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MARCH 25, 2024
Good morning, Fearless readers:

Did you know that the Paris Olympics this summer will be the first time in the history of the Olympic games that women will make up 50% of the athletes?

As many of you know, I’m a former gymnastics coach who follows the sport closely at all levels. I already have it marked on my calendar: The qualifying round for women’s artistic gymnastics will be streamed live at 4:40 a.m. Central Daylight Time on July 28 – 11:40 a.m. in Paris. That’s a Sunday, but I’m debating taking PTO to watch competitions later that week. I guess I’m not really all that different from the guy who schedules his vasectomy right before the NCAA Tournament.

In 2024, it isn’t just women athletes who are making headlines. So are the fans of women’s sports – they’re now being recognized as a group to be targeted by advertisers and marketing experts. This month, A Bar of Their Own opened in Minneapolis. The bar plays only women’s sports, all the time.

And, finally, one of the most exceptionally reported and written stories, sports or news, I’ve read in recent years is about Caitlin Clark. When you have a quiet hour or so this week, read this ESPN story: "Caitlin Clark and Iowa find peace in the process." I suspect the story will eventually pick up some awards that might just rival Clark’s.

In this week’s Fearless e-newsletter, you will find:

  • A column for Women’s History Month by me about how you can support postpartum employees in the workplace and beyond.
  • A column by Jody Gifford about finding herself – and financial security – after a divorce.
  • In the headlines: Meet Decorah wrestler Naomi Simon and other trailblazers who have helped skyrocket the popularity of girls wrestling in Iowa.
  • In case you missed it: Women leave the workforce at a higher rate than men to provide care to our nation’s aging population, according to a new report from Wells Fargo.
  • Lots more!

– Nicole Grundmeier, Business Record staff writer

Commentary: How to support postpartum employees in the workplace
Getty Photos.
Before I had a child of my own, I loved bringing lots of baby clothes to new parents when I visited them postpartum. I was making a terrible mistake.

I’ve always enjoyed thrifting. And, I’ve always loved baby clothes. I didn’t realize I was essentially bringing new parents a mountain of laundry – more clothes to sort and wash and dry and fold when they’re barely sleeping.

I’ve changed my approach since giving birth in 2015. These days when I visit postpartum parent friends, I drop off a pan of hot, homemade lasagna and ask them a question: Would you like me to throw in a load of laundry or deep-clean your bathroom? No one passes. I clean or do laundry. I don’t ask to hold the baby.

But how can we support our postpartum co-workers? It probably isn’t professional to show up at a co-worker’s door and volunteer to scrub their bathtub or try to wash their unmentionables.

In recognition of Women’s History Month, here is a list for co-workers, managers and company leaders to consider when supporting postpartum employees.

Not all of these will be realistic or practical for every company. That’s OK. But this list will help you think critically about how to support employees in what is one of the most challenging and potentially fatal times of their lives.

What has helped your postpartum employees? Does your company have an innovative program or a unique approach? Fearless would love to hear about it. Email us.

Here is a list to hold onto:

1. Create a workplace support group for postpartum workers or parents of young children.
Postpartum support groups for workers are a relatively new phenomenon. Employees who are in the same sleepless trenches of early parenthood can come together and talk openly about their experiences and challenges as working parents. They feel less alone. Postpartum support groups can also result in deep bonds among employees from different departments who normally might not feel like they have much in common – they will form relationships and might be more likely to collaborate in the future.

A postpartum support group can also partner with the company’s human resources department in case an employee needs to access mental health support or other services. (More than half of maternal deaths in the United States, 52%, occur after the birth. Suicide is the No. 1 cause of maternal death in the first year postpartum.)

The Iowa Chapter of Postpartum Support International has resources on supporting parents in the thick of the "fourth trimester" and beyond.
Amy Brooks Murphy. Photo by Nicole Grundmeier.
Des Moines-based educator and business owner Amy Brooks Murphy of Before and After the Birth offers services and advice to companies that want to create a supportive postpartum environment in the office. She is also one of the most inclusive and empathetic humans I know.

2. Don’t make assumptions about infant feeding. Avoid comments or questions about infant feeding, unless the postpartum employee asks you.

There is nothing more personal – and potentially painful – as infant feeding choices. Questions and assumptions about infant feeding choices can affect a co-worker’s mental health, even if they come from a place of kindness.

I have a friend whose micro preemie daughter came home from the hospital with a feeding tube. The mom didn’t know how to answer common questions like, "Are you breastfeeding or bottle feeding your baby?" The questions kicked her hard when she was already feeling down.

A close relative of mine, who works in marketing, previously had a male boss who assumed she would be done breastfeeding at six months postpartum and then again at one year postpartum. He seemed irritated by her need for pumping breaks. My relative felt pressured to end her breastfeeding journey early (she ultimately did). The World Health Organization’s advice is to breastfeed for "two years of age or beyond," but the United States lacks the support systems necessary to make this realistic or practical for many parents who want to attempt it.

Often, new parents feel judgment no matter what feeding choice or choices they make.

The bottom line: Don’t make assumptions about what is good or right or best when it comes to infant feeding choices. Every family is different, and every baby is different. Only the postpartum parent knows what is the healthiest approach for their family.

A good approach: Tell a new parent congratulations. Then ask the parent a nonjudgmental question such as, "How can I support you right now?" "Would you like some cold water?" "I’m about to run to the corner store. What type of snack would you like me to bring back for you? My treat." (Pregnant and breastfeeding people need more calories than they typically do, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.)

3. If possible, allow postpartum employees to work remotely for as long as possible – especially during the germy winter months.

This isn’t going to work for every company. Elementary school teachers, for example, can rarely work from home. But for postpartum employees who can work remotely, try to give them choices and flexibility in this space.

This is especially true during cold, flu, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and COVID-19 seasons. When an employee sends an infant to child care, their kid often brings home illnesses from being exposed to numerous other households – causing the employee to miss time to care for the child and potentially get sick themselves. My daughter was hospitalized at Blank Children’s Hospital in January 2016 when she contracted RSV at 2 weeks of age. I also got sick. Coughing with a fresh C-section incision is not something I would wish on anyone.

If an employee can care for their child and successfully work at home, everyone is more likely to stay healthy. Employees are more productive when they aren’t, for example, having to suction their child’s nose multiple times daily.

Flexible scheduling and work-from-home options also enable parents to more easily take babies to well-child exams and schedule their own visits with a doctor or midwife, mental health appointments, pelvic floor therapy and more. As a society, we are slowly recognizing just how important these appointments are for ensuring the entire family unit is healthy and thriving.
Guest commentary: Bearing the brunt of the breakup: Divorce’s unequal toll on women
Jody Gifford. Submitted photo.
My parents divorced when I was 6 years old. I still remember coming home from school one day to find that my dad had moved out — his ratty recliner absent from its spot in our living room and his favorite jacket missing from the hook by the back door.

I wasn’t old enough to understand what was happening when my mom explained that they were getting a divorce. I only knew my dad didn’t live where I did anymore. As I got older, I began to understand why they weren’t together. A decade after their separation, they still argued constantly, and could barely stand to be in the same room together. It was clear that the hurt between them ran deep.

I learned a lot of truths growing up in a single-parent home. The first is that — without excuse or fanfare — single moms get things done. We didn’t have a lot, and my mom often worked two or three jobs just to pay the rent and put food on the table. I often went without the "wants" — material things, extracurriculars, her time, etc. — just so I could have the "needs." It was a complicated but necessary struggle, and I can see now, the strain that must have challenged my mom. She always seemed to figure it out. My childhood wasn’t great, but I had what I needed to survive, and it taught me that like my mom, I could do most things myself.

In the 1980s, this arrangement was not uncommon after divorce. Mothers, despite income disparity and their traditional roles in the home, got sole custody in 80% of custody cases. Dads, the traditional breadwinners of the family, paid more child support and only got sporadic visitation.

That brings me to the second truth about growing up in a single-parent home — children need their dad. Despite my parents’ custody agreement, I was fortunate to have a doting dad who was a model of independence and ingenuity. He was consistent, engaged and involved, and he convinced me that I could do absolutely anything I set my mind to. He taught me how to build and fix things, to solve problems, to be bold and unapologetic. He said I was headstrong and stubborn, but those were two of his favorite things about me.

You’d think these contrasting examples would have soured me on the very idea of marriage and parenthood, but they didn’t. Instead, I vowed (no marital pun intended) to do things differently when/if I got married. I’d marry someone who shared my values, respected my accomplishments and genuinely wanted me to succeed. I’d raise children with someone committed to being a good father, a good person and an equal co-parent. We’d be better communicators and tackle our issues before they grew into arguments. We’d be more mindful partners and mutually dedicated to our growth as a couple. Together, we’d build a life that differed from that of our parents. Together, we’d break the cycle of dysfunction that plagued the unions of so many who had come before us.

When I got married in 2004, while it wasn’t explicitly written in ink, that was my vow. And for a while, I thought maybe we were on the same page, my husband and me. But after three kids in three years, including a set of twins, it became clear that we were not. My life started to look a lot like the stereotypical housewife of days gone by. Despite being college-educated and active in the workforce, I gave up my career to become a stay-at-home mom. While my husband continued his career climb, I was carrying the entirety of the mental load at home. Instead of attending editorial meetings, I was attending school conferences, planning birthday parties and shuttling kids to and from extracurricular activities. Rather than gathering bylines, I was signing field trip permission slips and birthday cards.

As much as I loved my children, some days I didn’t recognize myself. Even when I went back to work full time, it was like I never left home. I’d punch out of my 9 to 5 only to punch in for the afternoon/night shift at home. I was exhausted to my core and screaming for help.

By 2016, the situation was untenable. By 2018, we were divorced, and for the first time in 17 years, I was making decisions for myself again. It was both liberating and terrifying.

By day, Jody Gifford works in marketing and communications for a local malpractice insurance company. By night (and most weekends), she’s a busy mom, a volunteer and fierce ally of the LGTBQ community. She is in graduate school at Drake University and is a member of the Iowa Writers’ Collaborative. You can read more of her writing on Substack at
Wrestler Naomi Simon of Decorah, Iowa’s first four-time girls wrestling champion, was featured in episode 110 of "Iowa Life," an Iowa PBS show that uncovers the diverse tapestry of Iowa’s people and cultures through compelling interviews, scenic visuals and authentic storytelling. Photo courtesy of Iowa PBS.
In the headlines
‘After you wrestle, everything else in life is a lot easier’: In 2022, the Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union sanctioned girls wrestling, and since then, participation in the sport has skyrocketed. Meet three young women who are trailblazers in the Iowa girls wrestling community in episode 110 of "Iowa Life" by Iowa PBS.

Bill shelved that sought changes to Iowa law outlining penalties for terminating a pregnancy: A bill that would have made changes to Iowa’s fetal homicide law has been shelved after a Senate Republican joined Democrats in voicing concerns about the potential impact on in vitro fertilization after an Alabama court found frozen embryos can be considered children. The Senate declined to consider the bill, which was approved by the House. Iowa’s law currently outlines penalties for terminating or seriously injuring a "human pregnancy." The bill would have changed that language to be about the death of, or serious injury to, an "unborn person" from fertilization to live birth, according to this story by the Associated Press.

Carlisle’s Ainsley Erzen joins lawsuit against NCAA transgender inclusion policy: A former Carlisle High School track and soccer standout is among the plaintiffs in a new lawsuit challenging NCAA rules permitting transgender athletes to compete in collegiate sports, according to this story in the Des Moines Register. Ainsley Erzen set the Iowa record in the 800 meters and won a national track title in 2022, the first Iowa woman to do so. On March 14, she was among more than a dozen female athletes to file suit against the NCAA, several Georgia universities and numerous officials from both institutions.

Iowa women less likely to access birth control since Roe v. Wade overturned: New research has found contraceptive access in Iowa was negatively affected after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, according to this story in the Des Moines Register. Since the 2022 decision, women in Iowa and in three other states saw an overall decline in access to contraceptives and reported a drop in the quality of the care they did receive, according to a new study from the Guttmacher Institute, a research nonprofit that supports legal access to abortion and contraceptives.

Worth checking out
Bleeding Heartland news site sued for libel by proponent of banning LGBTQ book from school (Des Moines Register). What we can learn from whale grandmothers (Washington Post). Teen pregnancy linked to premature death, study finds (New York Times). Opinion: Moms need support returning to work. Here’s how the government can help (Newsweek). ‘The extra shift’: The unpaid emotional labor expected of women at work (BBC). Catherine, Princess of Wales, reveals she has cancer (New York Times).
‘Can’t Grow Old Without Her’ report highlights women’s role in elder care
Getty Photos.
Women leave the workforce at a higher rate than men to provide care to our nation’s aging population, according to a new report from Wells Fargo.

This phenomenon puts yet another strain on labor force growth and negatively contributes to women’s lifetime earnings.

"The direct challenge of an aging demographic is obviously that there’s less of a working-age population," said Shannon Grein, a macroeconomist at Wells Fargo and one of the authors of this study. "The indirect challenge is that as we have more and more of the population growing older, those people require care that could drive more working people out of the labor market, particularly women."

The report, published in recognition of Women’s History Month, highlights the role women play in providing both unpaid and paid elder care. A few key takeaways are:

  1. As is the case with child care, women take on the majority of unpaid elder care.
  2. Women over 55 take on more unpaid and paid care.
  3. The burden of unpaid care limits women’s earnings and businesses’ ability to hire.

Read the full story.

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At its core, Fearless exists to help empower Iowa women to succeed in work and life. We believe that everyone has a story to share and that we cannot progress as a society unless we know about one another. We share stories through featuring women in our reporting, featuring guest contributions and speakers at our events.

We are always looking for new stories to share and people to feature. Get in touch with us!

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