My maternity leave ended about 3 weeks ago. I’m still readjusting and figuring out how to be a working mom again [yes, I know all mothers are hard-working mothers but you know what I mean].
By US standards, my leave was awesome! 12 weeks paid through maternity leave and disability, and I was able to add 2 weeks of vacation on either side, for a total of 16 weeks paid leave. I finished work at 38 weeks pregnant and had exactly a week to get the nest in order as Leo arrived at 39 weeks on the dot.
Being on leave reminded me of how critical that time is for the mother and whole family. I needed that time to establish successful breastfeeding, rest and recover from birth, help my older son adjust, and bond with the new baby. It is such an emotional and chaotic time that I can’t imagine trying to function at a job as well. But heading right back to work is reality for many new mothers in the US. Even now with Leo at 4 months, I’m still tired as he still wakes to nurse at night, but it feels like nothing compared to the exhaustion of the newborn weeks.
I’m also very fortunate to have a clean private room for pumping at work. Euphemistically called the ‘wellness room,’ it’s set up for pumping and helps to keep up my milk supply, ensuring Leo continues to get my milk when I have to be away.
In fact, there is a lot of attention these days to making sure that employers provide nursing moms with appropriate space and time for pumping. This is absolutely important– an investment in mothers, families, and the health of babies! However, I do worry that the focus on pumping at work distracts from something for which we should all continue to advocate and that is paid parental leave in this country! Both are crucial!
I’m sure industry appreciates the focus on pumping as this means: more sales of expensive single user breastpumps, bottles, nipples, and breastmilk storage bags; and employers not shouldering the financial and administrative burden (to put a negative spin on it) of paying for an absent employee AND someone to fill in for her temporarily. But if pretty much every other country in the world can figure this out, I’m confident we can too, America! Did you know we’re one of only FOUR countries in the world without paid leave for new mothers? Yikes.
Check out MomsRising.org which currently has a petition on paid family leave. Please sign and pass it along!
You can read more about the critical issue of family leave in the US on the MomsRising site here. It’s eye-opening and shows why our babies, parents, and families deserve better.
Sociological Images posted some maps which give a nice visual on paid leave (maternity and otherwise) around the world.
This article illustrates (with graphs!) why family leave is a class issue. They also link to this article which goes into more detail and has a cool interactive on how education and race/ethnicity impact access to paid leave.
What about you? Were you able to take maternity leave? If you have a partner, did s/he also have access to leave? Was it paid? For how long? How did it work out for your family?