I am a mom. I am a working mom. I have a ten year old son and I just had a daughter. I have now had a baby and had to go back to work twice. The first time, almost 11 years ago, I went back to work after my six weeks of allotted maternity leave for exactly one hour, cried a lot, and promptly went into my boss's office and quit. Do you know why? Because it sucks. Going back to work after having a baby is Hell.
Well, it's hell for me. And not for the reasons that you would think. I didn't have the quitting option this time though, so here I am. Being home for 12 weeks this time around was amazing. I felt like I got crucial bonding time with my daughter without having to sprint back to work before my doctor had even cleared me for the postpartum getting it on like last time around. It surely didn't feel like enough, but it was better than what a lot of working moms get and for that I am thankful. I am gone about 11 hours a day when you take my commute into account...sometimes more if traffic is not good that day. I leave at 6:30 in the morning. I get home about 5:30 at night. I get to squeeze in as much time as I can with my kids and my husband before I pass out from exhaustion. It's rough on the body and the mind, but this is adulthood!
I had a C-section which here in New Jersey entitles me to 8 weeks on disability pay through the state. You can then add to that another 6 weeks (if your job allows) for "bonding" through the Family Leave Act. (FLA...not to be confused with FMLA) This pays out at about 63% of your salary with a maximum of $500 per week. It stinks, but it's better than the big fat nothing that a lot of other moms get for maternity leave. I was able to take 12 weeks of leave thanks to The Family Medical Leave Act (there is that FMLA) which protects my job for 12 weeks, but does not pay me. If you are confused by now, you should be. In order to get paid for maternity leave in New Jersey, you have three sets of paperwork for three different things to fill out. FMLA to protect your job, Disability to pay you for the first 6-8 weeks, and the FLA for the next six weeks. You fill out FMLA first. After you are officially not working and can be considered "disabled", you are allowed to submit your disability paperwork. After that stops paying, you then submit your FLA.
I got paid 3 weeks before I returned to work. I am still catching up on bills.
The United States' idea of maternity leave blows. I mean BLOWS. I am fortunate to belong to an incredible moms group that bonded during pregnancy from a preggo website because we were all due about the same month. This enabled me to "meet" women from other states and countries and continents who had different ways of doing everything in the mom'hood journey. It also showed me just how much our prenatal care is pretty great, but our maternity leave straight up freaking sucks. While some of my fellow forum moms are still home enjoying baby time, USA moms have almost all gone back to the grind now. I am fortunate to live in one of the two states that actually pays out some sort of maternity leave. There is not much that New Jersey does right these days, but we are at least ahead in the race in that department. The race itself however is being run in molasses wearing flippers. Google worldwide maternity leave and see just how sadly we rank. It's pathetic.
There is a huge emphasis on prenatal care in this country. Don't do this, don't do that, make sure you do this, make sure you do that. Go to the doctor! Eat right! Take vitamins! Don't lift that! Are you resting enough? As soon as you have the baby though, it's all out the window. "Get back to work, lady!" This is even more complicated for moms who are breast feeding which I am not. I will talk more about that another time. We are rushed back to normal life. Booted from the hospital in record time. Sent home to figure things out on our own. It's quite intimidating. We all find our groove and make it work, but it feels like those guiding hands in pregnancy kind of dump us on our ass as soon as we produce the baby from our bodies.
So being home for 12 weeks was wonderful. You start to feel isolated though. I had family come see me. I had a couple friends come by once or twice. For the most part though, you are on your own. This is not like the movies. There were no care packages, meal trains, or people willing to do your dishes and laundry. My husband was at work all day so it was me and lil punkin all day. I loved every single solitary second of it. I loved everything. The cuddles, the naps, the snuggles, the massive dumps, the crying, the cooing, the feedings, the everything. It is isolating though and for someone with Post Partum Depression, that only gets worse. So there was at least some small part of me that was looking forward to the normality and adult interaction that comes from getting up and going to work like a grown up every day. I would know what day it is, I would have a schedule, I would probably sleep better. I would not be able to pick up my ten year old son from the bus though. I would not be able to hang out with my baby all day though. I would not be with my kids and I had grown very used to that over those 12 weeks and that change over back to being at work is a lot on the mind.
Then there is daycare. I read recently that New Jersey leads the nation in the rising cost of daycare. We got quotes from a lot of facilities and private folks. The average price was $1200-$1400 a month. That is a mortgage payment. That is rent. I don't know how anyone can afford that. People apparently do, because there is a daycare center in every town around here and some have several. I was appalled that people doing this out of their homes (without the insurance that the bigger facilities have) were offering themselves at the same prices. Who are you kidding?! So, my husband now has a job that is mostly afternoons and evenings and my mom takes care of the kids when we are both at work. This is modern living, I suppose. This is what it is to be an adult. This is not what sitcoms in the 80's told me. Except Roseanne. I think that was the only sitcom that told me the truth. Thank you, Roseanne!
At the end of the day though, I would do it all for my family. My husband is my best friend and just as confused by the whole adulthood concept as I am sometimes. We are navigating this world together, trying to figure it all out. My kids are incredible and truly embody the concept that my heart is now split in two and walking around outside my body (well, one half is walking...the other is still squirming). We do the best we can. Sometimes we fuck up. Sometimes we have to figure out that the way we are doing things is not working. It's all trial and error. There is no manual. You just have to trust that the people you surround yourself with will be there to help if you call. That your family is strong. Life is not easy, but it's beautiful.
Well, they call me the working mom...I guess that's what I am.