Recently I had a discussion with a dear friend of mine who is considering starting a family soon. We sat and talked about the joys and struggles of being a mom and balancing a career. When we broached the topic of maternity leave, finances, and daycare costs, I found myself leaving the conversation feeling frustrated and angry at the ways in which our nation is behind in helping women feel comfortable with the idea of having a child while maintaining a career.
The first year of my son’s life was both challenging and rewarding. I have wanted to be a mother, perhaps more than I have ever wanted anything. I fell in love with my son from the moment I saw him. Hours after he was born, I was walking through the corridors of the hospital with him. I was overcome with a fear and sadness that we only had 3 months together before I returned to work. C and I had an amazing few months and I genuinely enjoyed every moment. With that being said taking 3 months off of work, unpaid, with a nominal stipend for FMLA left me more stressed about money than I can ever remember.
After returning to work, I found myself thinking of C all the time. The weekends couldn’t come soon enough and there were never enough hours in the day. There were times where I cried the whole way to, or from work, and just couldn’t bear the thought of leaving my son. C usually wanted to go to bed at night between 6 and 7 pm which gave us anywhere between 15 minutes to an hour during weekdays to see one another. Additionally, I had committed to breastfeeding C for a year and I didn’t want to give up on that important goal of mine. However the commitment to pumping before work, 3 times during work, and then again before bed to have enough supply was exhausting and a challenge every day. I was constantly worried about producing enough milk, and dedicated so much time to making food for my son. I should also mention that C didn’t like to sleep much. He woke frequently throughout the night and didn’t sleep through the night until after he turned one. Almost every night was a challenge for us. There were several days I went into work having slept 2, 3, or 4 hours at most. With C being in daycare, my spouse and I experienced the adjustment that comes with daycare costs and the added bonus of the amount of germs C was around. C was sick fairly frequently and we were shuffling schedules to see who could stay home with him. As a parent who feels vaccinations are important, it was so hard for me to send C to school for 3 months knowing that his full rounds of vaccines wouldn’t be completed until he was 6 months of age.
I don’t write any of this to complain or to minimize the experiences of other mother’s. I cannot begin to imagine parenting on one income, working multiple jobs, or the myriad of other situations that families are in. With that being said, speaking from my own experience, I can remember, all too well, the distinct feeling that this is B.S. In the grand scheme of things the expectation of mother’s and the time in which they are given to have a baby, transition them into the world, and then return to their careers feels impossible at times. It feels as though we aren’t set up for success. I have always wanted to maintain a career and have a family but have never understood why we make it so hard? When we talk about promoting women, equality and keeping women in the workforce this is a huge gap in our system.
When I have had had conversations about this with other mother’s, and women, in my life I constantly hear mention of other countries, their policies, and how far behind we are in the U.S. In order to demystify this very concept I wanted to share what other countries offer with regards to paid parental leave, either maternal or paternal. I am staggered by what I see below. How are we the only developed country to have this problem?
Thank you for taking the time to read through my experience. I would love to hear your story and invite you to share your comments with me. I also would love to hear from anyone with suggestions on how our voices can be heard and what we women can do today to make a difference for the generations of women behind us… I don’t want them to face the same struggle…
P.S.- For those of you who don’t know me, I promise I am an optimist and generally positive person. While this will not be the most uplifting excerpt I will ever write, I post this in hopes of opening dialogue, giving a voice to other mother’s and perhaps providing perspective on the experience of one mama out there.