Thursday, May 7, 2015

What the First Trimester Has Taught Me About (the need for) Paid Maternity Leave

WARNING: Word vomit/rant ahead:
This pregnancy has been different in many ways from when I was pregnant with Zilla: physical differences – I’m pretty sure I’m already as big as I was at 20 weeks with Zilla, what the heck; but more so, there are some major (somewhat unexpected) emotional and situational differences this time around.

Among the more obvious, having a busy toddler running around has made the fatigue of the first trimester rather interesting. While the weather was still cold and rainy, Zilla watched a lot more TV than I would usually be okay with. And by TV, I mean that we watched Steve Earl music videos about 20 times a night. I could write a separate post about being pregnant with a toddler, but I won’t, because I’m pregnant with a toddler and don’t have time for two posts like this. Come on, now. But this is about the other major difference in pregnancy number two: employment.

With Zilla, I was still in school, I had a part time job as a graduate assistant and my first trimester mostly happened in the summer when my work load was almost nothing, and I had a very flexible part time practicum. What I’m saying is, I could not have planned to be pregnant during a better time in my life. Whoop for openness to children and trusting that God’s plan is better than mine.  To top it all off, I would be graduating two months before he was due and therefore had no real commitments once he was here, other than knowing eventually I would need to get a job.
But this time, I am a full time worker. I’m expected to be on top of my game from 8am to 5pm. I am dealing directly with people’s lives so there is a very small margin of error in my work. Demands are high in my work environment right now, and I can only expect them to get higher. It’s important that when I am at work, I am all there, and I am not making mistakes or dragging.

And then there’s the first trimester. A life may be forming within me, but it feels like the life is being sucked out of me. I’m tired all. the. time. Always. So much so that Zilla has taken to saying, “Mama’s always tired.”  And yet, I can’t sleep for longer than 2 hour stretches at night because I need to pee. Add to this the nausea, and smell sensitivities, and occasional trips to, um, return my food. None of this is news to me. I’ve been here before, but this time I have real responsibilities with a rigid schedule. This time I’m expected to throw up and come right back in to finish my counseling session like nothing ever happened. And I’m completely stuck. I have no option but to power on through.

Well, just take a sick day, you say? If you’re particularly tired, go home for the afternoon and take time off, you suggest? You’re cute. Because this time I also have the foreknowledge of how much I am going to miss this new little squish when he/she is here and I have to go back to work. This is where the somewhat unexpected emotions come into play.  As we started to try for baby #2, I knew that I would be going back to work and I knew that it was going to be hard.  I did not know how hard this was all going to hit me once baby #2 became reality. 

I think about being a stay at home mom all the time now.  I come up with ways to earn money on the side, I cry about not being crafty enough to be a WAHM on Etsy, I’ve looked into online counseling jobs and online teaching jobs.  I’ve cried.  A lot.  Something about having another child has turned on this desire so strongly that I just can’t shake it.  It really snuck up on me too.  I have, for the most part, been at peace with being a working mom, enjoyed contributing to our family financially, been happy that me working is allowing hubskie to go back to school and pursue his dreams, been happy with the daycare and the way I know Zilla is learning from his school.  But with Panini in my belly, I want nothing more than to stay home and spend all the time I can with my kids before they grow up.  And it’s not just wanting to be a stay at home mom once Panini arrives, it’s wanting to be a SAHM with Zilla, now.  Part of me almost feels guilt for how drastically different his little life is going to be in just a few short months and I want to soak up all of the alone time with him that I can right now.  I want to take in every bit of his wild little personality.  I want him to know how deeply loved he is so that when Panini arrives he does not doubt how much he means to us, even when we are equally in love with the new baby.  It certainly doesn’t help that Zilla has taken to crying as we are getting in the car to go to school saying, “Stay home and play with momma” and then wrapping tightly around me and saying “Mama Sing.”  Gosh son, how am I supposed to go to work?  With streaky, puffy eyes, that’s how.  

Anyways, back to where I had intended this post to go from the beginning.  Ummm…oh yes, sickness, nausea, first trimester, sick time, maternity leave.  Okay, so I’m feeling sick, I’m not in a place to be particularly productive at work, you recommend it’s as easy as taking a day of sick leave because that’s what it’s there for, right? Wrong. Every sick day I consider taking is one day less I get to spend bonding with Panini; or one day more our family goes without pay. 

What about FMLA , you’ll get 12 weeks, you scream! First of all, I laugh (cry) at your 12 weeks. That’s just long enough for me to finally get into something resembling a routine. Just long enough for me to really be comfortable breast feeding again. Just long enough for Panini to start developing a real personality and interacting with the world. Just long enough for me to realize how not long enough it is. Oh, and that 12 weeks, it’s not paid. The only way for me to have an income while using those 12 weeks, is to use up every bit of my vacation and sick time. I’ve not been at my job long enough to have accrued much leave and little Zilla’s ear infections last year pretty much sucked up the leave I had, so I was already expecting to have some non-paid days of maternity leave.  Who needs a second income anyways? (we do).  But every time I think about taking a day off, I also think about how it’s adding that much more stress to our finances, because I just can’t fathom going back to work any earlier than I have to. There are things like part time disability that may carry me to six weeks of at least some pay, but again, that’s after I use all of my sick leave. So all that sick and vacation time I have now, I need it. I need it for when I’m essentially unemployed for 12 weeks. If I can get 3 weeks of pay after baby gets here instead of no pay, then I see that as essentially extending my time with him/her.

So, sorry clients, sorry co-workers, sorry people who listen to the lovely throw up noises I make in the restroom, but I am trying to function like I am working without sick leave right now. My quality of work is nowhere near where it should be, and could be if I just took a day or two off. Because I don’t want to spend my “maternity leave” worrying about how we are going to keep up with our bills for the next few weeks. There are much more important things to enjoy, and worry, about. So I drag myself to work every day and stare blankly at the computer screen, hoping my case notes will write themselves while I take another trip to the bathroom. If you want better quality of work right now, then guarantee me 12 weeks (or more, please more) of paid maternity leave. And then maybe I’ll use my sick days as they should be used; to keep me a healthy and productive worker like you are paying me to be.

Because you know what I think about a lot these days? Maybe after 12 weeks of learning how to live on one income, we’ll realize it’s entirely possible for our family and I’ll just stay home. Okay, hubskie calm down, that is probably not going to happen. But HELLO companies, why do you think that women don’t come back after having their babies? Other than the obvious desire to stay home. If you don’t provide paid maternity leave, then you are providing the family the opportunity to learn how to make it with less, and make that decision to leave so much easier.  Especially with the cost of daycare; I really wouldn’t have to make that much every month in a part time work at home position to fill in the difference between the lack of salary and no longer having to pay the daycare bill.  If you want to save on costs of rehiring and retraining then invest in some of the best workers you have at your company now. Moms, moms to be. Because I will tell you that the moms in my office are some of the most dedicated and focused workers we have. Because we know we have to be. We know that if we want to leave at 5:00, then we need to be our most productive selves for the 8 hours we are here. You won’t see a mom asking for overtime pay around here very often, because the overtime pay could never make up for the lost few minutes of time with our babies. We are hardworking and let’s face it, we’re moms, so we simply know how to get it done. Maybe the organizations we work for could be just a little more appreciative of the work we do and support our desire to both work and have families. In the long run, I think it will work out in your favor.

1 comment:

  1. I can definitely relate to and appreciate this post! I had a similar experience with working in my first trimester. And now we're smack dab in the middle of a very demanding legislative session during my third. 12 weeks is not, and will never be enough time, paid or not, and I can't wait until this country jumps on the paid-decent-amount-of-time maternity leave bandwagon!