Looking down the barrel of a three-month leave from work made me feel more anxiety than excitement when I started planning maternity leave with my first daughter. Instead of looking forward to spending time with my first baby, I worried time away from work could lead to being passed over for promotions at work or potentially being let go. Looking back on both maternity leaves, I would have been able to focus more on my children and less on getting back to work if I believed that my work supported my leave. Instead of seeing maternity leave as career suicide, we should celebrate maternity leave like we do sabbaticals.
Traditionally a sabbatical is a one-year paid or unpaid leave from teaching at a college or university, granted to a person after seven or so years of teaching in a higher education setting. Many companies outside of academia have also recognized the benefits of sabbaticals, giving employees the freedom to pursue travel, research, volunteering and just time off to recharge. Beyond reducing employee burnout, employers view these professional breaks as an opportunity for growth, learning, and personal and professional enrichment. Those granted sabbaticals are offered words of support and congratulations because everyone knows a sabbatical is well-earned, and a big deal.
But so is having a baby.
Getting pregnant, staying pregnant, and delivering a child is not as simple as we imagine — especially women who beat the odds of getting pregnant and carrying a baby to term in the first place. For me, being diagnosed with unexplained infertility meant dealing with the realization that I could not get pregnant naturally and all the feelings and emotions that came with it. Having my daughters meant getting daily injections and two intrauterine inseminations, or IUIs, just to get that positive pregnancy test.
Spending quality time with your baby for three months (or longer if you’re lucky) without having to deal with a busy work schedule should not be a pipe dream. I mean who wants to work an eight-hour day on three hours of sleep or use the office bathroom every hour to change your soothing cooling pads or squirt your lady parts with a water bottle? Maternity leave gives women time to not only to bond with their child, but to recover — those who return later report lower levels of depression, according to a working paper by the National Bureau of Economic Research. I mean, we just gave birth to a tiny human. Instead of stressing women out about the negative aspects of taking time away from work, maternity leave should be celebrated. It’s an accomplishment that should be given more weight. If you want to talk about personal growth, nothing can match expanding your family, learning to devote yourself to a new little person, and absorbing the massive shift in priorities and outlook that comes with that change. Parenthood is profound and, I believe, makes you a better, smarter worker. But that isn't how companies view motherhood.
Women with children earn less than their child-free peers, per The Conversation, even though they are attaining higher levels of education. Convincing your employer to increase support and flexibility for new moms can become its own burden, as The New Republic has reported.
Today, I rarely take sick days unless my kids need me to be home with them because I worry that my manager would consider me lazy or think I'm playing hooky. So taking three months off from work was not easy. I actually started working part-time two months in to my leave because I was worried I’d lose my job, which was the biggest mistake ever.
If society celebrated maternity leave the same way it does sabbaticals then taking time off to bond with a child would be much less stressful and we could return, respected for our newfound passion and wisdom, ready to pick up where we left off.
After a very frustrating first birth experience, this Deaf mother wanted a change. Will the help of two Deaf doulas give the quality communication and birth experience this mom wants and deserves? Watch Episode Four of Romper's Doula Diaries, Season Two, below, and visit Bustle Digital Group's YouTube page for more episodes.