When I got pregnant with my son in 2008, I was terrified. I wasn’t scared to become a mother, but rather I was fearful because I was only going to get three months off from work to “bond” with my baby. I tried to rationalize the time frame. This is standard procedure, I thought, many mothers in the United States do this and then find childcare for their babies when they return to work.
Three months passed rather quickly, and I attempted to return to work. Only, it felt wrong. I was still breastfeeding my baby. I had to go into the bathroom to pump breast milk. When I asked my office manager if there was a refrigerator where I could store my breast milk, she looked at me like I had three heads.
Every day I would come to work and all I could do was think about the fact that I wasn’t with my baby. I came home and I could swear that he looked different from one day to the next. This just didn’t feel right to me. The other major issue was that my three month old baby was not sleeping much so neither was I. I was attempting to do a full time job on four hours of sleep every day.
So I made the decision that I would quit my full time job to stay home with my son. My husband and I struggled financially during that year to make ends meet. We barely had enough money for groceries, but somehow we survived. And I do mean we survived. It wasn’t pretty all the time, but I just couldn’t leave my baby at three months.
I live in New York City where daycare costs as much as renting a studio apartment. When you choose to have children here, it seems you also have two choices: a) stay home with them and be poor or b) go to work to and pay thousands of dollars a month for someone else (a daycare facility or a babysitter) to watch them. This doesn’t seem right to me.
When I picked my son up from Kindergarten today, I met a babysitter who lived in Holland for seven years. She told me that when a working woman gets pregnant in Holland, some companies will actually provide her financial incentives to support her growing family. I thought, how progressive. Holland’s got the right idea. The Dutch also value Homebirth and view it as the default way to have a baby. Hospital birth is looked at as an exception to the rule.
America seems to devalue the idea of having and nurturing babies. This is not just about mothers. Most companies don’t have paternity leave of any kind. If there is any paternity leave, it’s most likely unpaid and fathers need to use their time from FMLA. What I don’t understand is how this is accepted as normal. We just accept the fact that we all go back to work when our babies are still infants. That’s not healthy or “normal.”
I think it’s time we changed this. We need more time to spend with our children. Life is not just about working to make money, it’s about valuing our families. Americans deserve extended maternity and paternity leaves. We need to get to know our children before we return to being ourselves in the workplace.