In the wake of Mothers Day (and a happy one to all the madres out there! Mine was great, thanks for asking.), I came across this blog post: Wake Up Moms – You’re Fighting the Wrong Fight. In a (very small) nutshell, it critiques America’s maternity leave policies. Since I’ve had this conversation many times over the past year with friends and family I thought I’d briefly contribute a couple cents to the discussion.
When my husband gifted one of my eggs with one of his sperm, I was working for a small company of less than 50 employees, who was therefore not bound by the laws of the Family Medical Leave Act, or FMLA. I was also the first female employee to get pregnant, so they sort of built their current policy against my suggestions. Here’s what I ended up with: 6 weeks paid leave (courtesy the company), another 12 weeks unpaid (courtesy of abiding by FMLA standards, even though they didn’t have to), thereby totalling 18 weeks of leave. I consider this pretty generous when compared to my American lady-friends that’ve also procreated. However, when I compare this to my friends in England and Spain who’ve had children, the fact that I call 4 1/2 months of leave “generous” sounds like a sick joke. My British gal pal went back to work after a year of leave, and the Spaniard is just now returning to the job after two years. Kind of makes you throw up in your mouth a little, doesn’t it?
Because here’s the thing – at 6 weeks I was still nursing every two hours around the clock. At 18 weeks I swear my kid looked deep into my eyes and telepathically said, “You want me to do what now? Sleep?? Through the entire night?! I won’t do it, I tell you. NEVER!! MWAH HA HA HA!!!” And then he would barf on me. Only a few weeks ago, right around the time of his first birthday, did he start regularly sleeping through the night. Although every time I talk about him sleeping through the night he abruptly stops, soooooo…. I probably just screwed myself there. Point being, I was a complete zombie for many, many, many months. I walked through life in a daze. If someone asked me in the evening what I did that morning, I would stare blankly for about two minutes before saying “I literally have no idea.” Even now, if you ask me what I did last weekend it’ll take me awkwardly long to remember. I’m still working on retraining my brain to THINK. One look at my delirious corpse-body and friends’ eyes would fill with sympathy. But I was quick to say, “at least I’m at home and not in an office!! If I had to be in a cubicle right now, I would probably murder something.” Sure, I guess I could’ve asked/forced my husband to share nighttime feeding duties with me since the babe took to bottles no problem, but I figured I’m on leave, he’s not. One of us should be a coherent daywalker.
You see, I was fortunate enough to be able to stay at home at the end of my leave when I started working part-time from the house, and I’m incredibly thankful for that. Who knows how long this will last, but I’m enjoying it while I can. My husband and I were also lucky enough to get pregnant at a time in our lives where this was an option for us. But I know this isn’t the case for many women out there, who don’t have the luxury of a choice. They have to return to a full-time job, often far before they’re ready. (And yes, I did choose to get pregnant, unlike the casts of “Teen Mom” and “16 and Pregnant” and, my personal fave, “I Didn’t Know I Was Pregnant,” etc.)
Being a working parent is hard. Being a stay-at-home parent is also hard. This gig takes a lot of work and dedication and patience and love any way you look at it. But giving the working moms of this country a respectable amount of time to physically, mentally and emotionally recover from childbirth, let alone bond with their newbie, doesn’t seem like too much to ask. One would think. I don’t have the first clue as to how we begin to create a better national maternity leave policy, and I can only speak to what I’ve experienced. Personally, I think some kind of guaranteed leave time for everyone, not just those who fall within the FMLA restrictions, would be great. And it would be super if your position would be held for you up to year – not saying you get paid for that time, just that you could return to work. That’d be magnificent. But I’m not holding my breath, especially in this economy. Regardless of how you personally feel about being a working parent, whether you can’t wait to get back to your career post-childbirth or the thought of returning to your job makes you physically ill, better leave options in the U.S. of A. sure would be nice.