Maternity leave doesn’t just benefit new mothers. It doesn’t just benefit the babies of those new mothers. It benefits everyone.
Yes, you, the college student, years away from having a family of your own. Yes, you, the single business executive who doesn’t ever plan to have children. Yes, you, the retired grandmother, long past your child-rearing years. You should all be in favor of paid parental leave. Why?
When I returned to work just 6 weeks after having my first daughter, work was not my priority. I was still healing. I was sleep deprived. I was hormonal. I was trying to establish a breastfeeding routine. I was still trying to figure out how to be a mom. Did I mention sleep deprived?
I was nowhere near giving it my all at work. Not because I was a bad employee. Because I am human.
Yet there I was, taking care of patients, the best way I knew how despite wanting nothing more than to be home with my newborn. And maybe a hot shower.
Would you want me to be the person operating on you or your loved ones at that time? Because that’s what I do. I’m a surgical physician assistant.
But we’re not just in the Operating Room. We’re everywhere. New mothers forced to go back to work because our employers don’t offer anything above and beyond the bare minimum 6-8 weeks of maternity leave. Oftentimes going back even sooner because this leave isn’t paid and many can’t afford to be without a paycheck for that long.
Would you want the lawyer defending you to have not slept for more than 3 hours the night before your court case? What about the bus driver, responsible for getting your children to school safely? Or the paramedic responding to your emergency?
Don’t you want all of these people to be at their very best when they’re doing their jobs?
But when we’re back at work 6 weeks after giving birth, I guarantee you we’re not at our best. Not even close.
It’s not because we no longer care about our jobs. It’s not because we don’t value what we do. It’s not because we don’t think that what we do or who we take care of is important.
It’s because we are physically and emotionally incapable of doing it all.
Moderate sleep deprivation alone is enough to cause the same impairments as alcohol intoxication. I probably shouldn’t have been driving let alone operating on people at 6 weeks postpartum. But staying at home a little longer wasn’t an option. Not even if I wanted to. Not even if I could afford it. Not unless I wanted to lose my job.
My job supports my family. My job pays the mortgage and puts food on the table. My job provides health insurance and all of the benefits for my family. Not going back to work was not an option for me.
We’ve made a little progress in New York State. This time around I have the option to take an additional 10 weeks off after my 6 weeks of disability and I’ll receive a percentage of my salary. My husband is also entitled to 10 weeks off after the baby is born. But we’re the exception in NY, not the rule. And it may be a start, but it’s still not enough.
The system here in the US is broken. And we need to fix it. We need to start taking better care of our new mothers (and fathers), because no one wins when we go back to work before we’re ready.
Think about that the next time you’re tempted to complain about a few pennies coming out of your paycheck every week to support paid parental leave for new parents. Even if it’s not a benefit you ever plan to use personally. It’s one that will still benefit you.
Trust me. I’m a PA. 😉