The Privileges Of Parental Leave

Back in April, I shared my “plans” for parental leave in this post. Those of you who aren’t parents found the post valuable and had many follow up questions for me. While others of you who are parents taught me some valuable lessons!

So this week I decided to take a little break from sharing a brand new Build episode to do a follow-up post reflecting on the many benefits and privileges I’ve experienced from parental leave.

I say privileges knowing that not everyone is as fortunate as I am to have uninterrupted parental leave for as long as I would like. Most people in the US are constrained to 2 weeks, 6 weeks, or 3 months.

I have the good fortune of running my own business, so I decided to take 3 months off officially, and then transition back slowly on a part-time basis.

Parental leave lets you be present during and after your delivery.

It’s been nearly two months since my little boy was born. He arrived two weeks early. I was surprised but appreciative of his eagerness because I had no idea how I was going to continue to carry him!

Since he arrived two weeks early, there were things on my to do list that went undone both at home and at work. The night my water broke I realized there was nothing I could do about the loose ends. I just had to focus on having a safe delivery.

I’m glad that I did because it let me get through the challenging moments of my delivery, and fully experience the moment I met my son — I now have a pleasant memory of how he looked and sounded, and how I felt, when the doctor placed him on my chest, moments after his birth.

When we returned home from the hospital two days later I started to feel a bit anxious about the things I had left unfinished.

There were emails that had gone unanswered for more than a few days, baskets of dirty laundry that had piled up while I was in the hospital, and other unfinished tasks that started to nag me.

My usual urge would be to jump out of bed at 5 am to tend to my home and business, but that wasn’t going to happen. More importantly, it didn’t need to happen.

No one really needed me. That was a good thing, because every movement I made caused my body to ache, which served as a reminder that I needed to rest. When I wasn’t resting I needed to care for my son. He was battling jaundice, which meant a lot feeding/pumping/nursing and follow-up visits to the pediatrician.

I looked past all the unfinished tasks staring at me, and carried my son to bed so the two of us could rest.

Parental leave lets you prioritize your health and your baby’s health.

The very next day, my mom showed up first thing in the morning to help with all the housework. My husband who had three months of paternity leave took care of everything else: making sure I was fed, the postpartum paperwork was completed, and handling tasks related to our little one, as they came up.

Meanwhile, at work, I sent one message, and my team proceeded without me.

Each night I went to bed realizing how fortunate I was to have help and support in every aspect of life.

I stopped worrying and prioritized taking care of my son.

He eventually overcame jaundice, just in time for him to develop colic.

There is nothing more testing on a partnership than dealing with a screaming baby from 3 am to 6 am! As my husband and I took turns soothing him, I realized why people say parenthood is hard. There is this little human in front of you. You want to give it everything in the world, but somehow you can’t because your hands are tied or you just don’t know how. So you keep trying your best…

Part of the trying was me struggling to nurse effectively. I met with lactation consultants, and read everything I could get my hands on.

The physical act of nursing was also taking a toll on my body, everything hurt. My parents came to my rescue, taking turns holding my son so I could rest.

The first two weeks were the roughest.

In spite of it all, I still felt like I had it pretty easy because of all the support that was surrounding me, and because I could take my time.

My heart goes out to parents who have to do it alone and are constantly eyeing a date on their calendar.

Parental leave isn’t guiltless.

Somewhere in the midst of managing colic, nursing, and sleepless nights, that nagging feeling came back to tell me that I wasn’t doing enough…

I had a lot of help from friends and family, shouldn’t I be making use of the time to do more?

Mentally I was wiped most days, but I felt the need to do something: read a book, listen to a podcast, go for a walk, or wash a dish.

Then one day I decided to listen to Nathan Barry and Joanna Penn on The Creative Penn podcast. They talked about this concept of non-zero days. The idea is that we all have days we cannot do much if anything at all. But as creatives we have this strong desire to be productive and have a purpose, so that when we go to bed at the end of the day we feel a sense of accomplishment. To fill that desire, we can do just one thing instead of zero, and count that thing as an accomplishment.

You’d think giving birth would serve as my accomplishment for the year, right? But sadly over a lifetime I have become programmed to keeping doing, rather than being. It’s hard to reprogram overnight, despite the circumstances.

I decided to ease in by giving the non-zero days a try. Each day I picked one thing to do: take a walk in the park, read a book, or write a blog post, “or” being the keyword.

It felt great to have a to do list with one item on it.

Frankly, there hasn’t been much time for more than one item because the majority of my postpartum days have been dictated by my son’s needs. Having just one thing has been enough to make me feel satisfied.

Parental leave + a community of supporters combats postpartum pressures.

In the course of doing just one thing a day, I have learned what is and isn’t important, and that has helped me to stop feeling guilty. It’s also helped me to go from doing round the clock to being with bursts of doing.

More importantly, I realized the pressure was coming from within. I had no external pressures to get back to work or really do anything. The people around me kept encouraging me to do less, and often they would pick up the slack.

So again I come back to being fortunate to have the choice of non-zero days because balancing rest with the constant changing needs of a newborn is a lot to tackle. Parents that don’t have a community of supporters, don’t have the luxury of non-zero days. They’re left to fend for themselves and that can make those early days of parenthood feel endlessly taxing.

I recall hearing stories from friends of my who told me they would have been happy to have 30 minutes to just take a shower. Or wish their colleagues would stop texting them message like, “We miss you!” Or, “When are you coming back again?”

I understand why postpartum depression plagues a lot of new moms. All these subtle cues aren’t helpful. A lot of moms told me they went back to work after six weeks because they didn’t have other options. While their partners went back to work after two weeks.

I wish I had an answer for them. I wish they had the support that I do.

While I’ve had moments where I’ve felt tired or a little annoyed, I haven’t felt overwhelmed. I’m fortunate to have people step in whenever I need time to myself.

The privilege of picking the length of your parental leave.

Prior to my delivery, I had thought that six weeks would be sufficient as well. But honestly, it wasn’t until the six-week mark that I felt like myself again, I got into a motherhood groove with nursing, and started to enjoy the presence of my little one. And I cannot imagine how much additional pressure and stress I would have undergone had my husband gone back to work two weeks after our son was born. I would have been left alone to deal with caring for our son through his bout of jaundice and colic.

The irony of being a new parent is thinking that your days are filled with taking care of your little one when in reality it’s you — the new parent — that needs an endless amount of care to get through each day.

This is such an often overlooked aspect of postpartum. There is a lot of emphasis placed on the care of the newborn, but not the mother and father who are the primary care providers.

I wish all parents could have it as good as I have had throughout this transition. I wish they had a community of supporters, and companies that were understanding of their needs.

Most of all, I wish parental leave wasn’t seen as a drain on economy, and as a privilege afforded to some groups people. And instead it was seen as caring and nurturing the next generation.

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