Maternity Leave in the US

This was my last week of maternity leave, and it’s really made me think about just how hard it is to be a working mom and just how lacking maternity leave in the US really is. As I am writing this, tomorrow is my first day back. And no, I’m not ready. But it’s not because I want more time to snuggle and bond with my daughter, though that would be nice. It’s because of where we’re at developmentally.

This past week, she was in the middle of developmental leap, which meant her schedule was all over the place. I didn’t know when I would have opportunities to work out, take a shower, or make myself a meal. In the next year, she’ll go through about 6 more big developmental leaps. During those times, she’ll be fussier and probably won’t sleep as well. I’d like to not have to try to work an 8 hour day after being needed all evening. I’d like to have time during the day to help her figure out what her brain is trying to work out. Because I certainly don’t expect a nanny or daycare worker who is making poverty wages to also be an expert on developmental milestones.

Over the next year, her schedule will probably change 2-3 more times. She’ll need less daytime sleep in more consolidated time frames. She’ll need to eat more at longer intervals. Again, I don’t expect a nanny or daycare worker to figure this out. And I would like to be the one who helps her shift her sleep/wake rhythms, because that is what would be the least stressful for all of us.

Throughout the next year, she’ll have multiple doctor appointments (about once a month). Along with things to help keep both of us healthy like chiropractor appointments, meetings with a lactation consultant, and mental health therapy and PT for me. It’s not exactly easy to work all of those into a 40 hour work week, even though I’m blessed enough to have a boss whose flexible.

Her immune system is also still changing. If we put her into daycare, there’s a good chance she’d be home, fighting some virus every other week. Thankfully, she’s staying home, but I still anticipate a few colds and stomach bugs, since big brother will probably be kind enough to bring something home every once in a while.

So I can look forward to using the majority of my PTO over the next year trying to accommodate all of these appointments, visits, hard nights, and unexpected illnesses. Not ideal for me. Or my family. Or my colleagues to be honest.

Oh and breastfeeding? Yea, that’s a fun challenge. Fortunately, I know I will get a couple of breaks a day to either pump or nurse. But that means my time is broken up, and it’s already going to be a struggle to focus at work. My team is going to suffer for this. I probably will too.

Which leads to me wonder about all the women the work force in the US looses.  Moms who were intelligent, creative, resourceful, and dedicated, but unwilling or unable to go back after 12 unpaid weeks.

8 years ago, when we had our son, dropping him off at daycare for 8 hours a day wasn’t something either of us could stomach. I’d been in daycares and worked in them. I knew that even with the best of intentions, 2 adults are just not capable of caring for 8-10 babies simultaneously. And even if we could accept the daycare environment, about 80% of one of our incomes would be dedicated to the cost. What reasonable parent would choose to go back to work just to pay for daycare if they didn’t absolutely have to?

Fortunately for me, Henry was willing to stay home. So that my career, which cost me 7 years and 6 figures of student load debt to obtain, wouldn’t take the hit. Because we all know that explaining a year gap on the resume as a woman in corporate America is about as easy as convincing a toddler to be responsible around Halloween candy.

But how many women have we lost because they did take the hit? Because the going back to work would only cover the additional cost of daycare. Because after going back for a couple of weeks, the exhaustion was too much. Or the anxiety was too taxing. Or because they knew they were going to be fired after they’d plowed through their sick leave in 2 months staying home with babies who had RSV, strep, and the flu back to back.

How many innovations did they take with them? How many ideas, cost savings, and relationships are missing because these women didn’t come back? How many C-suites are full of men because their counterparts started back on the bottom after leaving for a reasonable amount of time? How many families have given up vacations, healthcare, or buying a home to live off one income?

But I’m going back. Because we are the only developed nation that doesn’t give mothers adequate maternity leave (or any at all in most states). I’m going back because I like health insurance, and because I know how hard it is to return to the work force after a gap in employment. And fortunately for me, I have one of the best possible situations.

My husband works a flexible schedule and usually isn’t out of the house more than 20-30 hours a week, so he’s available to fill in some gaps. We have the financial ability to hire a nanny, so we can keep our little girl home and healthy. I work from home, so I get to keep an eye on everything, which makes me feel a lot better.

Because honestly, I could stay home. We could sacrifice baseball camps, birthday trips, and put off replacing our 10 year old jeep. And if I couldn’t work remotely to keep an eye on my baby, if I couldn’t afford a private nanny, if the stars weren’t aligned absolutely just right, I’d walk away. And I’d take a lot with me.

But I’m still not ready. So when we talk about the need for appropriate parental leave, it’s not because we just want to stay home. It’s because me returning right now will probably mean I’m half as productive at work, half as present at home, and twice as stressed and exhausted. It’s not what’s best for me, my family, or my coworkers.

What would be ideal? For me to be able to spend 6-12 months focusing on all those things I mentioned above. To have time to recover, rebuild, and adjust to life as a new mom. To still have insurance and a career to return to afterwards, without stress about finding a new work place and adjusting to a new culture/job/etc while I’m still figuring things out at home. That would be the ideal situation. Not just for me. Or my family. But also the people who are going to have to work with me as a cranky, overstimulated, less productive version of myself. But it will have been 12 weeks, which is supposed to be enough.

I don’t want to retire. I don’t want to stay home forever. Because I genuinely like what I do, most of the time. I like being a working mother, at least half of the time. I just want a little more time. But the challenges of having to quit a (very cushy) job and trying to find another after taking time off is intimidating. And honestly just as stressful as going back, probably.

Not having a guaranteed paid maternity leave means that women who leave come back to careers that are significantly less advanced than their male counterparts. Back into a system where we are already paid less for the same work. It means women go back well before they are mentally, physically, or emotionally ready in order to keep enjoying things like paying for their utilities. It means postpartum anxiety. Workplace distractions. And an even bigger uphill battle in workplace and society.

So, after 12 insane weeks, I’m going back. Like a lot working moms. But no, I won’t be ready.

This Weeks Workouts

Total Miles: 19.35 Miles
Total Workouts: 4
How the Run Felt
Once again, I did not get any trail runs in this week. We can blame my husbands work schedule, and some rain this week. I kept my weekly runs the same structure as last week. During my long run, I increased my run interval to 2 miles with a quarter mile walk. Lila wasn’t having great naps towards the end of the week, so I decided to take her with me during my run. She usually naps really well in the jogging stroller, and she did have a pretty solid nap. It was the furthest run we’ve logged together so far!

How the WODs Felt
This was the first week I really felt like myself during the CrossFit workouts.  I’m still scaling the weight significantly on most of my olympic lifts, but I’m feeling more coordinated and stable during the workouts.  And my endurance has been improving over the last couple of weeks.  As weird as it may sound, my wrist has been really sore from holding Lila’s head while she eats, so I was not all that interested in overhead lifts.  Thankfully, my wrists held up decently during the week.

What I’ve Been Listening To
I started listening to a really sad and crazy podcast this week.  It’s a true crime podcast about a woman who survived a brutal home invasion as a child, and then identified the person she believes was responsible.  Unfortunately, as an adult, she believes she made a mistake, and recants her statement.  The podcast investigates who might actually be responsible, and how the investigation as a whole was completely botched.

What Went Well
Getting extra baby snuggles this week.

What Went Shitty
Another week without trail runs.

Plans to Improve Next Week
Keep building strength in my olympic lifts.

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