Monday, May 28, 2012

The End (and Future) of Maternity Leave

source
Less than two weeks from now I will be returning to work after an extended maternity leave. I feel some excitement about returning to the lab, doing my job which I love, interacting with adults and wearing a real bra and earrings. I also feel a dread so great I have refused to even think about - the dread many mothers feel when entrusting their child to someone else's care, be it their partner, parent or daycare service provider. It's the dread of missing - missing the milestones, such as the first time she walks or says a word or even learns to wave; missing the little everyday things like her smiles, her kisses, her look of concentration as she babbles something to her teddy; missing holding her, the smell of her, the sight of her; and what's most dreadful to me is missing that connection with her that comes from being so in tune that I know that she needs to pee, or sleep, or why she seems grumpy at the moment. 

In preparation for our transition to daddy daycare I've been leaving the house for extended periods of time (3 hours - ha!) the last two weekends to give them some time to get into the groove of it. Yesterday I went to see Dark Shadows, an event I was looking forward to greatly as this was my first time seeing a movie since Avatar or similar. Aside from the fact that the movie was a giant disappointment (seriously, feel free to walk out during the Happening and don't look back. What a waste of my precious free time!!!) when I returned home and practically ran to my child with outstretched arms screeching "My baby!!!" I was completely ignored as she continued to methodically remove dirt from a flower pot and smear it on her pants. I waited patiently till she was done with this fascinating activity only to have her crawl away without even a backwards glance in my direction! I must admit this smarted.

Granted I have been very lucky. I have been able to take 11 months off by using a combination of disability leave, maternity leave and leave of absence and due to the awesomeness of my boss (and some blackmail). Most have not been this fortunate. I concede that there are women who return to work at the end of the 6-16 (depending on your employer) week leave with some relief. Out of my twenty or so friends who recently had children, one was glad to do this and felt it made her a happier, better mommy. But for most of us parting with our tiny newborns when we have just stopped bleeding from giving birth (~ 6 weeks postpartum) and are nursing them every hour or two day and night, and are loving the hell out of them - well it seems like torture. USA Today and the Mom's in Maine blog got me thinking about the plausibility of longer maternity leave for all American mothers (who want it). Did you know that Canadians get up to 50 weeks leave at 55% paid?

"France, 16 weeks rising to 26 weeks for third child – and up to 104 weeks unpaid. Yup, that’s 2 years. 
Germany, 14 weeks (100% paid) 6 of which taken before birth, then 12/14 months  at 65% paid. 
Sweden, 16 months parental leave (that’s right – for both mom and dad) at 80% paid. 
United Kingdom, currently 39 weeks paid, due to rise to 52 weeks paid."

In the US we have the Family Medical Leave Act (or FML eh?) for eligible employees only to take up to 12 unpaid weeks (including any time off just before giving birth, like those last two weeks where you can barely move for example). Well, it's too little in my opinion. I would be in favor of something to the tune of 6 months minimum, 9 months ideal and with at least some pay. A year would be easiest for employers I think as they could find a decent one year temp replacement. But as with any social program we run into the "who is going to pay?" and "why do you feel entitled to this?" problems. I think the Mom's in Maine blog covered some of the benefits of such an expenditure nicely. They include more successful breastfeeding and all the lifelong health benefits for mom and child inherent therein, and a better bond and more nurturing relationship between mother and infant and all the psychological and health benefits inherent therein. These aren't small long term benefits though they do sound all 'soft and fuzzy'. 

source

I haven't thought too much about politics lately but in thinking about why I'm so disgruntled with the state of this country (and why perhaps others are also) I have had a theory. It seems to me that the problem is that we are a two party state - two parties that are diametrically opposed on every issue. If party A believes X then party B will believe Y. Always. There is no middle ground. There is no third or forth option. Each party prevents the other from achieving what it wants and so nothing gets done. Perhaps this was a clever ploy by someone, to make sure this country remained at status quo and never budged but as any evolutionary biologist will tell you - if [a country] does not adapt, it will die out. Variation is the key to adaptability. So there are three options for the future: 
1. We abolish the two party system and get more parties up in here.
2. We split the US in to two countries, into North and South for example. Conservatives move south, Liberals north, we each get our own way.
3. We keep grinding our wheels in frustration for eternity!
Which one do you think will happen?

Husband and I are sort of like a two party system here at home. I'm all about protection (Watch where you put that knife! Don't let her crawl there! What are you doing with that flamethrower?) and he's all about freedom (who do you think she likes hanging out with more?). But because we respect one another I think we are able to build on each others strengths so Offspring is having a lot of fun exploring the world while not being over protected. So while I loathe to leave her, I think she'll be in excellent hands.