Today is Mother’s Day 2016. I’m looking forward to becoming a mother in October this year. However, I do feel that whenever feelings of happiness, excitement and total amazement begin to arise, they’re quickly buried by stress and anxiety when reality hits me. There’s a lot I need to buy (cribs/bassinets, strollers, diapers) and a lot I need to do (enroll in a daycare, figure out budget) before my little guy or gal comes. Currently, at 15 weeks pregnant, I am on a wait list for a daycare in our soon-to-be neighborhood that doesn’t open up until February 2017. Yes, this is normal.
It’s also normal that 12 weeks after I leave work to give birth to my child, I will return again. I will be able to count on my mom for the first few months after I return to work and prior to the daycare wait list spot opening up. I’m extremely grateful for that, but it doesn’t change my fear or anxiety of the unknowns about having a human life to be responsible for. The Sims was so not good practice for me. What’s with the arbitrary number of 12 weeks for leave? Is it because it’s a the length of a fiscal quarter? It’s impossible that it has anything to do with childhood development. When I first started to research daycare, I’d think about handing over a child I will barely know to be cared for by strangers for a majority of the hours that he or she spends awake during the week, and tears would fill my eyes. It’s not that the baby will mind this, but I will.
While discussing my leave with a co-worker, she told me that I might want to take more than those 12 weeks or that I might change my mind about coming back full time because everything will change when the baby is here. All I could think was, “I definitely don’t have the resources in my life right now to be less than full time at work”. I know that once week 12 is up, I’ll be back. I know that any effort to work towards a civilized paid parental leave policy won’t happen before my baby is born this year, but that’s not going to stop me from talking about it and writing to congress to demand it for the future.
I feel really, really sad when I think about all the opposing forces against women’s careers and when/if they choose to have families. First, we push ourselves to work hard in our careers so we can have stability, pay off our student loans, and maybe even have some accomplishments we’re proud of. Assuming we are childless during our career-ladder climb, we rely on drugs and devices to remain childless – amazing drugs and devices that are under attack and seemingly always in jeopardy of becoming less accessible to us. Second, we either opt out of having children altogether for whatever reason – kids aren’t for everyone, so don’t assume that they are and don’t make someone else’s reproduction your interest – or we take the plunge to either stop preventing pregnancy from happening, or full on planning for one. If we’ve made it to the point where we’ve been able to plan out when our family begins so that it’s a time we deem optimal, a host of questions arise. Am I healthy enough? Will age be a challenge? Is my insurance good enough? How will I cover my co-pay for a hospital stay at birth? Will my work be supportive? Can I afford to go 12 weeks without pay? Can I afford daycare? These questions transform pregnancy from a process of life into an experience where the commoditization of so many aspects in life becomes apparent. You’re either privileged enough to have the job with a business that is eligible for the 12 weeks unpaid guaranteed by the FMLA, or you aren’t. Maybe you’re really lucky and have a generous employer with an excellent paid parental leave policy. My guess is that most people do not work for such employers. Either way, starting a family in the United States comes with sacrifices and burdens that fall heavily on women. Our careers are set back and we lose wages.
I feel like the person who came up with the 12 week number imagined that they’d be giving women a break, but also helping them get ahead by not giving them too much time away from the job so they can continue to work on those careers of theirs.
In closing, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver made a Mother’s Day episode that I watched again this year. It made me feel all the sadness, rage and stress that I experience at one point or another throughout the day now.