Thursday, January 12, 2017

Why my 11-week maternity leave is not too long



I've said it before, I'll say it again, I love what I do. My career does not define me, but it is a big part of who I am. I've never (okay, rarely) thought to myself, maybe I won't return from maternity leave. I plan to work again. But taking time off allows me to feel that way. Yep, you heard me right, I believe longer maternity leave begets happier mommy employees. (Daddy employees too.)

There have been reported examples of this as well. (In case you're curious: "Paid Leave Encourages Female Employees to Stay")

Why is this the case? Here are a few reasons I've observed.

5) DO YOU KNOW WHAT HAPPENS IN CHILDBIRTH?: I've done it both ways. Neither is pretty. Sure it's beautiful, but it's not pretty. During my c-section with my first child, I vividly recall my husband looking at me (eyes like saucers), then at the production happening beyond a sheet separating me from my mid-section, then back at me, then back again at the team of doctors, then at me. Finally he said, "does that hurt? because they aren't being gentle." Indeed, gentle is certainly not the correct descriptive word for surgically removing a baby (in my case, a breech baby). The recovery process is also no walk in the park. In fact, shortly after my c-section, I tried to take a walk in the park, and it was difficult and painful. The recovery was markedly quicker during this most recent vaginal delivery. I won't get into the details of what happens after a child is born, but let's just say this, have you ever needed to wear an ice-filled diaper? have you ever worn hospital-grade underwear with diaper-sized pads? have you ever had a cut in your mouth and then tried to drink orange juice? (this is a metaphor for a body part and urine) Okay, this is getting more visual than intended. My point is this, that stuff doesn't just happen for the days you're in the hospital. No siree...you happily, greedily take as many hospital mesh panties home as you can because you know you'll need them. Working during that? Sitting at a desk? Interacting with coworkers? No thank you!!

4) BABY GOT BACK...with some words interjected. (after) BABY (I have) GOT (to get my body) BACK: Alright, this is one is admittedly vain, but I work in TV. I think most women are like me though and after the baby is born I am not thinking about the pregnancy pounds. We don't have the time or energy and nor should we. Again, my career is different, but a person wants to feel good (at least okay) about themselves before they return to their job. Heck, they also don't want to have to buy a whole new wardrobe to return to work and look presentable. It takes a little bit of time to feel human. I believe confidence is needed in almost any job. To moms who don't have this insecurity, good for you! I mean it!

3) BABY BLUES WITH A TINGE OF RED: Postpartum depression and baby blues are talked about more openly than in the past which is a wonderful thing. I cannot describe the stress, the hormones, the lack of sleep that happens after a baby. Shortly after each birth, my husband and I have probably experienced the greatest disconnect in our relationship (wedding planning is up there too) because it's tough. And I wouldn't categorize myself as having postpartum depression. Thankfully we're on the upswing. Why? Because we care deeply about each other and made sure to communicate but also because time passed. We got in more of a routine to combat the sleep deprivation (or maybe just adapted), my hormones have balanced a bit, and we're figuring how life works as a family of four. I mentioned red in this heading because when I hear blue I think depression and feeling down but many women also feel anxious. I don't know the color of anxiety and red is probably more appropriately equated with anger, but I went with red for anxiety (work with me). In talking with moms who have more than one child, I've found they feel it even more when they're faced with returning to work after a second child. At this point I agree.

2) ABSENCE MAKES THE HEART GROW FONDER: The previous one threads into this. My brain has been all consumed by baby. For the first few weeks of maternity leave, the thought of work just stressed me out. Recently though, I'm getting my stride back in terms of life balance. I'm able to think about work again. And I miss it. It took me time to miss it. If I had returned too soon, I know I would question my choice to work. I'm sure that happens to a lot of people. I'm sure women feel like it's too much and just decide it's not worth it. That's why companies have sick time and vacation time and holiday time. A lot of Americans work a lot. The weekends and the breaks help you recover, regroup and move forward.

1) I DIDN'T BREAK MY LEG: Most importantly. The reason I don't apologize for my maternity leave is because I have a baby. I went through a lot physically and emotionally, but the bottom line is I have a beautiful baby girl who needs me. I'm not recovering from a broken bone. My pains are only part of the equation. The biggest part is bonding with this precious person. I've been able to fully commit to her as we try to work through breastfeeding issues. I witnessed her first smile. I am there when she cries during the night, during the day, during the afternoon. I will never regret a single moment I spend with her or my son. This is most important. This should be celebrated. This should be supported.

So to the person who recently told a friend of mine, "that's too much time to take off," I say, "cool opinion, bro (single man with no kids), but I couldn't disagree more."

I will happily take my 11 weeks maternity leave without feeling bad about it (I have enough self-induced anxiety when it comes to motherhood), and I wish I could take more. It doesn't make me a bad employee, it is making me a better one. And it makes me an employee who is forever grateful to my bosses, coworkers and company. Forever grateful. I know many people would love to take more time off and can't, I truly feel for you. And to moms and dads who are returning to work after family leave, take a deep breath, you've got this!

(Disclaimers: I always hate when people tap into some small comment in a blog and spin, spin, spin. So here are my disclaimers: 1) my list focuses on some childbirth-related reasons, but I strongly believe adoptive parents, dads, etc. deserve a lot of time off too! 2) I'm not talking about or advocating for federally or state-funded paid leave. I'm leaving politics and finances out of it and just saying why I think time off is important. 3) If someone wants to take less time, she/he should!)

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