Challenges Faced by Asian American Women in the Workplace – Cultural Traits, Ceilings, Guilt, Assumptions and Stigma

Recently, I attended an Asian American professionals event.  Overall, I was happy I attended the event, mostly because the speakers spoke about the challenges they encountered on their path to their current status as successful and well-regarded professionals.  They spoke about having to overcome such cultural traits as humility and introversion, as well as their tendency to avoid speaking up.  Yes, because of the way we were raised, being aggressive is not natural and “silence is golden.”  These are self-defeating traits.  How can you move up the ranks and be noticed if you don’t speak up in meetings?  If you don’t speak your mind because you’re too humble? If you don’t give presentations to peers and management because you are introverted?

In addition to the familiar expressions “glass ceiling” (in reference to women, for the most part) and “bamboo ceiling” (in reference to Asian professionals, specifically….think about how many Asian executives there are in your workplace), when you add new motherhood to the equation, Asian women tend to have perfectionist tendencies and experience shame and guilt far more readily than women in other cultures due to their cultural traits and the way they were brought up.

I realize that the following are not just experienced by Asian American mothers in the workforce, but all mothers in the workforce.  So, in addition to the bamboo and glass ceilings, Asian American mothers also experience what I refer to as the “new mother ceiling.”

New mothers returning to the workforce experience GUILT from having to leave their baby in the care of someone else.  Most households does not have the fortune of having a relative (e.g., spouse, parent, in-law) or live-in nanny living with them, so there is the added challenge of pick-ups and drop-offs, which inevitably means having to take turns with their significant others dropping off (which means getting to work later) and picking up (which means leaving work earlier).  These drop-offs and pick-ups are a really big deal especially when there is a long commute at stake, and the childcare hours of operation mean the earliest you can drop off is 7:00 am (and in a majority of places, it’s not until 7:30 am or 8:00 am) and the latest you can pick up is 6:00 pm.  How in the world do parents deal with these hours?  They just have to.  They make it work somehow.  For some parents, like me, any “fast track” for which I may have been considered would have to wait until a more “opportune” time, when drop-offs and pick-ups no longer get in the way of that fast track.  For other parents, childcare is too expensive and it makes more economical sense for one of them to stay at home, and it’s usually the mother.  Hence, the stay at home mom.

New mothers returning to the workforce experience GUILT from leaving their babies in the care of others spend long days (ELEVEN hours) with someone other than themselves, but they worry about the impact getting in late and leaving early will have on their careers.  They fear that it’s going to put a dent on their performance assessments, that their managers frown on such hours when non-parents don’t have such issues and can get in early and leave late every day.  They fear the judgmental eyes and “another half day, eh?” remarks from colleagues looking at them like they spend less hours at work and therefore should be viewed less favorably by management.  I know, as I’ve been the brunt of these whisperings after my daughter was born.

New mothers returning to the workforce experience GUILT in situations where a woman needs or prefers (and is economically able) to stay at home, and yet you know your parents spent X amount of money for a college education to have a better shot at a successful career.  You feel like it was a waste of their hard-earned money (or blood, sweat and tears) to get you to where you are today.

Here’s where I want to mention that one of the two speakers was a woman who, like the man, explained the challenges she had to overcome in getting to where she is today.  Like any speaker giving a rah rah speech for career-minded individuals at a workplace event, she addressed the crowd in a general fashion, making assumptions in so doing.

She looked at the audience and firmly addressed the women in the audience with a statement that, and I can’t quote her exactly but the gist of what she was saying was, working mothers should be proud for returning to work after having their babies.  That just made it sound like stay at home mothers should feel bad for staying at home with their babies.

She mentioned how happy she was when her 12 year old daughter recently told her that she is proud of her mother’s successful career and she has no negative feelings or memories for not having spent that much time with her while growing up.  Unfortunately, this is not representative of the reactions of every child out there in similar circumstances.

She mentioned that she gave birth without the aid of an epidural and was in labor for 22 hours.  I have to say that she is fortunate there were no complications during/after her labor and delivery, because unfortunately, not every woman fares this well in similar circumstances.  Some experience childbirth complications, like I did.  Some don’t survive.  Some survive but their babies don’t.

She was sleep deprived and had to return to work within weeks of giving birth.  She mentioned that it’s definitely hard work but absolutely possible for everyone with babies to get by with little sleep and still do well at work.  She said that everyone has the ability to cope with the temporary challenges of new parenthood, juggling work with sleep deprivation.  She said something to the effect of “If I could do it, so can you. Don’t complain, just do.”  This is not a direct quote, mind you, but the gist of what she was saying at the very end of her speech.

I was deeply interested in/commiserated with and appreciated the speakers and what they had to say…..up until this last point.  It’s all good and fine that this is a rah rah speech for career-minded individuals.  But having gone through what I went through….postpartum depression (PPD), which is crippling and can make you doubt you’ll ever be well again, let alone back at work in the highly functioning, ambitious professional you were before you gave birth and ended up in the dark hole of despair that is PPD (and any other postpartum mood disorder), I found myself biting my lip, cringing inwardly while smiling outwardly and thinking to myself “She has no clue and I would venture to guess that even if I went up to her and told her how her last statements can hurt the one in eight women–many of whom are professionals–that end up stricken with PPD, she would wave me off just like the female colleague to whom I had tried to explain my PPD experience waved me off.”

Can I blame her for not getting it because she’s never been there?  No.  But I sure as heck am thinking about sending her a note (with perhaps a link to my blog or a copy of my book) that what she said absolutely does not resonate with everyone, and she should be mindful of the fact that not everyone can JUST DO IT like she did.  As much as one would like to JUST DO IT (after all, that is my favorite mantra of all time, thanks to Lance Armstrong and Nike), I COULD NOT.  Not until I was well again.

Having the attitude of JUST DO or BUCK UP or IF I CAN DO IT, SO CAN YOU is an attitude that fails new mothers not from the standpoint of striving to keep up with male counterparts if we expect to climb up that corporate ladder and break through the bamboo, glass…and new mother ceilings, but from the assumption that no mother EVER has pregnancy, childbirth and postpartum complications.  Saying JUST DO, no matter what, is implying that mothers who have had new mother-related challenges are NOT GOOD ENOUGH and the mother with challenges must be all alone in her experience because, heck, no one ever shares negative stories of new mother-related challenges.  Well, that’s because everyone with negative experiences are all AFRAID of speaking up.  IT’S FEAR, GUILT, AND SHAME THAT KEEP THEM QUIET.

This is STIGMA, folks.  And we need to change attitudes in the workplace.  Do away with all the ceilings–bamboo and glass–as well as the negative perceptions and attitudes pertaining to working parents and new mothers, in general.  All I’m asking is for people to open their eyes and accept that not all new mothers have the ability to return to work, even if they want to.  That they should not be ashamed for the reason.  They should not be ashamed to speak up.  And just because a new mother does manage to return to work right after baby, it does NOT mean there were absolutely no childbirth or childcare complications along the way.  STOP ASSUMING that everything is fine and dandy because in reality, approximately 15-20% of new mothers succumb to PPD.  PPD is experienced by women of all cultures, ethnicities, social statuses, and religions.

Yes, I think I AM going to send her a copy of my book “One Mom’s Journey to Motherhood: Infertility, Childbirth Complications, and Postpartum Depression, Oh My!”

Common Bond of Parenthood

There is nothing subtle about the common bond of parenthood, as shown at the end of this video sponsored by Similac, a formula company.  I’m practically certain that an anti-formula group of breastfeeding (BF) zealots would never have sponsored such a video.  The last thing the BF zealots want to show is that there is even a hint of commonality between moms who BF and moms who formula feed.

What is the common bond?  Well, as you’ll see by watching this video, it’s that parents are–regardless of our parenting style or choices–parents.  Period.  The video even has a group of men (whether they are single parents or stay-at-home-dads is not clear), which is Similac’s intent to bring fathers into the picture, because after all, fathers are parents too.  Parents have a desire and obligation to do the best they can to care for their children with the means best suited for them.  Our children are our responsibility.  We brought them into the world.

At the end of the video, when a baby and parent need help, everyone–regardless of their parenting style or choices–drops their differences and runs to the aid of that baby and parent.  Now, that’s what it SHOULD be all about.  Forget about stupid and meaningless mommy wars.  Putting aside our differences and recognizing and respecting each others’ differences– instead of putting up walls to separate ourselves from those that are different from us– is what it should all be about.  Non first-time parents know what it’s like to be a parent for the first time and know how challenging taking care of a newborn baby and being a first-time parent really is.   Wouldn’t it be nice if experienced parents shared their experience with other new parents instead of thinking “Well, I learned the hard way, so can he/she.” Wouldn’t it also be nice if there were parent support groups in EVERY community, not just here or there and not known to/hard to find by the vast majority of those seeking support?  Parenting is about community, not about individual parents in isolation, left to their own devices because of how they choose to parent.

It takes a community to parent, period.  You can’t go it alone.  And you should not have to.

For added perspective from a writer and advocate for mothers whom I admire very much, please visit Suzie Barston’s Fearless Formula Feeder’s blog post about this video.  It’s titled “You’re Proving the Point.”

And another piece written by Amy Newman titled “Let’s Lower Stakes in Breastfeeding Debate.”

Beautiful, Troubled Path – A Poem by Stacy M

Stacy M. wrote this poem one year after her first postpartum depression (PPD) meltdown/hospitalization. 

She wrote it as a reflection of the obstacles she hadn’t expected becoming a mom would entail, including a devastating pregnancy loss. 

Despite the deeply wounding obstacles she came across, she never gave up. 

She felt so broken during her  hospitalization, after which she was able to realize that she could heal and move on and still be a great mom.

She wanted to share this poem with other moms who are on a beautiful, troubled path now or have also traveled a similar path.

Just like her, you may not have expected that becoming a mother–a traditionally happy, joyous occasion–could have any pain or darkness associated with it.

Just like her, you will find that the pain and darkness will pass and  beauty will prevail in the end.  Yes, beauty is at the end of the path.

And the difficult experiences are what make you a stronger individual.

Thank you, Stacy, for sharing your touching poem.

 

Path

Photo: Ivy Shih Leung

Beautiful, Troubled Path

have you seen how dark it can get in a grieving mind
have you tried on the shoes that I have walked in oh so many times

have you felt the heavy rain turn to hail upon your shoulders
or have you tried living life moving constant boulders

obstacle after obstacle
how many leaps of faith can one take

wound after wound
how much more heartache

the path to having a family of my own
has set off tears that will never dry

skinned knees from being on the ground
begging the universe please

strength and patience is the hardest to hold onto
when waiting to find inner peace

balancing my mind day in and day out
balancing the pain with a breathe of fresh air
is the only way to heal
to feel

the beauty underneath this troubled path
of becoming a good parent and a better person

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =

By:  Stacy M.

Fixing a Broken System of Stigma and Mommy Wars With Each Other, Not Against Each Other

*** This post may be triggering if you are suffering from postpartum depression (PPD) and are sensitive to negative news events***

This blog post is a response to the articles in the media regarding the tragedy involving Carol Coronado, the Torrance mother with 3 young children, ages 2 months, 2 years and 3 years.  Read the statement issued by the National Coalition for Maternal Mental Health.  There’s a lot we don’t know about relating to this tragedy.  Does she have a history of depression or other mental health issue?  Did she try to reach out for help prior to yesterday?  Was she under a doctor’s care?  How much emotional and practical support was she getting?  Were there any other issues over the 3 years since her first child was born?  Without knowing the full story, the public is focusing on making her out to be some kind of monster.  True, it’s hard to accept that a parent could kill his/her child, let alone three.  But STOP right there.

Stopppppppppppppp!

Times like this, I just want to make all of it stop.  The stigma.  The Mommy Wars.  The hateful zealotry of people so obsessed with their views of how motherhood should be that they become toxic to others around them.  Yes, some people derive some sick pleasure off of making someone else feel bad (think bully).  They cannot empathize with anyone else’s situation (think sociopath).  JUST. STOP.

The shameful media whose only concern is to generate sales and hits to their websites who in all too many cases don’t bother to obtain the whole truth before causing speculation rife with inaccuracies that feed the ignorance and stigma that are already so damn difficult to do away with.  Media feeds stigma when they title a news article in a sensationalistic way to get the attention of as many people as possible via the newspaper or Facebook/Twitter feeds, insert their own judgmental/ignorant comments, and then encourage the public to share their opinions about the specific negative news event in question.  Of course they are going to get plenty of negative comments.  JUST. STOP.

The hateful words coming out of people’s mouths from ignorance borne from stigma and lack of public awareness surrounding mental health.  JUST. STOP.

The let’s-pass-judgment-before-knowing-the-truth-and-even-knowing-the-truth-doesn’t-matter-because-certain-people-don’t-care-about-the-truth-they-just-think-their-opinion-is-all-that-counts syndrome. JUST. STOP.

The stubborn mindset that depression is something that you can just snap out of does nothing but help keep people’s  blinders stuck in the let’s-continue-to-keep-my-eyes-willfully-closed mode.  JUST. STOP.

The OB/GYNs who for some reason can’t all get on board with becoming educated about perinatal mood disorders (PMD) so they can know how to properly detect, diagnose, treat and refer moms experiencing a PMD.  Instead, they contribute toward mothers (and their families) continuously falling through the cracks.  JUST. STOP.

The flawed mindset of “Well, you can be a Supermom if you want to be.  See Jane over there?  She just had her 3rd baby in 3 years, is a stay at home mom, keeps a perfect house, loves to cook, clean and do laundry.  She does it all herself.  Oh, and she BFd each of her babies for 2 years a piece.  Hell, if she can do it, so can I.”  JUST. STOP.

The name calling, judging and blaming of someone as soon as you hear negative news without knowing the full story.  Does doing this help anyone?  Does it make you feel better by trashing someone?  No?  Well, JUST. STOP.

Let’s face it.  We live in a egotistical, mompetitive, misogynistic, my-way-of-thinking-is-the-only-way-of-thinking society of misplaced priorities, lagging behind so many other less technologically sophisticated countries that are so much more advanced when it comes to the treatment of mothers and postpartum rituals (go figure), and breastfeeding zealots who only care about the well being of the baby, health of mother be damned (this is illogical, as how can you have a healthy baby if you don’t have a healthy mother to take care of that baby?).

Suzy Barston, author of the book Bottled Up and the Fearless Formula Feeder blog, included the following line which I love so much in her blog post titled “Vital Signs: Ignoring postpartum depression and psychosis won’t make them go away” in response to the tragedy:

We spend so much time worrying about a woman’s breasts, while we dismiss her mind.

And over at my dear friend Dr. Walker Karraa’s amazing blog Stigmama, there is a post from today titled “Women. Are. Dying. Shut It Down”  by Ann Jamison.  It’s an absolute MUST READ.  What an amazing writer she is.  Here is an excerpt that really hit home for me:

In the wake of shocking tragedy like this, opinions and judgment pave the well-worn, easy road. We blame this woman and all the women like her. We blame women when they aren’t coping well, we hate on them jealously when they are. We create so much stigma and fear surrounding mental illness that it’s nearly impossible to ask for help. When we do, our pleas go unanswered. When we don’t, and the worst happens, our humanity card is revoked and we’re suddenly monsters…….Women and their children are dying. Make no mistake. Mental illness kills. Mental illness is also the most common complication of childbirth. And we don’t screen for it. We don’t talk about it. Healthcare providers overlook it or are uncomfortable treating it.

We have an awful lot of people who don’t care.  They just want to do what they want to do, say what they want to say, and feel what they want to feel.  Yes, it’s all too comfortable to lead a life of ignorance for some people.  This is the mindset we’re up against, making public awareness and banishing stigma so damn challenging.

I know my blog post has been a downer, but I’m not saying we have no hope of improving things.  We can make a difference!

For starters, if  you see a new mom, whether she is a friend or relative, ask her how she’s REALLY feeling.  Ask if she is getting enough help.  REALLY listen to her and look deep into her eyes.  If she doesn’t sound herself, is crying, and/or indicates she is not feeling herself (the day the tragedy took place, Carol had shared with her mother that she thought she was “going crazy” AND Carol had spoken to her sister-in-law who thought she didn’t sound herself) and it is past the first 3 weeks postpartum, suggest that she get more help with the baby and see her doctor RIGHT AWAY.

I am not ok_Kleiman

Permission to use image granted by Karen Kleiman, MSW, LCSW, founder of The Postpartum Stress Center

Better yet, she should see someone who is experienced with treating postpartum mood disorders RIGHT AWAY.  Have no idea where to go to find one?  Start with the Postpartum Support International network of regional coordinators.

Let’s end stigma.  Yes, this is hard, but we can do it, if we each did our part by speaking up and sharing knowledge about maternal mental health matters at every opportunity.

Let’s focus on moms supporting moms.  End the mommy wars!

Let’s stop judging and bashing each other, and start treating others as you would want to be treated.  Provide support when the opportunity presents itself.

Let’s make a difference within our own personal spheres.  One. Mom. At. A. Time.  There are many ways you can help.  If it’s a life calling to switch gears to a career that helps moms, like being a doula, baby nurse, social worker, etc.,  then awesome.  But you can also provide virtual support.  For example, I am a member of Mama’s Comfort Camp, founded by my friend Yael Saar.  It’s an AMAZING forum of non-judgmental, loving support.

Let’s realize we have a broken, patriarchal system and work together and find ways to fix it….together.  Not against each other.  With each other.

Postpartum Support International’s 2014 Blog Hop – Maternal Mental Health Awareness Month

May iPSI Blog Hop Badge by Lauren Hales a special month for postpartum mood disorder (PPMD) survivors.  Why?  Because it is Maternal Mental Health Awareness Month…..and you can participate in the 2nd annual Postpartum Support International (PSI) blog hop!  The topic of the blog hop is Perinatal Mood Disorders: What Helped Me Recover: Self, Family & Community Resources.

If you are a blogger who has experienced postpartum depression (PPD) or any other postpartum mood disorder (PMD), please consider joining the blog hop to help spread awareness!  All you have to do is go to the two blog hop host blogs, Kathy Morelli’s Birthtouch and Dr. Christi Hibbert’s blog, and read the guidelines.  There, you will see all the other blogs who are participating in this blog hop.

You have all month in which to join the blog hop.  So, PPD survivor mamas, get your creative writing juices flowing!  Let’s get the word out that moms need not feel alone and unaware of where/who to go to for help!

SELF:
Let’s empower PPD mamas so they have the knowledge they need to understand that what they are going through is not their fault and they will be well again as long as they get the right help.  As I mentioned in my book, in past post posts on this blog, my PSI blog hop post last year, and even on my Huffington Post piece titled “Hindsight is 20/20: Taking Personal PPD Experience and Helping Other Moms,” I was not aware of any online or group resources, I suffered–alone and frightened–without anyone to really talk to about what I was going through except for my husband.

FAMILY:
Support can be in the form of practical (and perhaps even emotional support) from the mom’s significant other and other family members.  Click here on the importance of and historical/cultural aspects of mothering the mother.

COMMUNITY:
Community resources can be in the form of local organizations, like PPD support groups in a local hospital or like MotherWoman and others (too many to name, but I do list many under my Support Groups/Local Resources links on my blog).  You can also find a number of excellent online PPD communities for support, like the closed Facebook group #PPDChat Support.

Upcoming PPD Awareness Events

With Maternal Mental Health Awareness Month just a few days away, there are a number of postpartum depression awareness events coming up.  The purpose of today’s post is to highlight three of the events occurring in the next two months.  In the order in which they will occur, they are:

Shining a Light on Postpartum Depression: The Role of Programs, Policy and Public Health – A Community Forum

When:  Thursday, May 29, 2014 from 7:00 pm to 9:00 pm (EST)

Where: Congregation Beth Elohim, 271 Garfield Place, Brooklyn, NY 11215

Theme:  A dialogue on what role the city and state can play in education, screening and treatment of PPD

Presented by: Brooklyn Community Board 6 Youth, Human Service and Education Committee, State Senator Liz Krueger, State Senator Velmanette Montgomery, State Assembly Member Joan Millman, Council Member Brad Lander, and Council Member Stephen Levin

Moderated by: Rain Henderson, Deputy Director, Clinton Health Matters Initiative at Clinton Foundation

2 Panel Discussions:

  1. First panel to focus on clinical symptoms associated with PPD and resources for women and their families.  Panel members to include the amazing Sonia Murdoch, Executive Director, The Postpartum Resource Center of NYRebecca Benghiat, Executive Director, Seleni Institute, and Catherine Birndorf, MD, Clinical Associate Director of Psychiatry and Obstetrics/Gynecology  and founding director of the Payne Whitney Women’s Program at the New York Presbyterian  Hospital – Weill Cornell Medical Center
  2. Second panel to focus on what role the city and state can play in education, screening and treatment of PPD.  Panel members to include New York State Senator Liz Krueger, New York City Councilman Stephen Levin, and New York City Councilwoman Laurie Cumbo (NYC Council Women’s Issues Committee Chair).

For more information on this event, click here and/or contact the event organizer, Paige Bellenbaum at p.bellenbaum@ccgbrooklyn.com or 646-228-2381.

27th Annual Postpartum Support International Conference

When:  June 18 – 21, 2014

Where:  University of North Carolina Center for Women’s Mood Disorders, Chapel Hill

Theme:  Creating Connections between Communities, Practitioners, and Science:  Innovative Care for Perinatal Mood Disorders

Sadly, I will not be able to make it this year.  I will miss seeing so many of my friends.  :(  Please click here for my blog post about last year’s conference in Minneapolis and the wonderful time I had there.

For more information, including the agenda, presenters, and registration details, click here.

Climb Out of the Darkness 2014

When:  Saturday, June 21, 2014

Where:  Anywhere you choose to hike up a mountain, climb or walk.

Created byPostpartum Progress Inc., a registered 501c3 nonprofit organization that raises awareness and supports pregnant and new moms with maternal mental illness.

What is it?   It’s the world’s largest grassroots event raising awareness of perinatal mood disorders, in which people around the world hike, climb or walk outside on the longest day of the year (June 21st).

For more information and/or to register to participate, click here.   You can participate by joining a group climb or even start your own individual or group climb.

Lovely Book Review Over at Resplendent by Design

A friend of a friend, Bobbi Parish, therapist and author of the blog Resplendent by Design and book “Create Your Own Sacred Text” has written a very lovely book review of my book “One Mom’s Journey to Motherhood.”  Thank you, from the bottom of my heart, Bobbi, for taking the time out of your very busy schedule to read my book and write a book review.

One of the many rewards for writing my book–aside from the personal satisfaction of seeing the fruit of your six years of labor result an attractive book with content that can help make a positive difference for others–is making new connections, especially ones who would go out of their way to spread the word about a fellow mom’s book intended to help other moms.  Another reward is knowing that you are contributing in some small measure toward reaching mothers and their families with information that can help empower them to recognize when they are suffering from a perinatal mood disorder, where to go for help, what the treatment options are….not to mention, realize that what they are going through is experienced by more women than they will ever know, they have no need to feel guilty, and they will be well again with the right help.

The best part of Bobbi’s review is the fact that she is recommending my book for patients of obstetricians, midwives and doulas:

In my opinion, this is a book that should be on every Obstetrician, Midwife and Doula’s shelf and in their waiting room. It should also be on a list of resources about Postpartum Disorders handed out to every pregnant woman by their health care professional. It will absolutely help women battle this insidious mental health disorder and thereby enable them to have a healthier, happier postpartum period with the full capacity to care for and bond with their newborn.

Please go over to her blog and read the rest of her book review.

If you are an obstetrician, midwife or doula, please consider following Bobbi’s recommendation of 1) keeping a copy of my book in your waiting room and 2) including my book on a list of resources which I hope you already have (and if not, please consider putting one together now) about perinatal mood disorders handed out to your pregnant patients.

If you have stumbled across my blog and want to read more about my motherhood journey and what I learned from it, please consider buying a copy.  My book is available at Amazon via Kindle and both paperback and hard cover format.

If you know a mom who has found herself as blindsided and scared as I found myself when I was hit hard by postpartum depression, please consider buying her, or recommending she buy, a copy of my book.

Thank you, from the bottom of my heart.

<3