I’ve wanted to write this post since I created my blog. I started this post on multiple occasions, only to stop because it just wasn’t “ready.” I was ready to talk about it, but for some reason the right words weren’t there yet. Since it is something I feel so passionate about, I made myself wait until the post essentially came to me, wrote itself.
Yesterday I came across yet another article on Facebook about the experience of a new mom giving birth in the United States. Her husband forced back to work literally the very next day, this woman was left to care for two toddlers and a newborn alone, immediately after birth. Taking time to heal her battered body was not an option.
I see these stories often — they are all unique in the details, but the same in theme. I read every single one I find. They strike a chord in me and I can’t finish reading without my eyes filling with tears. I am one of those moms too.
My biggest regret as a new mom is that I didn’t give myself the time I needed to recover, to heal, to bond, to learn, to rest, and to enjoy my new baby. I allowed myself to be pressured into returning to work long before I was ready. I allowed myself to give up this precious time that I will never get back.
For a long time I blamed my employer. And they do deserve blame. It was no secret that I was pregnant, and I made every preparation to ensure that my assistant (or anyone for that matter) could carry on for the few weeks I was gone and execute events without questions. I made extremely detailed notes. I organized my files months as far in advance as possible. I made spreadsheets and charts and calendars and multiple copies of everything. I even offered to be available to answer questions and help as needed two weeks after giving birth.
Why would I make such a ridiculous promise? I actually cared about the events I was in charge of and how they turned out. But more pressing, I was afraid of losing my job.
It was not an unfounded fear. These were people that called me on my wedding day until I turned off my phone. These were people that tried to change my pay rate and take away my commission less than a week after I announced I was pregnant. Fortunately they weren’t willing to risk legal action. Unfortunately there were multiple instances during my pregnancy and postpartum period that I had to threaten legal action to keep my rightfully earned salary and even my job.
But I accepted this treatment. I might not have stood by and let them illegally dock my pay, but I sacrificed my already meager maternity leave to ensure that they didn’t. That is my fault. I was the one who strapped my sleeping newborn to my chest while I typed up contracts from my home office. I was the one who pretended a fussing baby was static from “this hilariously old work phone that they haven’t upgraded in years” when talking to potential clients. In doing these things I was showing that I was undeserving of anything better.
It makes me sick to my stomach when I allow myself to think back to that time. I shouldn’t have been stressing over how to keep from losing my job. I should have been focusing on healing from a traumatic birth and unexpected surgery. I should have been resting instead of making phone calls while the baby napped. I saved my position at that company for the time being, but at what cost?
Those first few weeks after birth are a blur — I hardly remember any of it. I’m pretty sure the same is true for most new moms, but what makes it so sad for me is that I believe I purposely blocked out a lot of those memories because they are so upsetting. I was absolutely miserable, and not simply because I was sleep deprived. I still feel a tremendous sense of guilt that I wasn’t as fully dedicated to my new baby as I should have been. And I can’t go back and change that.
At the time, I was convinced that our family wouldn’t survive on one income. When I ended up leaving that same job six months later (by choice…and I must say one of the best decisions I’ve ever made), I found out that it is possible to not only survive, but live well as a single income family. My health (both mental and physical) and the well-being of our girls were more important than an extra salary. I wish I had come to this realization much sooner.
I know that there are some women that as the sole provider don’t have the option to leave their jobs. I hope that they don’t feel the same guilt as I, but I know that many likely do. That is why it shouldn’t be a choice: maternity leave vs. having a job to come back to. That is why we all need to stand up for those who aren’t able to make that stand.
This isn’t a new topic; it’s been written about time and again by other moms who carry same regret, the same anger, the same sadness. We all want to see change (even if we ourselves might not get to enjoy the benefits) and are maddened by the inability to make it happen on our own. There is such a feeling of powerlessness to fight the accepted system — and until the maternity/family leave system in this country is overhauled, there is no way to argue that it isn’t being accepted.
What we can do is to share our stories, to add our voices, so that it is not just one mom, but it is hundreds, thousands, millions, until we can no longer be ignored. So today I add mine, and I urge you to do the same. If you aren’t comfortable sharing your story, share mine.
We deserve better mamas. YOU deserve better.