Opinion

National child-care program is worth celebrating but new mothers deserve more support

Now that Premier Doug Ford has finally signed on to the federally funded $10-a-day child care for Ontarians, we should all celebrate. The federal government’s national day-care program is a big step forward. Parents, especially mothers, have long struggled to find care. Skyrocketing costs have forced many to leave jobs and stay home.

But we can’t just stop at child care. We need to reframe our understanding of what parents – and especially new mothers – need from both public and private sectors because it is not only hard for new mothers to find care for their children, but also to find care for themselves. Take, for example, a friend who texted me last summer:

“I’m getting cosmetic surgery today. Wish me luck!” A pre-op selfie immediately followed, her eager face filling the frame. Her eyes were wide and bright behind her clear-framed glasses.

But the surgery wasn’t really cosmetic. My friend had waited three years after her second child to have surgery to fix five hernias and close a six-inch gap between her abdominal muscles due to pregnancy. Sure, she didn’t want to spend the rest of her life looking six months pregnant, but she also wanted to be able to sit up; she wanted to be able to lift her kids. But because the provincial health system classified “abdominoplasty” as cosmetic, she had to spend all her savings, more than $10,000, to get the procedure.

Post-birth, a quarter of all women have pelvic floor issues that can cause pain during sexual intercourse and urinary incontinence. It’s treatable through physiotherapy but it is not publicly funded. It’s hard to access even for those who can afford it, but the situation is worse for those marginalized by race, ethnicity or who live in rural and remote areas. A recent study found Black mothers were four times more at risk of dying from childbirth or pregnancy-related causes; another reported Black women’s pain following childbirth is less adequately assessed.

Canada needs to do more to support women post-partum. This is true of both public and private sectors.

Canada needs to do more to support women post-partum. This is true of both public and private sectors, the latter of which employs nearly two-thirds of Canadian workers.

Another friend works as a director at a big bank and logged 12-hour days throughout the pandemic prior to giving birth. She had to choose between returning to the office a few weeks after her child was born or losing wages. It is striking that in 2022, a majority of the “big banks” in Canada provide only six weeks of paid parental leave despite their enormous profits. This is especially egregious considering their ostensible commitment to equity, diversity and inclusion.

Motherhood is sometimes accompanied by social isolation, which has been exacerbated by COVID-19 public health and safety measures. The pandemic has compounded negative post-partum mental health effects through continued lack of access to emotional and practical supports. Further, lack of affordable housing, which has jumped significantly during the pandemic, makes governmental Employment Insurance for parental leave in Canada’s cities a mere drop in an ever-expanding well. These benefits do not cover monthly housing payments and more people are faced with food insecurity as they struggle to make ends meet. Black, Indigenous and single female parents are most vulnerable.

Women post-partum require medically necessary support to address all aspects of their well-being. For starters, public insurance plans need to cover post-partum services in accordance with the Canada Health Act. In the private sphere, mega corporations need to enact their social responsibility by administering parental policies that provide reasonable “top-up” wages throughout an extended leave. These measures, along with equitable access to basic goods and services, including nationally subsidized child care, are what will enable Canada to live up to its fundamental values.

Too often, the health and well-being of women is viewed as a private concern. But gender equality is linked to economic prosperity, happiness and security of the community. When women’s health is improved, the overall community’s health grows. Everyone benefits.

We need to address the overall health and equity of our collective lives. This requires attending to the public and the private spheres.

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1 Comment
  • Andria says:

    Great article. Thank you for sharing this incredibly important information and perspective. Although $10-a-day child care is certainly worth celebrating, there is room for much improvement when it comes to gender equality and publicly funded parental supports. Some of the examples noted in your article (e.g., paying $10,000 out-of-pocket for post-partum abdominoplasty, only getting 6 weeks of paid parental leave from some ‘big banks’) are alarming. Let’s hope that the new $10-a-day child care is just the start of some necessary changes.

Author

Jennifer A.H. Bell

Contributor

Jennifer A.H. Bell, PhD, is an Assistant Professor at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health and Department of Psychiatry, and Member of the Joint Centre for Bioethics at the University of Toronto.

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