Monday I go back to work. I’ve been putting off writing those words, and this post for two reasons. For one, because I can’t type while holding a baby and right now I pretty much refuse to put Mia down. And two, because just writing about going back to work makes me cry and yesterday I cried for over an hour so I can’t be doing that everyday.
I never thought I would want to be a stay at home mom, and I still don’t. But I also can’t imagine how I’m going to leave her. It’s not because I don’t trust anyone else to take care of her. I know she’ll be fine. It’s because I’m going to feel so empty all day without this little baby that was literally inside me for almost 10 months, and then attached to me for 30 minutes every 2 hours for the next 10 weeks. 5 hours is the longest I’ve ever been away from her. My body no longer feels whole without her.
I’m also mad. Because the closer I get to going back to work, the more I realize that nature never intended for mothers to be away from their children for a full day at only 10 weeks old. Not at 12 weeks either. Or 6 months even. If our medical professionals are right, and breast really is best for babies, than why does our government provide virtually NO support to mothers (other than a pathetic, unclear and poorly enforced law that tells employers they have to let new moms pump during the day at work) to enable them to continue breastfeeding their babies for longer than a few unpaid weeks of maternity leave.
For those of you without kids, or who never pumped – let me fill you in. It sucks. And it doesn’t work nearly as well as actual breastfeeding. So while Mia is getting about 4 ounces of milk when she breastfeeds, my pump only gets 2.5-3. And that means as soon as I go back to work I start dipping into my freezer supply. And it means once that’s gone, I have to start supplementing with formula. And research shows that once you start supplementing with formula, your milk supply dips even more – and eventually – in many cases breastfeeding ends completely. So despite my early struggles with the demands of breastfeeding – if it ends prematurely because I had to go back to work when my baby still needed me at home – I’m going to be really sad. And kind of pissed. Because, to be honest, I’ve come to really, really love breastfeeding. And I really, really don’t have extra money to start buying formula.
But breastfeeding isn’t the only reason it’s too soon to go back to work. It’s too soon because Mia is still SO little at 10 weeks old. She’s still learning my voice. Just beginning to trust me to be there when she cries. She’s still learning to sleep, to eat, to think and to process sounds and sights. And me? I’m still learning to decode her cries. I’m still waking up with her one, two, sometimes three times at night. We are still in those critical months of bonding, teaching, and learning from each other. To be forced to return to work right in the middle of this…it’s heartbreaking.
So just stay home, right? Why go back to work if I feel so strongly about being with Mia. Well, for one, because I carry our family’s health insurance – so if I don’t go back to work, none of us have medical care. Secondly, I make 50% of our family’s income, so if I don’t get paid, neither do half of the bills. And third, if I give up my job for say, a year, to raise Mia – there’s no guarantee that my job (or any job for that matter) will be waiting for me when I come back to the workforce. And I do want to go back, eventually.
The reality is I live in a country that requires me to file a DISABILTY claim to get any kind of paycheck at all (lets be clear, 60 percent of a paycheck for a measly 4 weeks) while I’m on maternity leave. And that’s only because my employer is “generous” enough to offer a short term disability policy. Anything after those four weeks is completely unpaid.
So first of all someone please tell me when motherhood became a disability. And second of all, someone please tell me how I’m supposed to pay the 8,000 dollars in medical bills from Mia’s delivery (We have high deductible insurance that I pay $620 a month for) while I’m home figuring out how to cover the over 4,000 dollars in lost income for the 6 completely unpaid weeks of my leave.
And what’s even worse….is I’m considered lucky. Because my work, while technically NOT REQUIRED by the Family Medical Leave Act to hold my job (we have less than 50 employees) held it for me anyway. And they give me 2 weeks of vacation that I was allowed to take. And they have a short term disability policy that paid me a total of $1700 dollars while I was out. Minus $1240 in healthcare premiums. So really, $460 bucks for 6 weeks. Sadly, that’s more than many (dare I say most?) people get. Which is why many moms take only 4-6 weeks off (or less) to raise their babies.
What. The. Fuck.
We are the only developed country in the world that doesn’t mandate paid maternity leave. And please, don’t start with me about how “employers and small business can’t afford it, blah blah blah” because every other developed country IN THE WORLD except the United States offers new moms (and some new dads) at least some paid leave, often 6-12 months worth. It’s not because they don’t have small business owners, or because they grow money on trees. It’s because as a country they know how important it is for mothers to be with their babies in these early, formative months and they have decided, as nations, to structure their economies, their governments and their taxes to make children, and the women (and men) who raise them a priority. In the United States, we’re just “disabled.”
Unfortunately, in the 4 days that I have left before going back to work, I don’t think the government is going to change our country’s maternity leave policies. Actually, I know they won’t because they are currently shut down. But that’s a rant for another day.
So the only option is to move forward, keep my head up, and try to make the best of the time I have left. Try to think of the positives of going back to work. And try to snuggle my amazing little munchkin as much as possible.
I’ll survive. Mia will survive. Life will go on. Someday she’ll be all grown up and this will be a disant memory. But right now, this feels impossible.
It’s just one foot in front of the other, I guess.