Take it or leave it (18 weeks)

I dreamt the other night that I was pregnant with four children. Not quadruplets, but four separate children in four separate embryos, each due one month after the other. I was initially shocked, then horrified to have become a real life science fiction movie, then just plain worried – worried about how my body would handle all those births, how it would support so many egg sacs at once, worried about where we would find the space for them to sleep and about how I would manage to be an okay mother to an honest to goodness flock of children. Even in my dream, though, it didn’t take long for me to move from that all too familiar fear state to an all out embrace of motherhood; clearly I was meant to do this. I figured out who would share what bedroom, practiced tandem nursing positions with life sized dolls, did calorie calculations for each growing little body and adjusted my diet appropriately. The only issue unresolved when my alarm went off was what on earth to do about my maternity leave. Four kids, four births. Even accounting for federal disability and state-mandated baby bonding, even adding up every last sick and vacation hour and factoring in national holidays, I just couldn’t come up with enough time.

Which of course is not just a dream. As a mother, there really never is enough time. Not enough time in the day, not enough time in the week, and especially not enough time in the maternity leave.

I make no secret of being ambitious. I spend every day at work thinking five years into the future, considering my options, practicing my next moves. I am a tried and true workaholic, and the moment I finish work at the day job (and convince my kid to go to sleep) I shift gears into all of the other work toward all of the other goals I’ve set for myself – find the perfect PhD program; write the perfect (if slightly experimental/unreadable) memoir; run the perfect race; shape the perfect resume; search for the next perfect job.

But despite my ambition, despite all of the pushing and striving and yearning that I so desperately need to survive, the one and only thing I would truly give anything to have more of is time to turn this all off and just be a mother.

Nothing but a babyMy first maternity leave ended when my daughter was three months old. No short days, no part-time pay, no vacation time to fall back on. I needed the job and the job needed me, so back I went. My daughter needed me too, needed me more than my staff and my boss and my students, more than the entirety of that organization. Think back to the most recent three-month-old infant you held – still pretty tiny, right? They still want milk all the time, love all the time, everything all the time. But in the absence of paid leave and guaranteed job security, this time with my daughter was not an option.

Those first months back to work were some of the most painful of my life. Granted, I was dealing with some form of post-traumatic stress from the complicated experience of Koukla’s birth, but I know from too many conversations with too many other moms that my feelings of depression and helplessness were not unique. And I was one of the lucky ones – my employer extended my leave with pay after my daughter’s hospitalization, was supportive of me scheduling meetings around my pumping schedule, and allowed some leeway in coming late or leaving early every now and then. But even with the accommodations, there just wasn’t enough time.

I was away from my daughter, my tiny, tiny creature, for fifty hours a week or more. And all I can do is brace myself to go through it all over again. The shutting down of my maternal instinct. The reapplication of cried off mascara at the end of my morning commute. The sleep deprivation and the thinning patience. The abrupt goodbye once again to any form of equanimity.

If you read the post last week, you know that I’ve been under the weather. If you read the post the week before last week, you know that I’m on the precipice of moving into a new house. And if you generally have been reading between the lines, you may have noticed that I’m fraying a bit around the edges. I could really use a break. Or an afternoon to pack, or to sign loan documents, or to finally nurse this cough out of my system, or to just sit on my ass and think about the fact that I’m already halfway through my pregnancy and haven’t even quite gotten used to being pregnant. But despite the chaos that I’m swimming around in right now, despite my less than perfect health and less than comfortable pregnancy, a break is off the table, because every day off is a day less I’ll get to spend with my boy.  Save two months vacation, take two months off with your baby. Save two weeks, take two weeks.  Or the kicker – save six months, come back to no job, because legal protection of your employment ends after twelve weeks…

I like my job.  Even when I don’t like my job, I do just generally like working. I also think I would make a really sucky stay at home mom.

I’m not looking to live on vacation, not asking to get paid for not doing any work, but I could really, really use just a little bit more time.

All Grown Up Nowhere To Go

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10 thoughts on “Take it or leave it (18 weeks)

  1. The USA has so much work to do in making life easier on working moms/parents. You should get a hell of a lot more than just 12 weeks, and it is so messed up that parents don’t! It is good that you enjoy the work you do – at least there is that, when you’re longing for your baby and wishing you were being mama instead of sitting in meetings.

    I do hope you manage to at least get an evening or two off from your evening work so you can put your feet up and do absolutely nothing.

    PS – Everyone and their brother has that damn lingering cough, myself included! Feel better soon.

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    1. Well yes, I enjoy the work I do – except for when I would really rather be home with my newborn baby… The separation pain is so intense at first, it takes a lot of effort to “get back to normal.”

      I have a friend who moved to Canada about a year before getting pregnant, and her experience has been so different from mine. She works in the same field as me, and was able to take off a full year then step right back into her old job and continue to pursue her career as if nothing had happened. Incredible to think something like this might actually be possible!

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      1. I am one of the lucky ones who lives in Canada and got the year. I ended up landing a better job a few weeks after I got back, but even after the year off, I hated working.

        My heart aches for women like my sister who had to return to work when her babies were just 6 weeks old. How is any mama supposed to even establish a breastfeeding relationship with her newborn when she has to go back to work while she’s still bleeding?!

        I know some day this will be reformed in the US and they’ll treat parents better, give better leave, etc…I just wish it could happen RIGHT NOW.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I can’t get over how tough it is in the US in terms of maternity leave. In the UK you can take up to 12 months and still have a job to go back to (and this can be shared between you and your partner). Statutory maternity pay is not great, but it does make taking 12 months doable because it kicks in once wages stop. I know our welfare system and NHS is derided in the US, but I treasure it and do not take it for granted.

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    1. Honestly, your NHS is only derided by a small percentage of people here who get a disproportionate amount of media coverage. Most of us have common sense! The medical system here is a nightmare, totally profit driven and stacked against women in so many ways. As if being a working mother isn’t complicated enough, I also need to deal with figuring out maternity leave, all with the understanding that if I quit my job to be with my baby, I also will effectively be forfeiting any sort of health insurance to help me pay for the birth (which costs well over 100 thousand dollars if you want to do it in a hospital, and after having my first child go into intensive care as a newborn, home birth isn’t really an option of rme). I could go on forever about the injustices of our health system, but will try to contain my frustration here…

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  3. Ah, the reapplication of the mascara was the most heartbreaking stuff. Here’s hoping you find the break you need, the challenges you enjoy and all the time to mother that you want. It’s crazy, but you did make it work once (and your Koukla seems like such a sweet peach) I know you’ll do it again. Deep breaths. Sending you good vibes and good luck.

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    1. Thanks for the good vibes – I think they worked! I managed to slow down a bit this week (at the behest of my doctor, of course), which means I got to put my feet up every now and then, and got to load up on extra snuggle time with Koukla, who really is a pretty sweet peach. Already starting to feel a bit more optimistic 🙂

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  4. I agree with previous commenters; US has a long way to go to protect the rights of mothers to be with their newborn children. At least a year off should be legally guaranteed to anyone who is willing to take it.

    I can understand you feel harried trying to juggle everything and finding it hard to have enough time to also focus on the little things in life. And to enjoy things a bit.

    You’re made of strong stuff; things will get better. Hang in there. xxx

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      1. You may not be able to run but you’re still a runner with the mentality of one. The same way that you have powered yourself up hills, through gruelling distance and heat waves – the same way you’ll power your way through stuff that you’re going through. X x x

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