The Mom Files: Clearing Up Maternity Leave

When I was prepping for maternity leave, and probably even before that, I figured maternity leave existed for these simple reasons:

  • Mom needs to heal (20% of purpose)
  • Baby is teensy and needs mom all of the time. (50% of purpose)
  • Ladies are “oh so lucky” to get time off work in order to cuddle and bond with their child. (30%  of purpose)

About half way through my time at home I had a major realization that my previous assumptions were totally skewed. The reality of maternity leave is this:

  • Mom needs to get her shit together. (95% of purpose)
  • Small baby benefits from mom in early days. (5% of purpose)

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Now, science and behavioral studies may argue with me… but to be totally fair, if Kamel had been home this whole time Gabe probably would have been played with a little more and may not have noticed my absence as long as a steady food supply was provided. But my point: I really thought that maternity leave was mostly for the baby and that the health of the mother was a perk thrown in there as an after thought.

Maybe this is because on a bigger scale maternity leave is not valued in the US, and often comes with a side order of guilt/shame and a hint of “Lazy woman.” Maybe it is because I had no concept of what labor/delivery/pregnancy/recovery really was all about. It was definitely one light bulb moment after another.

I had this realization as I was huffing and puffing up some big hills with Gabe in the front carrier. I ended pregnancy with very little core strength, with very little stamina, very little upper body strength, and with loose skin, swollen joints, and some left over water retention. In those first weeks I had milk stained tank tops, more often than not crazy hair, and so very tired eyes.

The baby is the baby, but I needed to get my shit together. I need to heal – it took 2.5 weeks to stop bleeding, it took a full six weeks to feel like my nethers were pretty much the way they were before pushing a human out of them. It took a full 7-8 weeks for me to feel confident in wearing things other than leggings and sweatpants. That matters. It all matters.

Pregnancy is so public. Everyone watches you grow and change and expand – strangers, co workers, family, friends (in my case, the internet… hi!). But the recovery isn’t as celebrated. People don’t want to hear or cheer about the healing of my vagina. And probably because it’s more private. It’s personal. Just like the symptoms of pregnancy, it is different for everyone but I think (at least for me!) we need that time to put ourselves back together again. Not just the physical bits, but the identity bits, the mental bits, the family bits. Who is this baby? Who am I now that I am MOM with all caps? I need to be able to lug myself up some hills, to watch my body deflate, to try and find myself again after so long being a vessel for someone else.

What I’ve realized after all of these weeks is that THIS time is important. It needs to be valued in the social sphere just as pregnancy is. I am so grateful for the time I had, though I wish it would have been easier, less wrought with stress and undercurrents of CRAP. I am going back to work stronger. I am going back to work confident that Kamel and I can do this parent thing day to day – even on the days where Gabe is fussy, even on the nights where we get less than 5 hours of sleep collectively. We got this. I am healthy and healed and I can say that with ease because I was afforded the opportunity to take the time to make it so. Did I take a pay cut to have this chance? Yes. Did I have to hound the state for a month in order to see 1 fucking dime? Yes. Did my employer make this process easier for me? Absolutely not. But! We have to be our own advocates, and the advocates for our families… because in the end, we are the only ones who will make it happen.

I am lucky. I am so ridiculously lucky that we had a support system of family and friends and that we were capable of paying rent even with the pay cut, because so many other women do not have that choice. They should, because they need it. Women’s health demands this time. The baby thrives with love and food, but what about the moms and dads of the world? They need time.

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27 thoughts on “The Mom Files: Clearing Up Maternity Leave”

  1. The fact that our country does not have paid maternity leave makes me irrationally angry. Or no — make that rationally angry. I mean, just about every other first-world country has this, right? Why are we the hold out? Why do our fellow citizens hold so much stock in “family values” but then won’t support said family at a very difficult time?

    I hate, too, that our country’s most recent discussion about maternity leave came up when a high-powered CEO opted NOT to take her maternity leave. Clearly, I don’t know her reasons, and they’re not really my business. Maybe the company pressured her, maybe SHE just didn’t want to take it. At the end of the day, I hope it was her choice. But I do think it sets an odd example for young professional women — namely, if you want to be successful in business, you should not do shameful womanly things, like take maternity leave.

    Ha. I didn’t mean to get quite so worked up so early in the morning 😛 But come on, country! Get it together!

    1. Amen. Exactly how I feel about this whole situation.

      And, apparently, in some cases (like mine), a woman might not even qualify for unpaid maternity leave. Which is just another level of ridiculousness.

      1. There was a chance during my pregnancy that my office was going to take away FMLA due to changing employment numbers. Did you know you only get FMLA if your company has 50 employees within a certain sq mile range? It is a way for small businesses to not get fucked financially, but it is also complete bullshit.

        The Maternity Leave situation in this country is a major problem. I do not feel at all like women’s health is any kind of priority. Heart disease gets its own month, breast cancer – yes because cancer is never a choice and boobs are very lovable. Somehow moms become “entitled” and at the very same time “the true role of all women.” Both of those mindsets are terrible for feminism and also incredibly false.

        It is rationally rage-worthy. I want a maternity leave yearly “walk/run benefit” like they have for every other medical issue … where are the fundraisers for mothers who can’t afford to take time off in order to heal? In order to learn how to breast feed? Where are the white house petitions to make new mothers and women’s health a real priority? We’re talking about the act of making NEW humans… ya know… the future. Why is it so difficult for government and the social landscape to see that has “worthy”?

        1. That’s such a good point–we need to be MAKING A HUGE DEAL about this in order for change to be enacted. I feel like most women — most people — do not know that a) companies do not HAVE to give maternity leave, and b) that maternity leave definitely doesn’t have to be paid. There needs to be awareness before there can be change.

          Also, the small business thing…ugh. I have friends and family who run small business, I know how extremely difficult it can be. But that’s really crappy for the employees, too.

          1. My husband (a smart, involved, state government employee working specifically in healthcare, no less) did not know that maternity leave was unpaid. When we sat down at the beginning of the year to set our 2013 budget, I wanted to include a “Maternity Savings” line item. He agreed, but we bickered over the amount to save each month.

            Him: I agree that we need to save money for birthing classes and baby clothes and things, but why do we need to save SO MUCH now, before you’re even pregnant?

            Me: Because we need to cover three months worth of my salary in addition to those things?

            Him: Ok, having a baby isn’t going to cost THAT much in the beginning. You think we’re going to increase our total spending by half once the baby arrives?!

            Me: No. I think it’s smart to build up three months of my paychecks so that we don’t have any trouble paying our bills while I’m on maternity leave. Which is 100% unpaid in my situation.

            Him: WHAT?!

        2. Not only is there a 50 employees minimum requirement for FMLA, but you also have to have worked for the employer for at least a year before you become eligible. This one year rule also seems to apply to short-term disability (at least in my company).

    2. This just broke today. Marissa Mayer changed Yahoo’s maternity policy: “Both new mothers and fathers at Yahoo can now take eight weeks of paid parental leave, and the mothers can take an additional eight weeks. What’s more, new parents will also receive $500 to buy items like groceries and baby clothes.”

      1. DAMN. I wish that decision would get the same attention that her no-more-working-from-home decision did. Because that’ll make a real, big difference for families.

        1. WOO HOO! That is fantastic news! Way to go, Marissa Mayer.

          But yes, I have to agree — where is the big publicity for this news??

  2. Mom needs to heal (20% of purpose)
    Baby is teensy and needs mom all of the time. (50% of purpose)
    Ladies are “oh so lucky” to get time off work in order to cuddle and bond with their child. (30% of purpose)

    Er, that right there is more or less my exact expectation of maternity leave. Whoops.

    I love that you are talking more about the recovery process; why is it that we shy away from that so much?

    The last photo kills me! Baby tummies are the best!

  3. Man am I ever glad I dont live in the USA. I only worked something like 21 weeks in the last 12 months (boo recession), but still managed to just squeeze in to get paid parental leave here. Just, and it was stressful figuring out my entitlement and our budget at the very last second of my due date, but the leave was there and available, and I’m granted about $300 a week for 14 weeks.

    And yeah, the healing is tough. Both physically and mentally. Most of the time I feel like we are doing ok. Then I realise Mark is a much better father than I am a mother, and when LJ is screaming, I just want to sit there and cry. Thank goodness I dont have to be back at work yet – I can barely get out of the house!

  4. as someone just starting (really just trying to start) to enter the maze of pregnancy, mommyhood, etc. it is so nice to hear you speak so honestly about things. thank you for putting it out there.

  5. Maternity leave for adoptive mothers, too! We may not have to heal physically, but we do still have a lot of $#!t to get together to care for this new baby (or sometimes older child that needs just as much time to adapt to us as we do them), that we often don’t get 9 months of pregnancy to prepare for. (I had a total of ONE MONTH to prepare for my first child.)

    1. YES! FMLA does apply to adoptive parents, but of course, it’s unpaid (and your employer has to have 50 employees as mentioned above). I feel really lucky that my employer provides parental leave that is available equally to both folks giving birth and folks adopting, but this is far from the norm. This should not be piecemeal, or a matter of luck. All parents should get leave.

  6. I def. think that first 3 months is the fourth trimester of pregnancy and really needs to be treated that way. Your body is still halfway pregnant and recovering and the baby is largely attached to and dependent on you if you’re breastfeeding. You live in a baby haze.

    I felt incredibly blessed to enjoy the 18 weeks of paid parental leave from my government. Okay it was at minimum wage and I had to meet a work-test (amount of hours worked in previous 13 months) but better than nothing. Much better. With a small amount of savings on top of that, I was able to spend six months caring for my bub full-time before heading back to work. I think it took me that long to remember my own name.

  7. You’re awesome. The photos accompanying this post are the best. I have nothing else intelligent to say (I’m still waiting for my coffee to kick in).

  8. My daughter was born a day before baby Gabe was and I’m sitting here attempting to type what I consider to be a very HOT topic for me as I nurse my almost 8 week old. I’m grateful that I live in a country where I get one year of paid maternity leave. I cannot imagine, Lauren, having to leave this little person with strangers and resume work! I’ve thought of you often and can’t imagine having to do that. I had a Csection and am still recovering. We had a heck of a time trying to figure out the breast feeding on top of that. Most of these past 8 weeks has been just about learning how to be her mom….how to manage Breastfeeding in public without flashing people….to juggle a car seat, diaper bag AND baby….how to feed myself and her at the same time and manage to do several loads of laundry while not getting spit up on or pooped on in between. Oh and did I mention my nipples still hurt!
    Good luck, Lauren. I’ll be thinking of you. 🙂

    1. Oh man… the laundry!!! Don’t even get me started on the laundry! I’m still trying to wash poop out of one of my tank tops. Holy moly.

      And thank you for your thoughts! I am greedy about updates from you on facebook, I have to admit. 🙂 Kamel is taking a month with the baby starting Monday, so we won’t start daycare until June, but it was very very very stressful even securing just those three months for Gabe. I spent my entire pregnancy stressing out about having enough time with him and making sure he wasn’t in daycare too young. But it felt so so so out of our hands.

  9. I always thought that maternity leave was largely about breastfeeding. We get 12 months in Australia (18 weeks paid by govt), and the health guidelines recommend breastfeeding for ’12 months and beyond’. I always assumed the 2 were linked.

    In addition to the govt 18 weeks pay (at $610 a week), I get a further 13 weeks from my employer at full pay, which I have taken 6 months at half pay. This is reasonably normal. My husband also gets 18 weeks of paid paternity leave, which is much more unusual. I am taking 9 months off, and he will take the last 3, so she won’t be in care until she turns 1. I will have to figure out how to juggle breastfeeding and working.

    My daughter is 3 months old now, and I can’t imagine going back to work. I’m not ready, and neither is she. I imagine Americans probably have better childcare options for such tiny babies – the quality of care at that age isn’t great here, probably because so few babies are in care. But you have every right to be up in arms about this, and shouting from the rooftops – it is NOT normal to go back to work without your baby after 3 months anywhere else in the world!

  10. With my 10 day old baby napping in my lap I’m glad that as a teacher I was “lucky” enough to give birth right at the end of the school year so as to be able to spend the summer with my boy. I would crumble if I had to leave him after the 6 short weeks I’m taking officially. Not enough.

    My unpaid leave means that past any sick/discretionary leave days I’ve amassed I actually have to PAY to take time off from work. That’s right- I give up my salary to stay home and recover and learn to be a mom. This is because I’m on a contract that says I will work for so many days and if I don’t have the sick leave to cover my intended time off my school district will charge me my daily rate for every day off that I take beyond those days (btw – in my particular district that means I get a grand total of 5 sick days per year & 5 discretionary days per year). Not only is my leave unpaid – I’m going to lose up to a month of pay to stay home for these brief 6 weeks. The American system needs work. For all of those congress people who say they promote family values this would be a great way to start.

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