Thursday, June 17, 2010

Sometimes, I Just Have to Rant

I'm a fan of NPR on Facebook. They constantly spam stories--so many, in fact, that I can't read half of them if I wanted to. I typically browse the titles of the articles and click on any that sound interesting. Today, , they posted the following story, and I was intrigued enough to read it:

As is evident from reading the title of the article, our country is now the only industrialized country that doesn't offer paid leave for new parents. Don't worry, there are a few undeveloped countries that also don't offer paid leave, like Swaziland.

Anyway, that's not the point. Not really. I got into a comment war with a few turds that couldn't see past their own noses. To roughly sum up their point, why should people be paid to go on an 18 week vacation for having kids?

I got a little peeved by that. OK, I got a lot peeved by that. Before I go on my rant, I'm going to give the disclaimer that I, too, used to think that way. I never wanted kids and found them to be gross and noisy and spoiled and generally unpleasant to be around.

But now that I have some experience of being a mom under my belt, let me tell you that being a mom and having maternity leave is not a vacation. Let me explain delivery to you. You push out a baby, and your skin tears. It tears to your butt. You cannot sit for weeks. For months, going number 2 makes you cry. Many nights, when you finally have a chance to sleep, you can't because of the pain. Additionally, as your body returns to normal, you start bleeding. And bleeding. And bleeding. You bleed so much, the nurses give you baby diapers to put in your underpants to soak up all the blood. You bleed for weeks.

In addition to the bleeding and general discomfort and pain, you're also lactating. Your precious newborn (who screams and cries during every waking moment) needs to eat for about 30 minute stretches every hour or hour and a half. Your nipples are sore, chapped, and sometimes bleeding. You can't leave the house or your baby for more than an hour at a time, so you can't get a break. Also, your bundle of joy can't sleep outside of your arms, because it doesn't know that you're still around unless you're holding him. In order for him to sleep, you alternate sleeping shifts with your spouse to hold the baby, so you don't get time together in bed to snuggle and de-stress. When baby finally does sleep in the crib (at about 3 weeks old), baby gets up every 2 hours or so for a diaper change and milk. You're so sleep deprived. You can't nap during the day because your baby only naps for 20 minutes at a time, and he'll only nap in your arms, anyway. In fact, you basically can never set him down. You even hold him while you pee.

A baby's crying peaks at 6 weeks. If you're lucky, you're financially stable enough to still be at home. I was. If you're going to be going back to work, you have to start your baby on a bottle at this time. This means, in addition to nursing your baby every hour and a half, you're now pumping your milk as well. You feel like a cow, making so much milk. At night, maybe your baby starts to sleep 4 hours at a time. You have so much milk in you that you leak it all over the sheets and wake up soaking wet and stinking of sour milk. But still, you can't shower, because you can't leave the baby.

I was lucky to be able to stay home with Oliver, and I'm still staying home with him. However, if you go back to work, then you (of course) have to pump milk at work. You have to pump for about 30 minutes every two hours, and then you have to clean your pump. I imagine the same people who complain about maternity leave are also complaining that you're pumping so frequently.

Our system is certainly broken. I have a cousin whose wife works while he stays home with the child. She can only afford to take a few weeks of maternity leave. The poor mom is going to have to leave her newborn and be pumping all the time, and I'm sure she won't be healed from delivery. I think that's just awful. I wasn't able to take leave, either, because I was at my job for a mere 10 months when Oliver was born. According to law, work places aren't obligated to offer FMLA unless the employee has been there at least 1 year. I missed it by two months. My boss told me I could take as much vacation and sick time as I had. People (especially my mother in law) donated time to me so I could stay at home for as long as possible. A few weeks wasn't enough, so I gave notice at work that I wouldn't be returning. At 3 months old, Oliver rejected the bottle completely, so even if I was on leave, I couldn't have been apart from Oliver for more than 2 hours at a time to nurse him. What kind of care giver would drive my baby to me every 2 hours to nurse him? There's no way I could have worked at that time, even if I wanted or needed to. My baby would have starved.

I want to say that having a baby is the most amazing thing. I never wanted one, but now I can't imagine my life without him. I feel so fulfilled and so happy. I feel complete. From the first moment I laid eyes on Oliver, I loved him unconditionally. I'd give up anything and everything for him if needed, without hesitation.

In spite of these incredible feelings, having a baby is hard. It's very, very hard. For me, it gets easier all the time (mostly because it was so impossible from the beginning), and now we're at the point where we get to spend most of the day playing together, which is wonderful. But it's important to understand that maternity leave (or paternity leave, for that matter) is not a vacation. Those first few months were the most challenging of our lives. Studies show the first year of the first born is also the most challenging time in a marriage. You're trying to learn how to be a parent, how to care for a baby (especially when you're of our generation and never had to raise younger siblings or spend much time around babies or kids in general), and you're trying to juggle that with getting any amount of personal time to do things like shower, and you're trying to maintain the house, and you're trying to maintain a good marriage by spending time (what time?) with your partner.

I am in support of paid maternity leave. I think companies need to invest in their employees, the same way they give them vacation time and (often) sick time. It would allow more mothers to heal physically, bond with their babies, and breastfeed. Besides, with so many people complaining about bratty kids these days, can those same people really argue that a solution to that problem is to spend more time at work? Finally, how can we consider ourselves an ethical nation if we're the only (industrialized) one that doesn't offer paid leave to mothers so they can be at home with their newborns?

Thank you for allowing me to rant. Good day.

No comments: