I really want to talk about maternity leave (or lack thereof) in this country. I know, basically every mom you know has probably complained about this at some point or another but there is a good reason for that– BECAUSE maternity leave in this country SUCKS.
Let me tell you a story about myself. I was 27, pregnant with my first kid and everything hurt. My child was 8 lb and still flipping around in there at 39 weeks+… warping my stomach into crazy shapes that horrified even my crunchiest, pregnancy loving friends. I hurt like hell. I cried about having to get up from the couch to go pee because of my round ligament pain. My feet were swollen, I couldn’t stop snoring, my heart was palpitating– I was done. I was 50 pounds heavier, my hair was suddenly kinky, my nose looked like it ate another nose and my son still didn’t come out until 41 weeks and that was after some intense begging.
Labor was exhausting. (I am not lying when I tell you that it lasted for a solid week) I vomited for days, I hurt, I cried, I had to go to the hospital and be put on “medicated rest” and then I still had to be induced days later after everything just… stopped.) I pushed for nearly 2 hours and he finally made it to the other side. He left behind an episiotomy and poop water… but he was here. I’d done it. I’d given birth and now I could rest. HA!
I can honestly say I don’t remember the first week of his life. I was SO sleep deprived, hungry, exhausted, irritated, hormonal. I couldn’t go up the stairs because it hurt too much. My blood pressure sky rocketed and my postpartum anxiety and OCD set in. I had to have follow up after follow up to monitor my blood pressure– all while trying to learn to breastfeed, change diapers, soothe him, bathe him, etc. It was not a marathon in that I could pace myself, it was a sprint. A fast pace that I had to keep up with for weeks. He cried, I cried, we cried… I was so, so tired.
My husband went back to work after that first week and I felt like I would collapse. I didn’t know how anyone could do this, especially someone who felt so physically drained and mentally exhausted. I called his pediatrician one day because he wouldn’t stop crying. I told myself I was a terrible mother…I questioned everything. I cried with him. These were the first weeks of our lives together and I was a mess.
Let me elaborate for a minute on this, and this could get too real for some people so just skip this if you want– but the postpartum time… blows. I was terrified to poop because my “down there area” was cut all to hell. I didn’t even know how bad the cut was, I didn’t ask and I was too afraid to look. I bled so much I questioned how much blood was actually inside of me and okay to lose. My body lost 20 pounds instantly and then plateaued at a full 30 pounds higher than my pre-pregnancy weight. I was really confused by the person staring back at me in the mirror. It was a real adjustment. An adjustment on top of the adjustment of birthing a child and going from a family of 2 to a family of 3 in a matter of minutes.
Sounds like a lot right? It was. It is. My story is not unique. It is actually pretty typical from what I’ve seen. You know what else is typical? Going back to work after 6 weeks. I birthed my son in May and was back to work in June. I remember seeing my son smile (like really smile, not gas smile) for the first time when I was preparing to go back to work. It was this beautiful moment where I finally felt like he knew me as his mom, a moment I’d been needing and waiting for. And there I was… getting ready to go back to work. I felt immense guilt and anger.
I felt this with such intensity, but get this- I worked from home! I was the mom that other work moms envied. I could keep my son AND work from home, therefore never missing a moment. I could do it all. Right? No. I couldn’t. My work was always late, I was always torn between devoting every second to my son which I knew in my heart was the right thing, or getting a pay check. I tried really hard to do it all. I tried to sit down to my transcription job and type chart notes while a screaming baby was balancing on my knees trying to latch to my boob. I tried to pump the other boob while my son was nursing. I was literally trying to do 3 things at once. Three really important things. Guess what– didn’t work. I pumped nothing because I was BEYOND stressed. I’m assuming my son was getting nothing either because he screamed and I was …stressed. My work didn’t get done because I was …stressed. Oh and, I was still bleeding, my postpartum OCD and anxiety were still raging, and I was drained.
So to put it simply, why are things like this? Why are women expected to go back to work only 6 weeks after birthing a child? You actually grow another life inside of your uterus. You push this big, beautiful new life out of a tiny opening and then you don’t sleep for MONTHS. However, you’re expected to come back to work, good as new after only …6 weeks? (8 weeks for a C-section) You need to dedicate yourself fully to your work as you did a year ago before your life changed so dramatically. It’s bullshit. Excuse the language, but that’s all I can really describe it as…bullshit.
As a new mother I needed support. Emotional support. I needed to check in with my doctors frequently. I needed sleep. I needed to cherish the moments with my new baby rather than stare at a calendar each day counting down to when I would have to leave him. I needed TIME. I needed time to adjust. I needed time to process and breathe. I needed to be a mom.
Unfortunately, in this country, we are enormously undervalued as new mothers. It is sad. It is sad for each new mom and sad for the babies. Babies need their mother’s full attention. They need peace and calm (as much as can be had at that time) without the added stress of having to go back to work so soon. Doesn’t that make sense? I feel like I’m stating very obvious things. I know that you can have up to 12 weeks, but sometimes that isn’t even long enough– and unfortunately not all of us have that option.
For more information on maternity leave policies around the world, read this. It will give you more specific information without my saltiness and anger ha.
Seriously though, we have a real problem here. It may seem like complaining but this is a very important issue. The maternal mortality rate in the US is on the RISE. Women are dying. In this technologically advanced, intelligent, educated country…the death rate for women post pregnancy is rising. That shouldn’t be happening. We need to develop a better maternal leave policy and give new mothers the help that they need. Be it financially, physically or mentally. Motherhood is one of the most important things many of us will ever do…we should have more than 6 weeks (or 8 or 12) to get used to it.