This post is going to be a little different than what I normally write. If you’re on my email list you know I committed to doing a little more real talk with you guys, and that includes my posts. So, today I’m publishing my open rant on the state of paid maternity leave in the U.S. If you were totally comfortable with your 12, 8, 4 or even TWO weeks of leave, this post isn’t for you. If you also think it sucked, dive right in.
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If you haven’t yet read my post on Why Maternity Leave isn’t a Vacation, you should check it out. I had a love-hate relationship with maternity leave, which is one of the reasons I feel so strongly that we don’t get enough time.
I struggled during my entire leave. Not only did I feel totally unproductive, but I was also a hormonal mess. I thought that life as I knew it was ruined. It didn’t help that my daughter was about five minutes of crying a day away from a colic diagnosis. Or that I spent about 23 out of 24 hours with a baby attached to my boobs.
I was trying so hard to claw my way back into a semblance of normalcy. I was trying to get the hang of motherhood, and still dreaming of sleeping more than three hours in a row.
Going back to work after maternity leave
Of course, as soon as you feel like the fog may be lifting. You might be getting the hang of this mom gig. Maybe babies aren’t so terrible. This was beginning to happen for me at 14 weeks.
Then it’s time to go back to work. Enter an entirely new schedule, new stressors, and other big adjustments for both you and baby. I have no idea how people do this earlier than 12 weeks, much less two. If you’re still not able to walk around or do physical activity safely, you certainly shouldn’t be back at work.
While I was happy to go back and be in the land of adults and people who got dressed every day, it was SO hard leaving my little lady with strangers. Eventually, these women became the heroes who took care of my baby every day, but those first days back were rough.
When people would ask how I was doing it was difficult to know how to answer. Maternity leave was a challenge and certainly not restful by any means. Being back at work was intellectually stimulating but even more exhausting.
I was never able to disengage in my role as a mom even after returning to work. I continually checked her app from daycare to see if she was eating and sleeping. We were still up multiple times a night, and I felt like my mommy brain would never go away.
We need more time off
At this point, you may be confused about whether I loved or hated my maternity leave. I found it challenging but I didn’t feel ready to be back at work so soon. Which brings me to my next point. Although it’s nowhere near a vacation, it is too short in all scenarios. By U.S. standards, I know I was incredibly lucky to be able to take 14 weeks off work. I literally couldn’t fathom going back to work at eight, four, or even two weeks.
We need more time. Time to heal. Time to bond with our babies. We need more time for our breastmilk supply to regulate. In general, we need more time to adjust to life with a newborn.
What’s the big deal?
As advanced as our country is in so many areas, we’re so incredibly far behind with our parenting policies. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that infants receive exclusively breast milk for the first six months of life. And that mothers use breast milk in conjunction with other foods for at least the first year. This begs the question – how are we supposed to breastfeed if we’re away from our babies after two weeks?
I have a series on breastfeeding, and you can check out how we survived the first year here. In general, I found it incredibly difficult to be back at work while still stressed about nursing my little lady and wondering if she’d be getting enough milk.
Raising an infant was the hardest job I’d ever had. We need to have a better and longer maternity leave in the U.S. to raise our babies and adjust to the new normal.
How does the U.S. Stack up on paid maternity leave?
In short, we don’t. The U.S. is one of the only countries in the world not to have federally backed paid maternity leave. The only other countries on this list with us are the low-income countries of Lesotho, Liberia, Papua New Guinea, and Swaziland.*
Seriously. The U.S. is so far behind on paid leave we’re on par with some of the lowest income countries in the world.
This might make U.S. moms a little ill, but I’m going to go ahead and drop some knowledge. Finland and Hungary get TWO YEARS of paid leave. Canada, Germany, Japan, Sweden, and Denmark get about a year.
Source: The Conversation
The dreaded “mommy track”
Not only does this not support the best outcomes for moms and babies, but it also penalizes mothers who get stagnant in the workforce.
So many women get “mommy tracked” due to the inability to fully keep up at work once they’ve had children. The standard of being a full-time employee and a full-time mom is unrealistic. And it would be partially addressed if women weren’t forced to go back to work so soon after having babies.
While I’m not going to use this rant to get fully into the gender wage gap. I’d like to bring up that there is also a gap between childless women and mothers. And that this gap is lower in countries with longer periods of paid maternity leave. This is mind-boggling for a number of reasons but shows definitively that MOTHERS, not just WOMEN are at an even greater disadvantage in the workforce.
And if any of you have met a mom, you know this is just B.S. You want something done – you give it to a mom. Hands down.
To all the mammas out there, hang in there and keep up the good fight. The U.S. will catch up one of these days. And I’ll be cheering us on from my computer screen 🙂