF

Lauren Apfel is the debate editor for Brain, Child Magazine.

Writing about motherhood is a backlash against the myth that parenting is something to be done and not discussed or valued

Call a woman a “mommy blogger” and you might as well be slinging mud. The expression, as it is most commonly used, is patronizing at best, derogatory at worst. What’s more is that it manages to offend on dual levels: a seeming contempt for both motherhood and the way mothers write about themselves. And yet, suffice it to say: I am a mommy blogger and proud of it.

Before I became a mommy blogger, I wrote a monograph titled The Advent of Pluralism: Diversity and Conflict in the Age of Sophocles. The book was about the meta-ethical theory of pluralism as it manifested itself in pre-Platonic Greek thought. Now I have a website, where I write about parenting and children—the tragedy of sibling rivalry as much as the comedy of a six year old’s staged wedding. Is this a change in subject matter tantamount to a fall from grace? I imagine many among the literati would consider it so.

The idea that motherhood is a topic worthy of serious reflection is only in its infancy. “Women have mothered since life began,” writes Katherine J. Barrett, the editor of Understorey Magazine, an online publication dedicated to “unspoken” stories about mothering. But “the history of books about motherhood spans roughly 40 years.” Whatever the root cause of this fundamental imbalance—and I suspect it’s closely linked to the general undervaluing of what was once referred to as “women’s work”—times they are a changin’. Today the web is crawling with women trying to make sense of their topsy-turvy lives as parents by encapsulating that process of analysis in some kind of narrative form.

Blogging serves as an emotional and intellectual outlet for mothers, but it is becoming more than that too. Now mommy blogging is a new line of “women’s work.” As is true for many of my fellow bloggers, my original career path careened off its track once I had children. And because my previous existence as an academic—like the lawyers and publicists and educators I know who occupy the mommy blogosphere with me—had natural touching points with the written word, it wasn’t terribly surprising that I turned to the keyboard for something to do, for a way back to myself, when the babies came one after the other and I decided to stay home with them. Nor was it surprising that the creatures who filled my days would also be the ones who filled my pages.

Nobody, of course, objects to writing about motherhood or children in principle. Mommy blogging gets a bad rap in particular because of its origins in a certain sort of confessional writing that can be traced back to the “weblogs” of the early noughties. Lisa Belkin, herself the creator of the New York Times’ Motherlode blog, describes one of these prototypes, dooce.com, as “a daily reality show on a smaller screen.” That is to say: gritty, highly personal and animated by a sense of “the wartier, the better.”

This “bad mother,” “oversharenting” rendition of the mommy blog is one of the most popular, the locus classicus of the genre. It is a trope made famous by Ayelet Waldman in her 2009 book and the fodder for hugely popular websites like Scary Mommy. Here we have women chronicling their mundane parenting “fails,” but also, in a more sublime vein, probing the ambiguity they feel about becoming mothers in the first place. It’s easy to dismiss this type of writing as navel-gazing fluff, the epitome of the first-world problem. But the psychological effect of being able to articulate such feelings in a public space, in an age when parenting is an increasingly isolated and pressured endeavor, is not to be underestimated.

And yet, just because these essays have healing power doesn’t make them especially literary (though some, like Waldman’s, invariably are). That’s fair enough. What skeptics have to realize, however, is that the self-deprecating, bad-mommy blog is only one fish caught by a rather large net. For as it has evolved over the last decade, mommy blogging has moved beyond the merely confessional to blossom into a multi-faceted branch of the online publication industry. “Mommy lit,” as Barrett urges, has indeed grown up. One need only look at the highbrow creative nonfiction at sites such as Brain, Child Magazine or the important advocacy work being done on topics such as special needs and postpartum depression.

Furthermore, parenting writing is no longer its own contained niche. It is stretching its tentacles into other fields, with sophisticated results. Revered humor sites such as McSweeney’s Internet Tendency publish parenting pieces. Prestigious literary magazines such as the Rumpus and cultural magazines such as Aeon do as well. There is rigorous evidence-based analysis of salient childcare questions at Slate’s Double X. Major broadsheets such as The New York Times and The Washington Post have their own parenting blogs. And they even publish parenting-themed articles in their regular opinion and style sections.

Do these articles still count as “mommy blogging”? I submit that they do. Because what they all have in common is the belief by the women who penned them that their lives as mothers—their struggles as much as their successes—are worthy of documentation and publication, that they are, in fact, worthy of the craft of writing itself. This is the true legacy of the mommy blog and it is one we should embrace because of the label’s groundbreaking beginnings, not in spite of it.

For what we are doing as mommy bloggers, with our diverse voices and approaches, is a collective exercise in cultural counterpoint. It is a backlash against the myth that parenting is something to be done and not discussed or valued and it is a backlash against the debilitating contemporary notion that there is only one right way to do it. And for those of us who write about motherhood when we could be writing instead about, say, the ancient Greeks, it is a way to use history or philosophy or whatever other tools we have at our disposal to better understand the essence of our shared humanity and, in turn, to better understand ourselves.

Lauren Apfel is a writer and mother of four (including twins). She blogs at omnimom.net and is the debate editor for Brain, Child Magazine. Connect with her on Twitter and Facebook.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME motherhood

Alyssa Milano Talks About the Joys of Breastfeeding

The actress quit her ABC show in order to avoid uprooting her young children

New mom Alyssa Milano shared a picture of herself nursing her 7-week old daughter Elizabella on Instagram Monday.

The picture was accompanied by a quote from Czech writer Milan Kundera that read: “Ah, the joys of suckling! She lovingly watched the fishlike motions of the toothless mouth and she imagined that with her milk there flowed into her little son her deepest thoughts, concepts, and dreams.”

The actress announced Sept. 30 that she would not be returning to her ABC show Mistresses, because the show was shooting season 3 in Vancouver and she did not want to uproot her two young children. Here’s the announcement she posted on her blog:

After two wonderful seasons in Los Angeles, the studio has decided to shoot season three of Mistresses in Vancouver, Canada for financial reasons. It’s with a heavy heart that I have decided that I can’t relocate. I have two babies under 4. Being a mother and wife comes first and I just can not uproot my children and separate the family by moving away.
I will miss this job desperately and wish everyone the absolute best.

In addition to baby Elizabella, Milano also has a son Milo, who is 3.

TIME Books

Here Are Some Sex Tips From Amy Poehler’s New Book (Plus Insight on Motherhood and Divorce)

2014 ELLE Women In Hollywood Awards - Arrivals
Amy Poehler arrives at the 2014 ELLE Women In Hollywood Awards at Four Seasons Hotel Los Angeles at Beverly Hills on Oct. 20, 2014 in Beverly Hills. Steve Granitz—WireImage

The Parks & Rec star's new book, Yes Please, is out on Oct. 28

Amy Poehler’s new book, Yes Please is out today, and the title pretty much sums up everyone’s attitude when we heard the notoriously nice funnywoman was finally writing a book. An Amy Poehler book? Yes please! That’s probably where she got her title.

The Parks & Rec star explains where she got her title, in a winning yet insightful passage in the book’s introduction:

It’s called Yes Please because it is the constant struggle and often the right answer. Can we figure out what we want, ask for it, and stop talking? Yes please. Is being vulnerable a power position? Yes please. Am I allowed to take up space? Yes please. Would I like to be left alone? Yes please…”Yes Please” sounds powerful and concise. It is a response and a request. It is not about being a good girl; it is about being a real woman.”

But if you can’t pick up the book, or your bookstore is out of it, or you’re waiting in a line behind everyone else in the world and just want to know the highlights, here they are:

On hot sex tips:

In the “World Famous Sex Tips” chapter, Poehler has some choice advice for women and men about how to get it on:

For women:

Try not to fake it: I know you are tired/nervous/eager to please/unsure of how to get there. Just remember to allow yourself real pleasure and not worry about how long it takes…God punished us with the gift of being able to fake it. Show God who the real boss is by getting off and getting yours.

For men:

Be nice, tell your woman she is hot, never shame her, and never hurt her.

Also, she advises not to let your kids sleep in your bed, which is probably a good idea for both men and women.

On her mantra for women who make different choices:

Poehler describes the experience of giving birth to her first son, and making choices about delivery that were different from what her friends were doing (she opted for lots of drugs, not a “natural birth.”)

Good for her! Not for me. That is the motto women should constantly repeat over and over again. Good for her! Not for me.

Poehler also notes that her OB-GYN had delivered Sophia Loren’s children, which was fitting because she (Poehler) has “the Angelina Jolie of vaginas.” This celebrity gyno doesn’t end up delivering Poehler’s son, but you’ll have to read the book to find out why…

On motherhood, and why “every mother needs a wife:”

Poehler has an excellent chapter on motherhood, titled “Every Mother Needs a Wife.” At first, she gets into the down-and-dirty of the mommy wars (perfectly lampooning the subtle digs of working and stay-at-home moms.)

“The ‘I don’t know how you do it’ statement used to get my blood boiling. When I heard those words, I didn’t hear ‘I don’t know HOW you do it.’ I just heard ‘I don’t know how you COULD do it.’ I would be feeling overworked and guilty and overwhelmed and suddenly I would be struck over the head by what felt like someone else’s bullsh*t. It was an emotional drive-by. A random act of woman-on-woman violence…

But then Poehler gets to what she actually means by “every mother needs a wife.” The chapter ends with a touching tribute to the nannies who care for her children, similar to the tear-jerking toast she gave at the TIME100 gala in 2011. These women, she says, are her wives.

“Do you know how I do it? I can do it because I have a wife. Every mother needs a wife… Some mothers’ wives are their mothers. Some mothers’ wives are their husbands. Some mothers’ wives are their friends and neighbors. Every working person needs a wife who takes care of her and helps her become a better mother… the biggest lie and biggest crime is that we all do this alone and look down on people who can’t.

On divorce:

True to form, Poehler doesn’t dish any juicy details at all about her 2013 divorce from comedian Will Arnett, but does write insightfully about how difficult the process was.

“Imagine spreading everything you care about on a blanket and then tossing the whole thing up in the air. The process of divorce is about loading up that blanket, throwing it up, watching it all spin, and worrying what stuff will break when it lands.

She notes that she isn’t going to get into any specifics, because it’s “too sad and too personal,” but she will say this:

“I am proud of how my ex husband, Will, and I have been taking care of our children; I am beyond grateful he is their father and I don’t think a ten-year marriage constitutes failure. That being said, getting a divorce really sucks. But as my dear friend and relationship sponsor Louis CK has noted, “divorce is always good news because no good marriage has ever ended in divorce.

On awards shows:

Poehler has been nominated for many acting awards (mostly for Parks & Rec, although she was nominated for two Emmys for her time at SNL, and for some movies). Although she has not yet won an Emmy for Parks & Rec, she is known for staging “bits” with other nominees to take some of the pressure off who wins. Here’s why:

“The worst part of being nominated for any award is that despite your best efforts, you start to want the pudding. You spend weeks thinking about how it doesn’t matter and it’s all just an honor, and then seconds before the name of the winner is announced everything inside you screams… “GIMME THAT PUDDING!!” Then comes the adrenaline dump, followed by shame.

She describes all the various stunts she’s pulled at awards shows, from wearing fake mustaches to pretending to be in a beauty pageant to switching speeches with Julia Louis Dreyfus, to a fake flirtation with George Clooney.

“The lessons? Women are mighty. George Clooney loves bits. Doing something together is often more fun than doing it alone. And you don’t always have to win to get the pudding.”

On doing drugs:

She’s pretty open about her drug use, which is kind of awesome. The verdict: weed rocks, cocaine feels great but terrible the next day, and everything else ruins lives.

“In my twenties I tried cocaine, which I instantly loved but eventually hated. Cocaine is terrific if you want to hang out with people you don’t know very well and play Ping-Pong all night. It’s bad for almost everything else… The day after cocaine is rough…The next day is the thing I can’t pull off anymore. How do you explain to a four-and-six-year old that you can’t play Rescue Bots because you have to spend all day in bed eating Cape Cod potato chips and watching The Bicycle Thief?

But is she worried that her kids will read the book and think drugs are okay? Nah.

“What’s more boring than your own mother’s take on her own life? Yawn. Also, I am counting on everyone living on the moon by the time my children are teenagers, and that they’ll have really interesting space friends who are kind and good students and think drugs are lame and “totally, like, Earthish.”

More, please!

Read next: Marcel the Shell (With Shoes On) Is Back

TIME motherhood

Meet the New Poster Girl for Working Moms

2014 Toronto International Film Festival - Day 3
Jennifer Garner arrives at the photo call of Men, Women and Children held during the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival on Sept.6, 2014 in Toronto, Canada. Michael Tran—FilmMagic

This article originally appeared on Levo.com.

It reads like a column of “Stars, They’re Just Like Us.” Jennifer Garner, in the latest issue of InStyle, reveals how she balances life as a sought-after actress and mother of three—who just happens to be married to a very busy Batman (aka Ben Affleck). Here, three times I felt like she was cribbing lines from one of my working mom friends:

On Realizing that 3 Kids Is a Game Changer:

It takes a village to raise a child, indeed, and Garner certainly has the means to hire a slew of babysitters. But her house is no whip-the-children-away Downton Abbey. You can’t help feel that she really wants to do this raising-kids thing just like you and me—using babysitters when necessary, but taking on the bulk of the parenting responsibility. And then, you’re suddenly outnumbered. “When I had him, Ben and I looked at each other and said, ‘Wow,’” Garner says. “I just felt overwhelmed. I don’t think I returned an email or a phone call for at least a year.”

On Making Time for Your Partner:

After tending to work, kids, and your home, your partner’s needs typically come last. This isn’t a good thing, it’s just reality. And a super couple like Ben and Jen face the same dilemmas. “It’s all about having your efforts acknowledged, ” Garner says. “When he’s filming, I spend a lot of time on set. At night, after I put the kids to bed, I’ll sit with him at the monitor. And sometimes you have to say, ‘This is all good, but I need a date.’”

(MORE: What all Working Parents Need Right Now)

On Balancing Work and Life:

Garner said after filming three movies in one year, she’s going to take a year off from work. Not everyone can be this fortunate (insert eye roll here), but the truth in what she’s saying holds true. The prioritizing-work scale needs to tip back and forth when you have two career-driven partners who both want to be involved in their kids’ lives. This doesn’t mean one person needs to opt out; rather, you both need to plan for the toll a certain project or busy season in your career (hello, accountants) will take on your family life. “When Ben is directing, he works around the clock,” Garner says. “He’s always preoccupied. So before he directs something, we have to ask, ‘Are we up for this? Are we ready?’ We have to do things as a team.”

If one partner is contemplating starting a new company, the other can’t also decide to do whatever it takes to make partner or take on a travel-heavy assignment, if it’s in your control. Ideally, there’s an ebb and flow to work pressure.

Fifty-fifty partnership role-model Sheryl Sandberg said in a 60 Minutes interview, ”Everyone knows that marriage is the biggest personal decision you make, but it’s the biggest career decision you can make. … Partner with the right person because you cannot have a full career and a full life at home with the children if you’re also doing all the housework and childcare.”

InStyle is a sister publication of TIME.

(MORE: 10 Questions You’re Afraid to Ask About Maternity Leave)

MONEY First-Time Dad

These Are the Countries with the Best Maternity Leaves

Luke Tepper
Mrs. Tepper took off four months to take care of this guy—and was paid dearly in smiles and dirty diapers. Ken Christensen

New dad Taylor Tepper argues that America needs to catch up with the rest of the world in terms of providing paid time off to new moms.

Two weeks ago, Mrs. Tepper returned to her full-time job—almost six months after giving birth to our son Luke.

She wasn’t altogether excited about the idea of leaving Luke in the hands of someone else while she relived paler experiences like commuting. Nevertheless, Mrs. Tepper soldiered on, and we ended our four-month experiment of living in an expensive city with a new child and without the income of the chief wage earner.

Right up there with “Is it a boy or a girl?” and “What name are you going with?” is another question every new mother should be prepared to answer: “How much paid time off do get from work?” If your answer is anything longer than a few weeks, you can pretty much guarantee kind words and jealous eyes in response.

We were fortunate. Mrs. Tepper, who works as a teacher, received around two months of paid maternity leave and was allowed to take the rest of the school year off unpaid. I got two weeks paid.

Most Americans are not so lucky. The land of the free and the home of the brave is one of two of the 185 countries or territories in the world surveyed by the United Nation’s International Labor Organization that does not mandate some form of paid maternity leave for its citizens. Many are familiar with the generosity of Scandinavian nations when it comes to parents bringing new children into the world, but who would believe that we trail Iran in our support of new families?

Iran mandates that new mothers receive two-thirds of their previous earnings for 12 weeks from public funds, according to a the ILO report. In America, mothers are entitled to 12 weeks of unpaid leave—but only if they work for a company that has more than 50 employees, per the Family and Medical Leave Act. And, for some context, more than 21 million Americans work for businesses that employ 20 people or fewer, per the U.S. Census Bureau.

The ILO report is full of unflattering comparisons that will leave American workers feeling woozy. Georgia—the country—allows its mothers to receive 18 weeks of paid time off at 100% of what they made before. Mongolia gives its new moms 17 weeks of paid time off at 70% of previous earnings. (Mongolia’s GDP is $11.5 billion, or about a third of Vermont’s.)

Lest you think paid time off for moms is a poor-nation phenomenon, Germany’s mothers receive 14 weeks of fully paid time off, while Canadian mothers can look forward to 15 weeks of 55% of their salary.

There are pockets of help stateside. Five U.S. states provide paid maternity leave: New York, New Jersey, Hawaii, California and Rhode Island. In Rhode Island, for example, mothers receive four weeks of paid leave—ranging from $72 to $752, depending on your earnings.

Meanwhile, however, the ILO’s maternity leave standard states that all mothers across the board should be entitled to two-thirds of their previous salary for at least 14 weeks.

Look, I’m not really saying that American women should defect to Iran or Mongolia or Georgia to push out their progeny. But it defies logic that we are the only developed nation not to have a national system in place that helps new families adjust to their new lives.

The benefits of implementing some compulsory system of continuing to pay women for a defined period of time after they give birth are known. Based on California’s family leave policy, which was instituted in 2004, economists found that employment prospects for a mother nine to twelve months after childbirth improved (meaning: more moms at that stage were employed after the bill than before it). Additionally, other research has found that mothers who return later to work are less likely to be depressed.

New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and Connecticut Representative Rosa DeLauro (both Democrats) introduced the Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act last year which, among other things, would provide new mothers with 12 weeks of paid leave at two-thirds of their previous salary up to a cap. But the Act is not yet a law.

A few years ago, Mrs. Tepper was in graduate school, and I waited tables. We made much much less than we do now and enjoyed no financial security. Often when I’m playing with Luke I find myself thinking, “What would we have done if he was born then?”

Taylor Tepper is a reporter at Money. His column on being a new dad, a millennial, and (pretty) broke appears weekly. More First-Time Dad:

TIME Family

10 Myths and Facts About Breastfeeding

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August is National Breastfeeding Awareness Month—and while breastfeeding rates in the United States continue to rise (nearly 80% of infants born in 2011 started to breastfeed), there’s still a lot that people don’t know about the topic. Does it hurt? Will my child not be as smart if I don’t do it?

We spoke with Kathy Mason, a registered nurse and International Board Certified Lactation Consultant with Riley Hospital for Children at Indiana University Health, to clear up some common myths and misconceptions.

This guide is helpful for women making the decision whether to breastfeed their children—and for people tempted to comment on another woman’s choice on the matter.

New moms don’t make enough milk

MYTH

It’s true that women don’t produce milk for three to five days after giving birth, but they do make a thick, concentrated liquid called colostrum—and for the first few days, that’s all a newborn needs, Mason says. “Moms worry that they’re not producing enough right away, but it’s very normal for the baby to nurse and not take more than two teaspoons at a time.”

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It’s better for baby’s weight and IQ

MYTH

If you aren’t able to breastfeed your baby—or you decide not to—you can rest easy knowing that the beneficial effects of breast milk on babies’ weight and intelligence appear to have been overstated. A 2014 Ohio State University study looked at families in which one baby was breastfed and another was fed formula and found no “breast-is-best” advantage in one child over the other. Though Mason says breast milk does have one clear advantage over formula: It contains antibodies that protect baby from infection.

It helps you shed baby weight

FACT

Moms who breastfeed burn about 300 to 500 extra calories a day compared to those who feed their babies formula, and research shows that they do tend to slim down faster. Breastfeeding also releases hormones that trigger your uterus to return to its pre-baby size and weight faster. “When the baby starts nursing you can actually feel uterine contractions as it starts to shrink,” says Mason. “It’s nature’s way of getting your body back into shape.”

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It’s normal to have difficulties

FACT

While most women should be able to breastfeed their newborns, it’s not always easy: In a 2013 survey published in Pediatrics, 92% of new moms had at least one concern on their third day of breastfeeding—such as the baby not latching properly, low milk supply, or breast pain—and only 13% breastfeed exclusively for six months as is recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

“Unfortunately, we send moms home from the hospital after just two days, and the days immediately after that are the hardest ones for breastfeeding,” Mason says. Women having trouble should know where to turn for advice, she adds: Most hospitals have breastfeeding support groups or offer out-patient consultations, and moms can also take advantage of the La Leche League‘s toll-free breastfeeding helpline: 877-452-5324. Many hospitals have classes you can take before the baby arrives, so ask if you’re interested.

It may protect against postpartum depression

FACT

A 2012 study in the International Journal of Psychiatry in Medicine found that women who breastfed were less likely to be diagnosed with postpartum depression over the first four months than those who bottle-fed. Researchers aren’t sure what the connection is, but Mason suspects it has to do oxytocin, the “feel-good hormone” produced when a baby nurses. “Plus, if breastfeeding is going well, it helps mom feel confident that she’s able to provide for her baby,” she adds. A 2011 study from the University of North Carolina suggests the opposite link may exist, as well: New moms who have negative breastfeeding experiences within the first two weeks had an increased risk of PPD.

Alcohol helps with milk letdown

MYTH

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, booze is not a galactagogue, which is a substance that promotes milk production. (Studies have shown that drinking beer can boost hormones associated with breast milk creation, but it’s actually the barley and hops that are responsible.) So what actually helps with milk letdown? Relaxation for mom, and skin-to-skin contact between mom and baby, Mason says. “When moms put babies up to their chests, their hormones just go wild,” she says.

You can’t breastfeed after breast surgery

MYTH

Mason has seen many women with breast implants nurse their babies successfully; these surgeries often involve incisions on the underside of the breast that don’t interfere with milk production or delivery. Women who have had breast reductions, on the other hand, may have more difficulty—especially if nerve endings around the nipple have been cut. “You may not know until you try to nurse,” Mason says.

It makes your boobs sag

MYTH

One reason many women with breast implants don’t breastfeed (or stop earlier than planned) is because they think it will change the appearance of their breasts, according to a 2011 study from the American Society for Plastic Surgeons. But, as the study authors point out, it’s the number of pregnancies a woman has—not whether she breastfeeds—that causes breasts to sag over time. That’s true with or without implants.

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It’s supposed to be painful

MYTH

“A lot of moms expect breastfeeding to hurt, and it is true that mom’s nipples may feel tender for the first couple of weeks,” says Mason. “But if the baby’s latching properly, there shouldn’t be real pain or soreness.” That’s why it’s so important to talk to a lactation consultant at the hospital (and perhaps after you go home) who can help you and your baby make the process as comfortable as possible, she adds.

It’s important to stay hydrated

FACT

Not drinking enough water can certainly affect how much milk you’re making, says Mason, which is why it’s important to stay hydrated (among other reasons). But you don’t have to go overboard, she cautions: “You don’t have to drink until it’s coming out of your ears; in fact, research suggests that overhydration can also decrease milk production, just as dehydration can.” Judge your hydration levels by your urine color, she recommends: light yellow means you’re drinking enough, dark means you should sip more.

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This article originally appeared on Health.com.

TIME motherhood

What the Recent Drop in Single Motherhood Really Means

Thanasis Zovoilis—Getty Images/Flickr RF

Another way to look at the recent figures

According to a new report just released by the National Health Center for Health Statistics, there has been a sharp decline in the number of kids born to single moms.

About 1.6 million women who weren’t married had kids in 2012, down from 1.75 million in 2007 and 2008. And more of those kids were born to co-habiting couples than before. Since not having two parents around is linked with an increased likelihood of having a lousy childhood and a more difficult life, that should be a cause for rejoicing.

This is the first significant decrease in several decades in what’s known as “nonmarital births.” (Probably “out-of-wedlock” sounded too Jacobean). But on closer inspection it’s not unalloyed good news.

Even after the recent sharp decrease, the number of kids born to single moms is still twice as high as it was in the 80s. And while the nonmarital birthrate has dropped 7% since the late 2000s, the overall birthrate—the number of births to all women—has dropped twice as much. What that means is that the percentage of kids born to single moms hasn’t changed much: 40% of all the people born in America have parents who aren’t married.

Similarly, while single black and Hispanic women are less likely to have a kid than they were in 2008 (the rate has dropped particularly sharply for Hispanic women), 72% of black kids and 54% of Hispanic kids are brought into the world via single moms. That number hasn’t budged much since 2011.

There are nuggets of good news in the report: the teen birth rate continues to fall. And the number of births to cohabiting couples (versus mothers who do not live with a partner) represents a much bigger slice of the unmarried birth pie than it did 10 years ago. In 2002, 60% of single women who gave birth were not living with the father. Now it’s down to 42%. But again, this number doesn’t look quite as good under close inspection.

Take this chart for example:

One indicator of a likelihood of a stable childhood is whether or not the child was planned. In the chart above, unintended pregnancies among women who are not living with a guy—the archetypal single mom—are down from 36% of the nonmarital births in 2002 to 28% by 2010. But unintended pregnancies among cohabiting couples went up. So the proportion of kids born to single moms who weren’t trying to have a kid did not change between 2002 and 2010: 57%. (And the raw number of nonmarital births is about 300,000 higher, so that’s a lot more unplanned kids).

How much difference does it make if the father and mother are living together when the kid is born? The jury is out on that. A lot depends on the circumstances under which people shack up. Studies have shown that if a couple is living together and intends to get married in a year or so, there’s very little difference in the stability of their union compared to married couples.

But couples who are living together out of economic necessity, or because they can’t quite decide if they can make the relationship work are less likely to stay together for a longer term. A child can really complicate that. It doesn’t seem yet that the U.S. is at that European-style place where kids born to couples who live together are in the same boat, stability-wise, as those with married parents.

Recent studies suggest cohabitation can make a slight difference, but so does a father’s age, education and race. (Absent black fathers are much more involved in their kids’ lives, than absent Hispanic fathers, and by some measures, than absent white fathers, according to this study.) “The extent to which cohabitation is a marker for social and financial support and for father involvement deserves further exploration,” write the authors of this new study.

One of the clearest findings of the Fragile Families Study done by Princeton University and the Brookings Institute in 2010, was that even if a baby was conceived by accident, many single fathers originally intended to stick around when the infant was born. But they didn’t. The combined pressures of poverty and parenthood proved to be too much for the relationship. The fact that the nonmarital birth rate has dropped is not at all the same as a drop in the number of kids born into very difficult family circumstances.

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