FMLA: Get it Together, America

1

It is 4:00 AM, and I am rocking my baby boy back to sleep. As I glance at the time, I wince with the cruel realization that my alarm will sound in less than 2 hours. My mind immediately becomes consumed with my daily to-do list, as I make a note to send those important e-mails. And yet, I know that as soon as I get to the office, my mind will quickly be back on my sweet boy’s face as he peacefully slumbers.   

Am I able to be fully present in either of these moments? 

No.

I’ve recently returned to work after having my son, and this is my daily struggle.

I always knew that I would be going back to work after having our second baby; it wasn’t a surprise. After all, I’d done it once before 3 years earlier, and we’d all survived. I knew I had a limited amount of time at home getting to know my second born. But, like most things in life we aren’t looking forward to, I conveniently pretended that it wasn’t going to happen. 

I soaked up each second with my new bundle, even enjoying the middle of the night wake-ups because they were quiet and still – a special time for just the two of us. So, yes, I knew I was going back to work and regularly scheduled life would resume… eventually. 

But here are all of the things I didn’t know.

I didn’t know I’d return to work with a baby who still woke multiple times a night, leaving me bleary-eyed with fatigue.

I didn’t know I would struggle with postpartum depression and feel ashamed for doing so.

I didn’t know that despite absolutely adoring my baby, that there would be days where I felt like I was cloaked in a shadow of sadness.

I didn’t know that at any moment I may spontaneously burst into tears for no particular reason at all.

I didn’t know that I’d feel the pain and guilt of leaving my 3-year-old daughter like it was the first time all over again.

I didn’t know that my body would physically ache at the thought of not being with my children all day.

Still, 12 weeks later, back to work I went armed with an RX for Paxil, 20-pound bags under my eyes, and zero days of PTO in my bank.

And here’s the real kicker: despite all of these things, I am one of the lucky ones.

  • I work for a company that has FMLA. 
  • My boss has been more than accommodating, allowing me to return on a modified schedule for the first few weeks.
  • My co-workers have generously pulled double-duty, doing both my job and their own jobs for the past 3 months.
  • Financially, our family was able to go without my paycheck for an extended period of time.
  • My children are in wonderful hands with both my mom and mother-in-law while I work.

I know I am lucky. 

Many women are forced back to work too soon because they aren’t so fortunate. If a company has fewer than 50 employees, they don’t have to offer FMLA at all. Some women go back to a physically demanding job while they are still bleeding and not fully healed from childbirth. Some women simply cannot afford to go without a paycheck. 

And what about the families whose sweet babies are in the NICU for an extended period of time? How can a new mom (or dad for that matter) expect to be a fantastic employee when she’s constantly worried about the health of her baby?

Personally, I had complications during my pregnancy, so I was on intermittent FMLA months before I even delivered. I was originally scheduled to return to work at 8 weeks postpartum. Thanks to short-term disability (which I pay for), I was able to qualify for more time off.  

There are so many different scenarios: adoption, post-birth complications, premature babies – but the outcome is the same: FMLA is failing each and every one of us.  

Even though I know I am one of the lucky ones, it still doesn’t feel like enough.

Can I possibly be a dedicated employee who goes above and beyond when I’m functioning on 4 hours of broken sleep and worried I won’t have enough time off to cover an unexpected sickness?

Can I possibly be a fun and engaging mom when I get home completely depleted? Let’s not forget the laundry that needs done, the dinner that needs made, and the kids that need bathed.

Right now, I feel trapped in a lose-lose situation. I know that I will adjust. My family will adjust. It just takes time – more time than we are given. After all, welcoming a new child is a life-altering event, whether it’s your first or fifth.

The fact of the matter is that the United States is doing new parents a huge disservice. 

We are one of the only countries in the world that does not mandate some type of paid leave for new mothers. This broken system has made being a working mom feel like a punishment where I cannot realistically prioritize either of my roles. This is not okay.  

Over 190 countries are doing better than us, a fact that is both shocking and embarrassing. In fact, more than 50 countries offer six months or more of paid maternity leave, with many offering paid paternal leave for at least 14 weeks.  

In Canada, for example, new mothers can take up to 63 weeks of leave depending on their employment history. Employers are then required to re-hire these employees back into their previous jobs, or the equivalent, at the same pay with the same benefits. A pregnant employee or new mother can take a paid maternity leave of up to 15 weeks. Either the mother or father can take 35 weeks of parental leave after the baby is born or adopted. The parents can choose how to divide and share the leave. If they are eligible for this program, the benefits equal 55 percent of the parent’s average wage.

I cannot even fathom this type of luxury.

We boast about being the best country in the world, yet we are the only high-income country that does not offer a paid maternity leave. If you weren’t mad about this before, I hope you are now.

Get it together, America. We all deserve so much better. 

Previous articleRotisserie Chicken: Your Summer Dinner Hero
Next articleThe Motherhood of The Fitting Pants
Hello! My name is Mallory, and I am a Troy native. I now live in Beavercreek with my husband, our daughter, Greer (May 2016) and son, Smith (Feb. 2019). The first few years of parenthood have taught me that I still have so much to learn! I’m trying to figure it out with a little bit of humor and a lot of humility. I believe that we are our best selves when we are on vacation, that life should be more like a Hallmark movie, that local restaurants are far superior to chains, that birthdays should be week long celebrations, and that you can never have too many library cards.

1 COMMENT

  1. Preach it girl! Great post! So many great points so eloquently assembled, you need a sit down with the powers that be….time for a change in our country!

Comments are closed.