Nine months of anticipation, weird food cravings, a body that morphs in ways you never imagined, and waiting to meet your newest child. No matter how we deliver our babies, we find ourselves in a whirlwind of emotion, a soup of hormones, and steeped in the love drug – oxytocin. Thank God we are, or those crying, needy love nuggets that can’t do anything for themselves for a very long time, would never survive. It’s our attachment to them through miraculous chemistry that ensures their survival.
For women in the U.S., most employers “allow” 6 weeks of maternity leave and employers do not have to pay wages during the leave. Thankfully, we are protected under the Family Medical Leave Act, and here in New York State we now have Paid Family Leave. While these programs help protect our jobs during our time away as new mothers (and fathers), they largely require the employee to use all their sick, vacation, or personal time to “fund” the parental leave. Few employers offer paid maternity/paternity leave and the New York State program is only offered if your employer or Union decided to ‘join’ and pay into the program.
Women take time off for pre-natal care that intensifies as the due date gets closer including additional trips to the lab for blood work, glucose tests, daycare visits/interviews, all the planning! And if you have any medical emergency due to the pregnancy (bed rest anyone?), your time off gets eaten up rather quickly.
When you are finally home from the hospital following the birth of your child, you have made it through the initial post-partum period where your body begins to shrink back down, you may finally be getting the hang of breastfeeding, you manage to shower at least every-third day, 4 hours of sleep feels like a miracle, and you look at the calendar only to realize, you have a week or two of maternity leave left. And your heart sinks.
And this is the working mother’s dilemma; do I leave my child in the care of someone else, or do I stay home? Can I afford child care on my salary? Can I afford NOT to work?
This dilemma is real. It is felt by all women who have been sold the idea that we can “have it all”. The idea that being a house wife is ‘archaic’ and not ‘progressive’. I am here to tell you, it’s all bullshit. There is no “right” way. There is no “my way is better than your way”. It doesn’t exist. There is only the way you choose to proceed based on your career goals, needs, support system, spouse/partner, and how you feel as a mother.
Women need to prepare for BOTH options and choose the best fit. You don’t know how you are going to feel after you have your precious new baby home with you. You may not be able to even imagine NOT being with your child, to nurse your baby on demand, to be there for each milestone. On the flipside, you may decide to stay home and feel stir-crazy by 6 months. Either way, you are making a sacrifice. The mommy-penalty for cutting back to part-time employment or opting out all together is not fiction. Women are ‘dinged’, penalized for these stop-outs and breaks in employment. We are overlooked or voluntarily pass up promotions for the needs of our families. We lose years of retirement contributions. We lose skills needed to compete in the workplace.
But the Universe is smarter than us. In return, we get TIME. Time with our children that we will never, ever get back.
“Time; You can’t buy it, rent it, borrow it, store it, save it, renew it, or multiply it.” (Dr. Alan Zimmerman)
Were you faced with the working mother’s dilemma? What did you decide to do?