Momview: Starring Lauren A. Tetenbaum, LMSW, JD, PMH-C
Can you share a little bit about yourself?
I’m Lauren Tetenbaum – a mom of two sweet kids (my son was born in May 2016 and my daughter in November 2018), a therapist certified in perinatal mental health, and a former immigration attorney and law firm professional. I’m also a wife, sister, daughter, friend, and lover of chocolate, coffee, lighthearted TV shows, historical fiction, and the color pink. I lived in cities (New York, Philadelphia, London) my entire life before moving to the suburbs in early 2020, where I am now actively involved in my community and kids’ schools.
How did your motherhood journey start?
I am very fortunate to have had healthy and smooth journeys into motherhood. In the U.S., about one in four pregnancies end in miscarriage (defined as a loss before the 20th week of pregnancy) while stillbirth affects about 1 in 160 births. Though I have always been passionate about gender issues and reproductive rights, I was unaware of these statistics until I started to consider having a child. Fertility challenges need to be part of the mainstream conversation so that women (and others) who experience them don’t feel so alone. Many if not most of my friends are personally familiar with issues like loss, IVF or other assisted reproductive technology, or surrogacy. Another issue that is not discussed enough and is therefore stigmatized is maternal mental health, which is partly why I was inspired to become specially trained in this area. I knew that to begin my own motherhood journey, I needed to feel healthy physically and mentally, and so I built a network of professionals and social supports when I felt ready to try and become a mother.
What was your birthing experience(s) like?
I gave birth both times at a well-regarded hospital in Manhattan, a few blocks away from the same one in which I was born about three decades earlier. I don’t take for granted how lucky I am that I had fairly easy deliveries. A lot of credit is owed to my OB/GYN team whom I unequivocally trusted, and I always urge my clients to make sure they feel comfortable with their medical providers. But nothing is predictable, even when you love your doctors and are in an esteemed medical facility. I have dear friends who experienced emergency C-sections, issues during delivery that resulted in NICU and ICU stays, the emergence of unknown cardiac issues, and other trauma. The U.S. has the highest maternal mortality rate among developed countries, and the rates are particularly high for women of color. We need to do better as a society.
What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve had as a mom? Do you think some of them, or all of them, could have been avoided or lessened if we had a more supportive maternal culture in America?
The biggest challenges I’ve personally encountered as a mom have been related to my career trajectory and my putting up boundaries to protect my mental health and my family as a priority. I definitely think moms can “have it all” in terms of simultaneously having a career and being an involved parent, but moms are humans, and no human can do it all, all at once (and all alone). When I decided to launch my own practice as a social worker and engage in work that was entrepreneurial vs. corporate, I took a leap of faith to bet on myself, because I wasn’t getting the support I needed in the traditional workplace. I want to acknowledge my privilege when it comes to the color of my skin and my socioeconomic status, because not everyone can overcome challenges in the same way that I did. This is partly why I am so devoted to speaking up, to speaking loudly, because others have a harder time being heard. If we had a more supportive maternal culture in America, a culture that had more empathy and placed more value on caregiving and other forms of unpaid and underpaid labor that typically tends to fall on women, things would be very different in the workforce. During the pandemic, millions of moms have had to scale back or leave the paid labor force altogether – it doesn’t have to be this way and it shouldn’t be this way.
In your opinion, how do we evoke and incite a sisterhood of motherhood?
I think we evoke and incite a sisterhood of motherhood by continuing to share and connect, so thank you for inviting me to share my thoughts and connect with your community! It can be so hard to articulate what we are feeling sometimes, or to open up about our struggles. But as a therapist and in my personal life, I consistently see the value in sharing your story. When we come together, we are stronger.
We’re well aware that deep inequality exists among moms in America. How do you think we help amplify all moms’ voices?
Diversity and representation must be prioritized. We need to continue to speak up for those who can’t or who may not have the platform they deserve, and to invite various perspectives into policymaking and other conversations.
Speaking of maternal inequality, how do you think we go about encouraging moms to care about other moms’ problems, even if they aren’t shared problems?
This highlights the need for empathy, which is a core value of mine and always has been. My grandparents’ families were forced to flee Europe because of their religion; my mother was a refugee from Cuba – so I’ve grown up with a keen awareness of the fact that it was just luck that I was born in the United States, a country with many freedoms I appreciate. But there is also a lot of work to do in this country, including building appreciation for others’ struggles, even if they may not be your struggles. I can’t emphasize enough the importance of caring about others though I am sad to say it’s true this practice doesn’t come naturally to many people. To encourage empathy, we need to continue to ask ourselves, What if that were me? And we need to challenge those who don’t seem to think that way. Words matter, and your advocacy matters, on all levels.
If you could create a new maternal culture tomorrow, what would it look like?
In general, I would love to see a culture where maternal issues aren’t considered solely “women’s issues,” because it’s clear that women’s issues aren’t valued in this country. Issues like childcare, mental health, access to education and healthcare, and fair pay affect everyone, including literally the next generation; companies and individuals and government officials who do not see that are on the wrong side of history. I would love to see a culture where women are proud of their identities beyond parent, partner, or professional as my mentor Eve Rodsky discusses in her work. In our current culture, women tend to struggle to recognize who they are beyond a mother. They feel they need permission to be unavailable, to say no, or to take time for themselves. I would love to see a culture where women don’t feel they have to apologize to their employers for being pregnant and where companies openly share their paid parental leave policies and other women- and parent-friendly benefits. I would love to see the Motherhood Penalty, where women’s careers suffer upon becoming mothers, disappear. I would love to see pay equity, pay transparency, and more women and mothers in political office.
We talk about how you can’t put the maternal social policy cart before the maternal connection and equality horse. Do you agree with that?
I’ll revert to being a lawyer here and say: it depends. I think building connection and advocating for equality lead to social policy changes, of course. But sometimes there has to be a leader (like a company with an exemplary parental leave policy or a state with a paid leave program) who implements policy to serve as a model that can help shift the overall culture.
What maternal social policies do you think the U.S. should have? And why?
I am a huge proponent of paid parental leave, which should be prioritized by our government and private companies. And all parents should have access, because childcare should be an issue that everyone values. Everyone wins when paid parental leave is available – moms, babies, dads, companies, and overall economies. I would love to see policies reflect compassion and self-compassion for and among moms like those that encourage flexibility and recognize the whole person in the workplace; too often, women put everyone else before themselves, which leads to burnout and other mental health issues like anxiety and depression. I think the U.S. should better ensure all women and girls are able to access adequate reproductive healthcare and education, because without that access they can’t truly thrive. I believe policies must continue to leave space for mothers and all women to collaborate and to build community and connection, so that we can continue to make positive change together.