I went back to work when my first child was 7 weeks old. And I was aware of how fortunate I was. See, though I worked at a school, I was in an administration position so I was able to use my three weeks of vacation, combined with my sick leave, to almost cover my maternity leave as paid. But my husband was in residency, making less than I did years prior as a first year teacher, and we could not float unpaid maternity leave.
So at seven weeks postpartum, I went back to work. Again, so fortunate to have a job I loved, colleagues that cared about me, and an on site nursery where I could continue to breastfeed. Imagine this: an America, where at seven weeks after being sliced open for a cesarean section, still leaking milk and blood from various orifices, feeling fortunate that I had seven weeks paid leave and was returning to work with my newborn on campus with me. Because even though I literally had an open wound thanks to a staph infection reopening my incision, where my husband had to clean pack the wound twice daily, and even though my newborn was struggling to gain weight and really needed to just camp out on my breasts and go to town, I knew I had it good. I had a supportive husband (who was working 4 days after our baby was born, by the way, because medical residents can’t miss training), I had family in town, I had friends who put together a meal train, and I had savings to dip into.
Before having kids, I was blissfully unaware of how poorly our country treated postpartum women. I have met mothers who had to return to their jobs days or weeks after having a baby. Mothers who didn’t have the experience or knowledge to navigate the resources available to them. Mothers who had postpartum complications that put them at greater risk of death but had to juggle work, childcare, and finding a way to get the hospital.
When I was working at that school, which by the way was incredibly supportive of me as a new mom, and honestly is one reason I did not fall into full blown postpartum depression at a really hard point in my life, we had a group of teachers visit from Canada to learn about my program. As moms do, we were trading ages and names of kids in our small chat. I learned that one had a daughter almost the same age as mine — she shared she just returned the prior week from “mat leave” and was traveling solo without her kid for the first time. Our kids were one. Her mat leave was a year. And that was standard.
Recently, America had the opportunity to turn the course around on paid maternity leave for this country. There were hurdles — financially, politically. And ultimately, the leaders of our government may make the bold statement that the health and welfare of new mothers is not important.
To me, supporting moms during a critical time in their life, a critical time in the newborn’s life, isn’t political
. It’s compassionate; it’s humane. And we weren’t talking a year like our northern neighbors. Four weeks paid. Your OB doesn’t even clear you for exercise for six weeks
. The US is one of seven countries without paid maternity leave. The average length of the nations with paid leave is 29 weeks.
So when will we decide to show compassion for the mothers we know and love? When will we tell politicians enough is enough?