Maternity Leave: Women In The U.S. Get The Short End Of The Stick

I Had Five Babies And Five Very Different Maternity Leaves

Mother holding baby, using cellphone and laptop
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The other day I was scrolling through my fav Howard University Alumni page (HU, you know) when I came across a post about the sudden outrage Meghan McCain had about maternity leave in this country and her sudden revelation on how it needs to change. I won’t give you my opinion on what she had to say (just know I rolled my eyes when she mentioned “luxury” and “maternity leave” in the same sentence), but as a mom of five, I felt like I should share my postnatal experiences so people understand how vastly different maternity leave is for moms, even the same mom with each of her kids.

Age: 21 years old
Marital Status: Single
Occupation: Full-time college student and full-time temp employee.
Time off after birth: Four weeks

After the birth of my first son, I needed to get back to work as soon as I physically could. I just signed my first lease and was paying rent for a small basement apartment (because my dorm wasn’t the best place for a baby) with a job that offered me no PTO, let alone any kind of paid maternity leave. I told them four weeks, and after four weeks I was back at work. I even tried to keep up with breastfeeding, but the stress of work and keeping a full load at school quickly dried up my supply. I was thankful for WIC, but after I had the baby and was no longer breastfeeding, my benefits only covered formula. I didn’t qualify for SNAP, so many days mealtime was a creative endeavor.

Age: 27 years old
Marital Status: Married
Occupation: Full-time legal secretary at a DC law firm.
Time off after birth: Six weeks

My second time around I was newly married and had a good-paying job with benefits. They offered six weeks of paid short-term disability and I thought it was the best deal in the world. I could have had more time off, but I didn’t have enough PTO or sick leave to justify being out longer than six weeks.

Age: 28 years old
Marital Status: Married
Occupation: Full-time legal secretary at the same DC law firm.
Time off after birth: Three months

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Yep, I was crazy enough to have two babies back to back, but this time I was smart! I saved up ALL my sick and vacation time, which meant most days of my first trimester was spent in the office bathroom with my office (now official) bestie providing the moral support I needed as I cried about how sick I was. Bottom line: I was grateful for the time off, but hated how hard I had to work for it. It made my pregnancy absolutely miserable.

Age: 34 years old
Marital Status: Engaged
Occupation: Stay at home mom
Time off after birth: One year and one month

I counted myself lucky when I (finally) had my little girl. I met the man of my dreams who moved me and my three boys to Nashville to do what I knew I had been needing for a while, taking a BREAK. So that’s what I did, for an entire year. It was the longest, and only, time I hadn’t been fully employed since I was 21. It felt good going back to work knowing I spent so much time being able to focus on my own self-care and being 100% available to my kids for every single activity they had in school that I could attend.

Age: 39 years old
Marital Status: Married
Occupation: Owner of a boutique Virtual Executive Assistant business
Time off after birth: Weird.

SURPRISE!! Yep, I pushed out another kid. After being laid off all of a sudden from a boutique law firm, I went back to legal Secretary work (still smacking myself for that). A week later I found out I was pregnant. 12 weeks later, I was high-risk because of pregnancy-induced hypertension and had to be put on a restrictive work schedule. My doctor planned for 20, I asked for 30 because I didn’t want to be a problem at my new job. Well, I was fired from that job, but that same day I was able to sign my first big client as a Virtual Assistant.

I hid my pregnancy from all of my clients, figuring no one would want to hire a very pregnant, high-risk assistant. I planned to take off a full two weeks and then slowly add my client loads back one at a time until I felt okay to be back full time. But life doesn’t always go the way we want and I ended up delivering six weeks early. I was literally working while in labor to make sure every loose end was tied before I was completely off. Thankfully my clients were very understanding, and I was able to take the time I needed, including signing on a new client, before getting back to work.

It doesn’t matter if you are a broke college student, gainfully employed, or a successful business owner — when it comes to having babies, women in the U.S. get the real shit end of the stick. When Meghan talked about what a “luxury” it was to be able to take the time she needed off work from her traumatic birthing experience, I just shook my head. Mostly because she’s right; being able to enjoy time off with your baby for any amount of time IS a luxury. But also because it’s a sad shame that she had to have a traumatic birth experience before realizing that her luxury isn’t afforded to MANY others, and that she should have been “outraged” a long time ago.

Then again, we’ve seen time and time again how it’s overlooked when bad things happen to OTHER people until it hits home for people personally.