I am currently 12 weeks pregnant with our first child. I work for an (amazing) nonprofit here in CT, which is focused on promoting healthy moms and healthy babies by preventing prematurity and birth defects. I don’t just love my job, but I need it also. My partner and I live in Fairfield County, as both of us work here, and in order for us to live here we need both of our $65,000 & $40,000 salaries in order to pay rent, pay back student loans, and have a tiny bit left over for retirement and savings.
Part of the reason why I took my current position last fall was because we knew we wanted to start a family in the next year or so, and this position provided a (comparatively) nice maternity leave, and some other pregnancy benefits, such as my health care plan covering 100% of my prenatal visit & birth costs. I am able to receive the first 6 weeks paid at my full salary if I have an uncomplicated birth, 8 weeks if I need a cesarean. I can also take up to a total of 6 months off (except for those first weeks, unpaid) without the risk of losing my job, plus I can opt to spend an additional 3 months after I return to work at either part time or compressed work week to ease the transition. This is such a lovely option, and again, part of the reason I took this job over another that 1) was a bigger career move and 2) would have paid slightly more. Now that we are about 6 months away from welcoming our child, the reality is that I may be able to take a couple additional weeks unpaid, but we just can’t afford for me to be not bringing in income for that long.
We would entirely wipe out the 4+ months worth of living expense savings we have slowly put aside, and that is not an option. Instead, I will be trying to find a child care provider who can take my six or eight week old child for three days a week while I work twelve-plus hour days on those days, which will eat up a significant portion of my salary. As we are planning on breastfeeding our child for both the health and economic benefits, I will also be up at night for feedings. This is a heartbreaking scenario for me, as I know I will be exhausted, and it isn’t fair for my workplace either, as a few month in, that time of year will be my workplace’s busiest time of year when they need every employee to be at the top of their game. I am glad with my job’s medical plan (which my organization already pays top dollar for, but it is important to them to provide), I at least will not have to worry about additional medial bills from my prenatal visits, screenings, and child’s birth. I am happy that I am able to go unpenalized for going to each of my prenatal visits, tests, etc., so that I can have the healthiest pregnancy possible.
I am happy that my workplace provides additional support for me during this time, including additional free counseling, a complimentary breast pump, and connection with parenting resources such as recommendations of local child care options, lactation consultants, and more. I am happy that I am able to flex my hours so that I can take advantage of these benefits without shortchanging my work & effectiveness. I am happy that I am able to receive my full salary for at least those first six or eight weeks, so that we can continue to save & pay our bills while I recover & adapt to this major life change. I am happy that, although it will be stressful to compress my hours for those following three months, at least I am given the opportunity to do so in order to avoid leaving my tiny infant with strangers 5 days out of 7, before we’ve barely gotten to know each other.
That is my story & my situation. The story is even more difficult and heartbreaking for the many, many parents that I know who have been forced to return to work after the premature birth of their child. I know parents who have been denied even their company’s standard maternity leave benefits (other than FMLA) because policy was that they needed to provide 30-60 days notice to their company before they took leave, and they went into very premature labor before the formal request was submitted. People count on their jobs to fulfill paid maternity leave, and many cannot do without that paycheck. When you go on hospital bed rest at 21 weeks pregnant and your child is born at just 25 weeks, and then you are forced to return to work in order to keep a roof over your head-when your one-pound child is just two weeks old and literally fighting for her life- because your six weeks is up… that is just cruel and unusual punishment. It has been proven that these babies survive and thrive at much higher rates when their parents are able to be with them, providing kangaroo care/skin to skin, talking to them, loving them, learning how to care for this fragile child.
It isn’t just me that I am asking you to support family paid leave for, but it is also these parents who have been forced to delay bonding, delay healing because they had to be at their workplace, or even have had to make the tough decision to leave their jobs to deal with their medical crisis and go into significant debt in order to do so. We need our state and our country to start standing up for parents, supporting a healthy start in life for every child. Having a full 3-6 months of paid parental leave- for men and women- would make a significant difference in how we are able to give our future generations the best start in life, and reduce the traumatic impact that returning early to work post-birth has including post partum depression and anxiety, economic issues, and more. It’s about time our developed nation started paying attention to the healthy development of our children.
Keely, Fairfield CT