Having a baby is amazing. It will turn your life upside down with changes. But change is not happening when it comes to mothers’ mobility between work and home. Educated women with professional jobs, as fortunate as they are, still have a lot to worry about. As you read this message from a follower of this blog, ask yourself if you felt the same way. Did your mother face the same road blocks? Will your sons and daughters? If we don’t make it our business to change this story, it will certainly continue. Meet Anonymous, gratefully employed, on the brink of motherhood, and with a lot on her mind.
I’m watching my peers navigate the maddening maze of working motherhood. And being pregnant for the first time, I’m learning more from my own personal experience. The struggle begins with pregnancy; the battle to keep your head above water and your career and health from unhinging starts as early as the first trimester. Men, or the otherwise not pregnant partner do not experience this struggle in the same way, nor the snowball effect as workplace and economic inequality ripens.
As my pregnancy goes on, I become sick more frequently and intensely. I have an increasing number of doctor appointments. I use my sick and vacation days to take time off. But I do so with a heavy heart, knowing that I’m spending down time that would otherwise be spent for my “maternity leave.” Of course, “maternity leave” does not actually exist in most workplaces in the U.S. I’ve accrued sick and some vacation days from working for several years within a bureaucracy, and I’ll use almost all of this accrued time to take paid leave for several weeks, despite the fact that I will neither be on vacation nor necessarily sick. I’ll then opt for unpaid leave through the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA).
It took several (sometimes very frustrating) conversations, and time during work hours, to figure out what my real options were for leave. I received differing, confusing information along the way. In the end, I’ll cobble together a plan for which different parts need different approvals from different managers. I’m still not clear how my doctor should complete the FMLA paperwork indicating that the birth of and care for my newborn constitutes a “serious medical condition”, a key term in FMLA. Again, given the paucity of leave options for fathers and partners, most if not all of this is an experience singular to pregnant women.
Knowing that many women have zero, minimal or only unpaid leave options, I feel fortunate to be able to take what is considered in the U.S. a substantial leave of over 4 months with some pay. However, I’m wary of coming back to work having used a year’s worth of FMLA time, and much of my sick time, when I don’t know what my, my family’s or future baby’s health will be. Even with all things going well, babies can become frequently sick during their first year. My husband and I will need enough sick days to deal with this.
I’m also going without three months of salary before my husband and I take on the biggest line item expense we will have to date – child care. Throughout the pregnancy, I visited about a dozen care providers during lunch times at work so as not to use vacation or sick time. I’m disheartened by the staff ratio of 4 babies to one adult, and costs between $1,600 and $2,200 a month. Because child care waitlists in our city run 9 to 18 months for infants, we’re on 9 waitlists. Many of these require a fee, ranging from $25 to $300. We don’t have a spot yet, so there lingers the uncertainty – who actually will take care of the baby if I work?
I can’t help but feel that this burden falls more heavily on the mother. I understand that the joys of having a child and the miracle of birth will likely suspend for a moment this sense that women and children are being short-changed. It feels like the systems are built to encourage me back into the home full-time, or at least to limit my career options. I hope for our future baby, the conversation will be remarkably different.
Thanks, Anonymous. I hope you check back with us after the baby is born to let us know how you manage, and what you make of it all.
‘Til next time,
Your (Wo)Man in Washington