How dismal maternity leave policies affect real women in the United States
Maternity leave policies in the United States are an embarrassment compared to other countries around the world. We asked moms to talk to us about what it was like leaving their babies to go back to work too quickly. The results are heartbreaking.
"I went back three days post postpartum," says Jessica Ashley, who works from home. Her physical recovery from childbirth was slow because of returning to work so quickly. "I ache for that lost time to just be with my baby without the stress of clients and working while I was exhausted and hormonal. I've taken off more time for the flu. Retaining clients — and the income they bring right then and well beyond maternity leave timelines — took precedence over maternity leave, and that's a really tough decision to make."
"I had two weeks paid, then went back to work three days at home, two at the office, and my partner did the opposite so we could be home with the baby for as long as possible," says Casey Carey-Brown. "I was lucky that the birth wasn't too hard on my body, and I have a private office for pumping, because two weeks is definitely not enough, and I realize now that was not OK."
Heather Spohr's first daughter was still in the NICU when she went back to work. "She almost died several times in the first two weeks of her life, and it really changed how I looked at everything," says Heather. "I'd intended to take the additional four weeks of maternity leave I was owed when she was released from the hospital, but I felt a lot of pressure from my bosses to not to that. So I didn't, and I will never stop regretting it." Her daughter passed away the next year from complications of her premature birth.
"I took seven weeks with my son because there was no paid leave at my government job," says Elizabeth Perkins. "I had to use sick leave and vacation. I went back early, as we needed my income. It was so hard. Because we don't have family close — not even in the same state — we started with a nanny almost immediately." Elizabeth's nanny would send her sweet photos of her baby while she was at work.
Image: Elizabeth Perkins
Amanda MagGee had eight weeks off with her first two children. "Each time it was like the scene in Hope Floats as I stood in the street and [my husband] drove the baby to our sitter," she says. "I'd go on my lunch hour to nurse. Our third daughter came when I was working for Sara Bear Diaper Caddies and I was able to bring her to work. Eight weeks is just nowhere near enough time, even if you get to take your baby to the office."
"I only lasted one day," says Alexandra Rosas, who had three months off after giving birth. "I couldn't stay at work. I went back for one day and fell apart from I don't know what — anxiety, worry, full breasts, panic. I just walked into my supervisor's office and said, 'I'm sorrry. I apologize. I thought I was ready. I can't. I'm a mess. I'm sorry,' and gave her my resignation. I stayed home and did day care with one other child to help make up for loss of income. I know how fortunate I am that I was able to quit like that. I know."
"I had five months, and it was still agonizing and heart-wrenching to leave my baby," says Laura Hamilton. "I found him a good care situation near my work, though, and was able to go nurse him at lunch. I went back part time. Once I got over the hump, working part time was fantastic, best of all worlds. Five months after I went back, though, my division shut down, and I could either choose full time in another division or severance." A decade later, Laura's career is still dead. She'd have to spend thousands of dollars on course work to catch up.
How much time did you have off after giving birth? Was it enough? Share your story below.