Inadequate Maternity Leave Is The Hardest Part of Early Motherhood

I remember the day I told my employer I was pregnant. I’d spent the morning rehearsing the conversation in my head. I was just entering my second trimester, but the bump beneath my shirt was growing much faster than it had with my first pregnancy, and I knew I wouldn’t be able to hide it much longer.

Though I owed them no explanation, I felt it was important they knew, so they could prepare accordingly for my maternity leave. I was hoping to take twelve weeks, but because the company I worked for had less than 50 employees, they were not required to follow the guidelines of FMLA. When the doctor released me to return to work, my leave would be over, as far as they were concerned. This usually occurs at the six-week postpartum check-up.

I was a good employee. I worked hard, and scheduled all of my prenatal appointments on my day off, to limit interference with my job, but also to save what little leave time I earned. I was prepared to argue my case for an “extended leave”. I deserved it—my family deserved it. My stomach was in knots as I made my way down the long hall to the manager’s office.

I shared my news with the office manager, and then inquired about maternity leave.

“Six weeks.” She said with a flat, matter-of-fact tone. “Unless you have a c-section, then you get eight.”

I felt the heat rise in my cheeks as I began to plead my case. My insides were shaking as I attempted to negotiate a longer leave. “Sorry, it’s six weeks. That’s what everyone gets.”  I felt my throat tighten and knew tears weren’t far behind. As I turned to leave, she delivered the final blow. “I know this is hard for you, but think how hard it is for those left to cover for you while you’re gone.”

I honestly don’t remember if I even responded as I walked away. The anxiety I’d struggled with all morning had been replaced with white-hot anger, and I didn’t know what to do next. So, I did what any other pregnant woman would do—I found the nearest bathroom, locked myself in a stall, and cried. The anger departed with the tears, and I was left with an overwhelming sadness in my heart.

I knew what I wanted to do—I wanted to walk back in her office and resign on the spot. I wanted to tell her that she should be ashamed of her callousness. But, the truth was, I needed my job—maybe not that job, but one that paid the bills. The fact of the matter is, very few employers are willing to hire a pregnant woman, despite the law. I knew my options were limited, so I continued working, right up until I gave birth to the most precious little boy on the planet.

I returned to work eight weeks after my son was born—when my doctor released me to do so. Was I ready? Not at all. I was physically at work, but that was it. I was distracted, and exhausted, and emotionally fragile. As a breastfeeding mother, I used my breaks to pump milk for my son. There wasn’t a moment in my day that I wasn’t needed in one way or another, and I was overwhelmed to say the least.

I wanted to be home with my family, and I wanted to stay there until I was physically and emotionally ready to return to work. Would I have found that readiness in twelve weeks? Probably not. I was envious of mothers who were able to be home with their children during that first year—I would have traded anything for that time.

Instead, I dragged my tired body, heart, mind and spirit through the first year of my son’s life. I did the best I could given my circumstance, but it was hard. I worry I was too anxious, too tired, too impatient, and about a million other things that kept me from being the mother I wanted to be. My family deserved better than that. I deserved better than that.

We all do.

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