On the eve of my daughter’s 2nd birthday in April, an old friend invited me to see Jessica Shortall speak in Hartford. The easiest way for me to not cry while I reflect and write on why paid family leave is important to me is for me to share some comments and questions I’ve gotten over the last two years and the responses I didn’t say out loud.
Smile and Nod Translations: What I was actually thinking when you said…
“I couldn’t wait to get back to work!” and “You must be so glad to be back!”
I didn’t have a choice. My job wouldn’t be there for me if I didn’t agree to go back and I’d have to repay the salary and insurance premiums I received while on leave. Every mother, baby, and birthing/postpartum experience is powerful and deserves the healing power of time to be better able to make the next step forward for that particular family in their context. For some families, going back to work may be preferred and for others it may not be. All families deserve protection of their choice.
“You look exhausted.”
This is just how I look now. Get used to it.
“How long will it take you to pump? The meeting starts at 3PM.”
I am not fast food. Ten minutes is not enough for me. That’s the base amount of time it takes to find the pump parts, setup, and breakdown/clean up/store milk. Rushing me and stressing me out about making it to the meeting on time will, for real biological reasons, have the opposite of your intended effect. Cortisol and adrenaline are hormonal enemies of oxytocin: an already difficult hormone to produce for a cold, robotic pump in a weird, uncomfortable cluttered closet. I know you think my job is important, and I do too, but the time I have in my day to produce milk to feed my baby is work that will sustain a life, and a life that I happen to love, so, I will be late. You’ll make me feel guilty every time. Every. time. Eventually, when the meetings ends, I will bring milk home to a beautiful baby and, like magic, nothing else matters.
So many insensitive statements get blurted out to new parents. The one truth I can find is that new parents must get to know their baby and let that intelligent little life teach them what best practice will look like for their family. Here’s the kicker though – once they think they’ve figured out what works for them it will evolve because that baby is growing and developing so, so fast. It’s healthy. And it’s challenging. It takes time. And space for thoughtful reflection. And crying. And laughing. And flexibility, communication, and perspective taking. And probably a lot of caffeine. Don’t forget, new parents are navigating all of this while waking up every 2 hours at night. How any of us have the energy to make our voices heard in the fight for policies that protect us is beyond me.
I wholeheartedly support legislation that carves out any morsel of time for loved ones to listen, learn, and grow from one another. I support it as a parent, as an early childhood educator, and as a card carrying member of the mom tribe who fights back against our do-it-yourself, independent culture to reach out and lift another person up when they need it.
Let’s start saying…
“Good work,” or “You’re doing great.”
“How are you?” or “How can I help?” or “What do you need?”
And without a doubt, “Here’s a coffee on me.”
And let’s make paid leave a reality, too.
Sarah Freund, East Canaan, CT
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