maternity leave

Wait, HOW much is maternity leave going to cost?!

"How about if you write an article for us at Wealthsimple about how much you need to save up to take a decent maternity leave," my editor friend Devin suggested. "750 words or so?"

Hahahaha, it's SO complicated in the United States, I told him. So much depends what state you live in, how well you're paid to begin with, whether your partner has any paid leave (whether you have a partner!), what industry you're in, and whether you work a salaried or hourly or commission-based job. And that's before we even get into the variables of your health and recovery. It's mind spinning, I explained to my friend, and nearly impossible to just sum it all up in an article. 

"All the more reason we need it!" he replied. Game on.

And so, here's my attempt at making sense of the financial mess of new motherhood...Like so many of the lessons shared by new moms in my book, I wish we didn't need these workarounds, but until then, let's arm each other with the info we need to stay in the game and MAKE SOME CHANGE. (Or...haha...some cash!)

Read the Wealthsimple story here.

5th Trimester dilemma: "What if I can't leave work to take my baby to the doctor?"

Chicest infant accessory: Vaccine bandages!

Chicest infant accessory: Vaccine bandages!

See this adorable baby boy? His name is Biden, and those bandages on his delicious thighs are from his four-month vaccines—which his mom Teri, an attorney, got for him with no problem at all because she's still on her maternity leave. 

Teri knows she's lucky to have a longer leave than most U.S. women, and studies show that Biden's health will benefit: Babies whose mothers return to work before 12 weeks are less likely to have gotten all of their immunizations by 18 months old. Another international study showed that every additional month of paid leave can reduce infant mortality by 13%. Infant mortality, as in death.

I know I struggled logistically whenever I had to leave my desk job for the two-plus hours required for a well-baby checkup. And when my little guy was sick or in pain? I struggled emotionally, too. Still, at least I had the flexibility (barely) to make up the hours at night or ask a colleague to pinch hit for me. But what if, like so many moms, you couldn't lose a shift without losing rent money or your health insurance? 

I interviewed pediatrician Emily Spengler, M.D., who practices at Saint Barnabas Hospital in the Bronx, a federally qualified health center in an underserved area. She estimates that 25% of her appointments are for patients under six months old, and many of those parents struggle to make it in. "Generally, you do see a fall off," she says. "I'll see them for a first visit, then one month, maybe the two-month appointment, and then there's a fall off." So, what helps? I think her thoughtful, hard-earned advice is beneficial for all of us:

Choose a convenient practice: Location is important but pay special attention to the hours, too. "Make sure your doctor is available on the days when you are, and find out what kind of coverage the practice has for weekends and nights," says Dr. Spengler. "A lot of my patients will know that they have a specific day off each week. Others may find that their hours are less predictable, and they can certainly see a colleague of mine. But those first few appointments are pretty bonding. And switching can feel frustrating if that's not something they've planned for."

Don't space out vaccines: "There's no evidence for spacing out vaccines, and dragging them out over more appointments just increases the risk that you might miss one," says Dr. Spengler. And in fact, she notes, the first set of shots can be given as early as six weeks if you're returning to work and it's more convenient for you to accelerate the vaccination schedule (but do check with your own doctor about his/her preferences). This is huge info for anyone going back between weeks six and eight!

Schedule (way) ahead: Many practices will let you book all of your well visits for six months at a time. Might as well get them on the calendar so you can plan your work schedule (or backup caregiver) around them. Speaking of which...

Send in backup: "There's nothing wrong with sending a family member or babysitter in your place. That's preferable to missing the appointment," says Dr. Spengler, who also suggests that you can then call into the appointment to speak to the doctor directly.

Ask your doc to give you written notes: "That's a big push in medicine, to be more sensitive to various levels of health literacy and to communicate more clearly," says Dr. S. "So written information can help parents better understand instructions." That's especially helpful if you have a non-primary parent or caregiver attending the appointment in your stead.

Giving vaccines is our superpower, and most pediatricians will bend over backwards to make sure you’re getting them.

Don't be embarrassed: If you need to cancel or miss an appointment, don't let that be the start of a slippery slope of awkwardness that makes it even harder to come in the next time. "The last thing we want as pediatricians is for our patients to feel judged by us," says Dr. Spengler. "Many pediatricians are parents themselves and are very intimately aware of the struggles of making it to multiple appointments during what may be both the happiest and most stressful time of life."

Most of all, be open with your doctor: "It's always, always better to share more information about your struggles than not," says Dr. Spengler. "It makes it easier for your doctor to help, particularly in those early months. Giving vaccines is our superpower, and most pediatricians will bend over backwards to make sure you're getting them."



The strange backstory behind the military's new paid parental leave policies

"Daddy's Uniform" via  flikr user Patrick Malone

"Daddy's Uniform" via flikr user Patrick Malone

Last month, I wrote gleefully here about how the military had expanded maternity leave to 12 weeks for women in all branches (a boon for most—but a cutback for the Navy and Marines, which had previously approved 18 weeks). Men would receive 10 days of paternity leave. Not equitable, but an improvement, nonetheless.

Well, the architect of that modernization, acting undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, Brad Carson, has resigned under pressure from lawmakers after what the Military Times called his "disastrous" confirmation hearing. (There, Sen. John McCain called Carson's efforts around personnel reform, "an outrageous waste of time and resources." Various reports note that McCain was mostly peeved that Carson had overstepped his boundaries before being officially confirmed. But, still, man.) Carson's last day is April 8.

That's a loss, it seems, but Carson's vision will live on, allowing thousands of military families to humanely transition into parenthood. He even helped pass a provision to help service members freeze their eggs and sperm in case of injuries during combat. And his proposals for longer paternity leave (14 days instead of 10), longer hours for military daycares, and expanded access to mothers' lactation rooms (imagine!) are still on the table.

Lots of days here on the T5T blog, I'll write quippy lists or share my own kids' cute artwork about breastfeeding. But let's not forget the more serious stories, and the allies we've got in the Fifth Trimester, too—the people who stick their necks out to make more sensible policies around new working parenthood, sometimes even risking their careers. Mr. Carson, thank you.

This is what it looks like when a high-powered, awesome Swedish mom goes back to work

Screen Shot 2016-04-03 at 11.20.22 AM.png

(After six months—six months!—of maternity leave.)

Last week, Swedish Centre Party leader Annie Lööf and her maternity leave fill-in, a very game Anders W. Jonsson, released this awesome "Now. She. Is. Back." video spoof. You don't need to have been a childhood fan of the Muppets' Swedish Chef (like me) to translate the message here:

  • Maternity leave is normal.
  • Women come back to work capable and prepared and healthy.
  • So emotionally healthy, in fact, that they can make fun of themselves...
  • ...And the men are 100% on board, too. 

    As Lööf told The Local Sweden, in reality, she had "full confidence in Jonsson," whom she called "an eminent substitute." And she didn't hesitate to take her six months. "It was not a difficult choice, that these six months were going to be a time at home for me and [baby] Ester. Meanwhile, of course, I did not leave the political work behind; rather I carefully followed developments."

    Now that is how it's done! (Video below.)

The un-rude way to ask a new mom if she works

One of the hidden benefits of being in the trenches of Newbornland on maternity leave is that in your new latte-drinking, up-all-night social life, you're likely to make other new mom friends. Whether you two hit it off at a breastfeeding support group or just while jiggling your strollers next to each other in line at Starbucks, you bond fast when you've got an itty bitty baby in common.

Pretty soon, you'll each know details the other's birth, and nipple cream preference, and even aunt-in-law dramas. And then suddenly it'll dawn on you: I have no idea if this lady is also on maternity leave. Does she have a job she's going back to? Like a job outside of the home...which is probably the wrong way to put it because, as maternity leave has more than proven, a job inside the home is certainly a job too. And then there are moms who work from home....

So how do you get clarification on this issue without sounding like a jerk? 

My friend Francesca recently taught me the coolest move. Here's what you ask: 
"So, do you work really hard for a paycheck, or do you work really hard for no paycheck?"

Smooth, right? I adopted it immediately.


The 8 things to pack in your back-to-work bag

Sadly, not your cat. (But how great is this  Loeffler Randall bag ? Founder Jessie Randall is in  my book !)

Sadly, not your cat. (But how great is this Loeffler Randall bag? Founder Jessie Randall is in my book!)

I don't know about you, but I spent an inordinate number of hours of my pregnancy thinking about what to pack in my hospital bag. Then, our baby was born and I spent an inordinate number of hours of my maternity leave thinking about what I needed in the diaper bag every time we left the apartment.

What I didn't think about was my back-to-work bag. But by the second baby, I had it down. Here's your checklist:

1) Pump stuff (if you're pumping). The machine, the tubing, the cooler, the flanges (maybe my least favorite word of all time).

2) Duplicate pump stuff. Yep, you're going to want extras. Because tubing cracks, but your sanity shouldn't have to.

3) Something from home. Pictures are awfully nice. You might imagine it's torture to have to look at your baby's sweet little face on your desk all day, but it will eventually become a comfort, and just part of the scenery, not a distraction. I am also a huge advocate of bringing your "whole self" to work, and this is one easy way to show everyone around you: "Hey, I'm a mom now. But I'm also here and working. I did it. I'm doing it. You can too."

4) Extra clothes. Even if you're not breastfeeding (and occasionally leaking), you will be shocked by how stealthily babies can spit up on you. At no other stage in your career would you find a random stain down your back—hours and hours after your goodbye hug.

5) All of your numbers. These will be in your phone, but unless you're a savant number memorizer, bring a print-out anyway to soothe your paranoia (and mine): Pediatrician, caregiver or daycare, your OB/Gyn, your spouse/partner's secondary number (you know, the one you don't have memorized).

6) Your hand-off memo from back before you left. Thankfully, much of what's on there will be long-ago-taken-care-of ancient history (and it will feel great to cross those things off). But I guarantee there will be something people decided to "wait for her" on. Going through your memo to check for these things will give you something to do right away, and it'll put your mind at ease, too.

7) Something sensory and relaxing. Think: some luxe-smelling lip balm, or a piece of good chocolate. The mindful use of one of your senses has been shown to halt anxious ruminations. 

8) And food, glorious food. I really recommend packing your lunch for at least your first few days back. A) It's a guarantee that you will have time to actually find food. B) If you're pumping you have to eat to make milk. And C) It's just a nice little way to take care of yourself—or, better yet, to have your partner take care of you. It's silly, but nothing makes you feel more together than a packed lunch. If you got out of the house, and got to work, and did it with a healthy, lovely lunch, you must have your act together, you capable woman! Yes, one turkey sandwich can do all that.

Coolest parental leave policy yet: The double dip

When it comes to ketchup or hummus in our house, the rule is very firm: NO double-dipping. Especially when there's strep and flu going around (it's been a germy week chez Brody). But that's exactly the brilliant tactic that an Austral-asian company has just come up with for parental leave. My Food Bag, which is similar in concept to Blue Apron here in the U.S. (scheduled deliveries of pre-measured ingredients for at-home meals), will expand upon the New Zealand government's 18 paid weeks in a really cool way: New moms and dads will be allotted an extra 18 weeks—if they want to take them at any point in their child's first two years of life. Should they choose to forgo the additional leave, they will be paid 160% of their salary for that time. How smart is that? (And how loyalty inducing is that?) Because the message sent to employees is three-fold:

1) We get it. You really might need this time. And we don't want you feeling pressure to come back to work before you're ready. And:
2) Your work is so valuable to us that we will pay you significantly more for it. But:
3) This is, essentially, temporary combat pay, to acknowledge that your working right now is a detriment to other parts of your life.

My Food Bag's co-founders, both 30 years old and both pregnant, declined to tell The New Zealand Herald, which reported on the new policy, how much it would end up costing, saying only, "The costs will be significant, but nothing in comparison to the rewards."

Would you spend $2.19 a week to guarantee paid parental leave?

Photo courtesy of Pond's End Productions

Photo courtesy of Pond's End Productions

That's exactly 0.2% of the average American annual salary of $57,000. And that's how much it would cost to fund paid parental leave for all parents for 12 weeks following the birth or adoption of a baby. Seriously, two bucks. That's what Rep. Rose DeLauro (D — Conn.) and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D — N.Y.) proposed as part of their FAMILY Act—so far, to no avail. In the meantime, private companies are doing their best to stay competitive by offering their own versions of paid leave.

The latest and greatest is Etsy, which announced yesterday that it will offer all new moms and dads 26 weeks of paid parental leave, to be taken over the first two years of a baby's life—along with lots of new support programs. That is awesome, obviously, and part of a trend of one-upmanship among tech companies that I'm happy to cheer on. But here's what's especially cool: Fred Wilson, a venture capitalist at USV, who sits on the board of Etsy, gave his blog readers a glimpse at the thinking behind the new policy. It was fueled, Wilson writes, by the need to stay competitive in recruiting and retention (no surprise there), but also because, he explains:

"Etsy is a marketplace where creative entrepreneurs, many of whom are women, can create a more fulfilling and flexible way to support their families. An important goal of this policy change was to align the internal company values with the marketplace values."

Makes a ton of sense. But Fred, wisely, also points out that Etsy is able to make this change because it's a large company, with the scale to support these policies. He writes:

"It's easier to do this sort of thing when you have a workforce in the thousands or tens of thousands than when you have a team of four people working from a co-working space."

Or how about a team of one, like the lovely Etsy vendors I buy from when I need a sweet, unique baby gift, or "homemade" Phineas and Ferb Halloween costumes (homemade by some other far-more-fabulously skilled mom than me)? What about those individual entrepreneurs? Where is their leave—paid or unpaid? Non-existant. Which brings me back to two dollars. Because I would happily spend that, many times over, if it meant we could catapult the U.S. into the present and in line with the rest of the civilized world.

Would you crowdfund your maternity leave?

It's come to this. Photo by Ryan McGuire

It's come to this. Photo by Ryan McGuire

Because apparently now that's a thing, according to this excellent BuzzFeed story. Couples and moms-to-be are using sites like GoFundMe and CrowdRise to raise the money they need in order to take unpaid time away from work. (Quick reminder that here in the U.S., FMLA requires companies with more than 50 employees to hold your job for 12 weeks of family leave—but it's up to individual workplaces to determine how much of that time, if any, is paid.)

Leave it to a pregnant, nesting, hyper-goal-driven woman to get things done, right?

The 100 women I interviewed for my book were all over the place in terms of time off—and I have to be honest, I worked hard to ignore my own biases and be open minded. You want to take 12 weeks? Okay. You want to take one week? Also fine. You want to take six months? Fantastic. All good. But the verb in all of those sentences contains the word "want." That implies a choice. The availability of options. It's the women I talked to who took far less leave than they wanted (or frankly, needed, physically and emotionally) that made me so convinced that this FAMILY Act for paid leave needs to happen, and fast. The waitress whose husband lost his job, who was back in her uniform in a week. The small business owner who was placating clients from the NICU. These women are scrappy as hell. But they shouldn't have to be. 

Three of the nearly 1300 maternity leave appeals on GoFundMe.

Three of the nearly 1300 maternity leave appeals on GoFundMe.

So as much as I absolutely hate—hate—to see women and families panhandling, I hope the trend gets a whole lot of attention. I hope it's an embarrassment to this great country that has such a rich history of bootstrap pulling, of people doing everything they can to succeed and move up to give their kids a better life. Because a better life means having choices, not being so up against a wall that you're reduced to only one option: begging. 

3 things you're definitely better at after being on maternity leave

Pivoting: A highly useful working-mom skill

Pivoting: A highly useful working-mom skill

Think you'll come back to work a frazzled mess? Nah. You'll return to your career more capable than you were back when you waddled out still pregnant. That's because in the interim, the world's hardest boss (that would be your baby) has just put you through boot camp. Thank you, sir, may I have another? My prediction? You'll be better at...

Pivoting: There will be times, of course, when you need pure concentration on a heads-down project at work, or when you need to be 100% focused on your family. But the other 23 hours of your day? Those will be all jumbled up. At work, you'll get a call about the baby. At home, you'll get an email from a client. And as soon as you get comfortable bringing your whole self to work—mom identity and all—the pivoting starts to feel less like it's bad on your knees, and more like it's some supercharged dance all over the court in a cute tennis skirt. 

Working quickly and efficiently: It's tempting here to say something about how your skills at the changing table prepare you for sudden shit-storms (and indeed, Mark Zuckerberg even bragged about his sub-30-second diaper change). But most new working moms will tell you they get faster and smarter about how they work because, for the first time, they have a quitting time. Not a like-to-get-out-by time. A hard stop, after which their daycare charges them money, or their nanny dips into the freezer stash of breastmilk, or they don't make it home in time to read The Runaway Bunny. You will be shocked by how much you get done. Quickly. And well.

Saying no—and saying yes: The saying no part is probably no surprise. When life gets fuller, you simply have to decline some invitations, some projects, some meetings that just aren't crucial. But your Yes List—the things you do choose to take on—becomes hugely validating. Those are things that you know you've truly considered and designated important. And therefore? You will nail them.

5 perfect things to say to a friend just back from maternity leave

I rediscovered this note recently, sent to me on my first day back at work by a dear girlfriend who knew just what I needed to hear—and she hadn't even had kids yet! I am not similarly blessed in the perfect-words-on-demand department, but my research for The Fifth Trimester has taught me several more....

"Don't worry about calling me back!" Call, email, text, do it all to show her that you're thinking of her—but always include the clarification that this is a message of love, not one meant to be added to her to-call-back list.

"Can I give you a ride?" I surveyed hundreds of new moms and found out that their commutes were measurably more stressful during their first few months back at work. If you can give your friend a ride, offering her found time so she can pump in the passenger seat, or do a work call so she can leave a bit early, or grab a nap, or just talk? That's lifesaver territory.

"There's no one 'right' way to feel right now." Some new working moms are wracked with guilt about working. Others feel guilty for loving the (very adult, nicely clothed, actually-hot coffee-sipping) escape that work provides. However your friend feels, help her know that it's normal.

"I blame America." Here's how this one goes: She complains about her boss, or her husband, or her mother. You listen, of course—these can be really fraught relationships during the Fifth Trimester. It's tempting at this moment to fuel her boss-bashing with a rising chorus of "hell yeahs." But if that just makes her angrier, are you really helping? After all, she has to face this person tomorrow—and do good work for him/her. So instead do what one reproductive psychiatrist I interviewed suggests: Listen, tell her she's right to feel the way that she does, and then go macro. Help your friend see that the inequities she's dealing with are not normal out there in the rest of the universe, where paid parental leave and nursing in public are standard. She's the sane one. American culture is to blame. (And by making it through the Fifth Trimester, she can help change that culture from within.)

Guess where women were fined $300 a day for taking maternity leave

photo by Ryan McGuire

photo by Ryan McGuire

Canada. Yes, Canada, land of one-year maternity leaves, and a prime minister who calls himself a feminist, and a massive uptick in Google searches on how to move there that followed last week's Republican presidential debate. Even Canada didn't have its act together about parental leave just 25 short years ago.

I will go ahead and plead completely ignorant about Canadian politics, but....There's a Member of the Legislative Assembly, Linda Reid, who just celebrated her 25th anniversary in the B.C. legislature. The Richmond News, in British Columbia, did a fantastic interview  with Reid in which she recalled her dogged infiltration of a boys' club as Richmond's first elected woman. Her request for a ladies' restroom was just the beginning. When she had her daughter, she realized there was not only no maternity leave offered, but that she'd be fined $300 per day that she was out. "It was just bizarre," Reid told Richmond News reporter Matthew Hoekstra. "I said to Gordon Campbell, who was then leader of the Opposition [and later went on to become the Premier of British Columbia], 'If we ever get to government that's one of the first things we're changing.' I think he decided you shouldn't argue with a postpartum woman." True that.

Canada actually had had some form of maternity leave since 1921 but it took until 2001 for the Employment Insurance system (maternity leave) to resemble the plan in place today. Along the way, parental leave expanded to include fathers and adoptive mothers. It took time.

I suspect that paid parental leave will also take time in the United States, as much as I would love for the FAMILY Act to catapult us into the modern age in one swift beat. But we'll get there. If every baby step is a victory, then every woman who speaks up, who points out inequities, is like a mother leaning over that baby, holding his hands as he toddles.



What a 20-day maternity leave post C-section looks like

Most of the time, what you'll read on this blog is my own work, but I was blown away by the simple, beautiful, unsettling urgency of Jessica Shortall's piece for The Atlantic Monthly online today. This one can't be missed. Tara, the woman she profiles, has only 20 days—cobbled together from vacation time—to take away from her job. Because of the size of her company, she is not covered by FMLA. Because her husband has a chronic illness, she cannot afford to take any days unpaid. This is her roller-coaster of a story: from panic, to joy, to resignation. 

Expect a military baby boom in exactly nine months

Get it? Boom.

Get it? Boom.

You've probably heard the great news that Defense Secretary Ash Carter recently announced that all branches of the U.S. Military will now grant 12 weeks of paid maternity leave to mothers in the service. What you might not have heard is this big, huge, giant, ugly asterisk: 

*[big huge asterisk]

This actually downgrades the 18-week leave that was passed back in August for the Marines and the Navy. But, since it's the military, they're kind of regimented about the whole thing, and Navy/Marine mamas who become pregnant by the magical date of March 3 will still qualify for their 18 weeks. ("The date of pregnancy will be determined by a privileged medical care provider," according to this release from the Navy. Privileged? How?) Which means, I hope, that a whole lot of couples are doing their best to make it happen, and make it happen fast, so Thanksgiving can be extra thankful this year.

Official U.S. Navy file photo

Official U.S. Navy file photo