Tag Archives: FMLA

Nurturing Without Nursing

mommy and allenMy son, Allen, is one week shy of 9 months. He’s spent almost as much time outside of me as he did growing in my belly. And for the last two nights, he has refused to nurse.

I’m itching to post something to the mommy boards I’m on for advice. I’m thinking about frantically texting other mommies with sad-face emojis to ask what I can do. I’m considering all the things to try. But honestly, I’m pretty spent on trying different things out when it comes to nursing. And so I’m writing this blog post instead of launching another investigative campaign to figure out what I/we could have done differently.

A Rocky Start
In the first few hours after Allen was born, he latched on like a champ. Only it hurt. So badly. The lactation consultant at the birth center said his latch looked fine, and it shouldn’t hurt. Within 12 hours, my nipples were swollen and several blisters had developed. Within 18 hours, the skin was open and I shuddered every time he latched on. But I was determined, and he was hungry. So we kept at it.

When we got home, I reached out in desperation to several local lactation consultants. I eventually connected with Jenn Sullivan at Waddle N Swaddle, who connected me with an amazing community of mamas during WnS’s free, weekly nursing circles. I quickly found out that I wasn’t alone. I had been feeling like an absolute failure — shouldn’t this part of momming come naturally? Easily? It made me feel a million times better to know that it was anything but easy for quite a few new moms out there.

For the next few months, Allen did well and rode the 50th percentile growth chart line, right where he was born. He hit cognitive and motor development milestones on target, and the moment he started smiling, I melted. He was doing great.

And then I went back to work.

Allen’s weight dipped around the 6-month mark. I had been back at work for about a month, and was struggling with making enough milk to leave for him the next day. I tried everything from eating galactagogues to massage techniques, and event rented a hospital grade pump and tried to pump while nursing to squeeze out a few extra ounces. It was acrobatic. Exhausting. Mind-numbingly hard. I gave it my all, but nothing seemed to help boost my pumping output.

So we turned to donor milk.

Really? Donor Milk??
At first, I was weirded out by the idea. Accepting donor milk that’s not screened through a milk bank is like accepting a blood transfusion straight from a stranger’s arm. But this was our dilemma: 1) nutritionally, breastmilk is superior to formula, 2) Allen was showing signs of a dairy sensitivity, and most formula is a derivative of cow’s milk, and 3) formula is expensive.

We did our research. And in what felt like an act of serendipity, an article featuring milksharing was published in a local magazine right around that time. We talked to our pediatrician, who suggested that as long as the donor(s) tested negative for Hep C and HIV, it was no problem. So we took the donor milk plunge.

New Challenges
The anxiety of not being able to produce enough milk was quickly replaced by the anxiety of watching the donor milk stash diminish every week or so. Thankfully, there are a few places to connect with mamas who donate milk — I’ve found several through a local mommy board and Eats on Feets, both on Facebook. About a month ago now, we hit the mother load (no pun intended) and found a donor a few hours away who said we could take as much as we could fit in our car. We filled the freezer to the tippy top.

I breathed a huge sigh of relief that day. I knew that nursing had a shelf life, if you will, but also knew that no matter what my breastmilk supply did, my son would be easily nourished for the near future. We have a few more weeks before I have to worry about where the next stash will come from…

A Slippery Slope
In theory, when a baby gets more bottles than breast, their affinity for the former grows. There are ways to prevent this from happening quickly — you can make sure that nipples for the bottles you use are the lowest flow and are replaced frequently, and you can use a paced feeding method. We have done both. But despite our efforts, Allen stopped nursing during the daytime about a month ago now. I’ve continued to offer, but when your little one repeatedly arches his back away from you and screams when you try to nurse him, it’s tough not to take no for no.

Until a few nights ago, he nursed at night still. Last week, it dropped to only once a night. Two nights ago, he refused to nurse at all. He latched on for a few seconds, and then cried his little heart out. He wouldn’t settle until we gave him a bottle.

The same thing happened last night.

And here I am, exhausted, sad, and feeling a little jilted because I didn’t get to have input in the decision that our nursing relationship is (probably) over.

Not the End of the World
I had no idea how long I wanted to breastfeed — I just knew that I wanted to have input in making the decision. When we hit 6 months, after all the struggles we had, I was amazed that we’d made it that far. When things slowed down at 8 months, I knew the end wasn’t too far away, but figured we would make it longer than this. And I figured it would be more of a negotiation, and that it wouldn’t end so suddenly.

There are a lot of posts on the mommy boards I’m on about mamas and babies making it 12 months, 18 months, 24 months, and beyond. It’s unlikely I will be posting about any of these milestones. It’s more than a little bittersweet — the fact that I didn’t get to have a say in the end of our nursing relationship has me a little down today. But…I also know there are tons of mommies and babies who simply cannot nurse. Others who don’t have access to help when a latch isn’t working. Others who struggle so much with being touched constantly and can’t wait for nursing to end. And others still who have not thought twice about nursing as a challenge because it’s been smooth sailing from the start.

As the breastfeeding trend turns upwards again — which I wholeheartedly support!!! — there are those of us for whom it doesn’t come easily. For whom it always felt (and probably looked) awkward. For whom it was really, really challenging. So I write this post for those mamas — the ones who have struggled before me, alongside me, and those who will after me. For the mamas who have lost countless sleep, work, and self-care hours trying to express milk (or heal from trying to express it). And, of course, for the mamas who have donated all the milk and nourished my little one in the last few months when I couldn’t. I thank you from the bottom of my heart.

I know there are others out there who are wondering about donor milk, or who think they might be the only ones who feel a mixed bag of relief and sadness when their little says thanks but no thanks to nursing. You are not alone! I write this blog post for you.

The (Semi-dreaded) Return to Work and My Postpartum Body

My son is 4.5 months, and I’ve started back at work for a few days a week. We’ll be full-throttle a week from now, when he’ll start daycare. Going back has been harder than I thought. I knew it would tug at my heart strings, but how are you expected to be okay with putting your little being — this tiny life you created and have been nourishing and snuggling — in someone else’s care??

Anyone who knows me well knows I’m a workaholic. I’m not condoning (or gloating about, for that matter) that behavior — it can have tough ramifications for your personal relationships, your health, and other things — but I am saying that I love working. I’m about to head into my seventeenth (SEVENTEENTH!?) year of teaching, and I’m looking forward to the start of the fall semester. That being said, after seeing my son pretty much 24/7 since he was born, I’m now only going to see him for an hour-ish after work, overnight when he nurses, an hour-ish in the morning, and on the weekends. That’s a tough transition.

I’m all for working mommyhood — women are amazing for all of the things that they juggle, whether they have kids, they work, or however they spend their time. I’m also for rethinking the way our country approaches the transition back to work after having a baby. As I’ve mentioned before, most countries have paid maternity leave, and some countries offer it for a year or more. Going through the experience for the first time, I now see why. I’m still getting up several times a night to nurse, and feel a bit zombie-like around the clock. I’ll be putting my all into my work, but I can’t help think I’d ultimately be a better worker if I had more time to transition. And as I said in my last post, my situation is unusual — many working mommies have to go back after 6 weeks. I have had a lot more time at home with my new baby than most (mostly, because I didn’t teach this summer).

Before I went through pregnancy, I (naively) thought I knew everything there was to know. I’d read plenty. I’d had tons of friends who’d gone through it. I am an aware, inquisitive feminist with an unwavering curiosity who asks lots of questions. But experience really is education — you can’t understand it fully until you go through it. Which brings me to another thing I’ve been struggling with: my body.

It’s always been a bit of a challenge to stay in shape and at a healthy, ‘normal’ weight. I know that’s the case for the majority of us. We live in a judgmental society in which ‘feminine,’ ‘beautiful’, ‘body,’ ‘weight,’ ‘slim,’ ‘curvy,’ ‘fat,’ and others are highly charged words. So when your body transforms to carry another human being inside it — this incredible, biological process that still puts me in a state of beyond words — and you’ve spent what seems like a lifetime trying to look past what others say about how you look, it can feel like a curve ball. Add to that going to see a doctor at 4 months pregnant who says your weight gain is ‘alarming.’ Even though you’ve heard about plenty of people who’ve gained what you gained and then some, it feels like psychological ping pong.

My answer to rapid weight gain was to go to the gym 6 days a week from that moment forward, up until the day before I delivered. It was terrible most days. I was pregnant throughout the winter, and the sun wouldn’t be out until after I got back from the gym. I tried my best to be reasonable, healthy, and smart about what I ate, but after the ‘alarming’ incident, I found myself counting calories, confounded by the numbers on the scale going up and up and up at a faster pace than what I’d read they should. I wish that I’d spent that time being less worried, that that doctor’s words didn’t upset me, and that I had, well, a slightly thicker skin.

Some women bounce right back to their post-pregnancy bodies, some take at least nine months or more to return, and others never bounce back. Someone said to me that ‘things are just, I don’t know, rearranged‘ after giving birth. I’m starting to see that’s true. And to add another layer of challenge: thyroid issues run rampant in my family. My TSH numbers are a little out of range toward hypothryroidism — something that makes weight loss even more challenging. Oh, and you’re definitely not supposed to diet while breastfeeding, so ‘watching what I eat’ aside from making sure I get enough protein, healthy grains, fruits, and vegetables isn’t going to happen anytime soon.

So what does all of this have to do with going back to work? Aside from a stark reminder of how women who give birth and work are supposed to just figure it out (the ratcheting up costs, the body changes, the sore nipples if they’re breastfeeding, childcare, and the list goes on): WHAT AM I GOING TO WEAR!? I have been stuck at 15 pounds above my pre-pregnancy weight for weeks now. I’ve accepted that it’s going to take a little longer than I’d hoped to fit into my work clothes. And so I’ve gone out and bought a few staple pieces for work — a few sizes larger than my ‘normal.’ (Oh, I guess we should add money for post-pregnancy clothes to the list of things employers or the government should provide postpartum.) The process has been charged with so many feelings. Especially because what I do for a living requires standing in front of people for big chunks of the day. What I wear provides a layer of confidence. Usually. This will be an interesting experiment to that end.

To come back around to my point: having a baby comes with lots of changes that I expected but didn’t fully understand. And this: new parents need more time to adjust. I hope whatever happens in the next few years politically includes a serious reconsideration of how we treat working moms. Have I mentioned that more time is needed??

IMG_3539In the meantime, I gratefully spent time over the summer with another new-mommy colleague and her now 8-month-old son, going to mommy-and-me yoga. I’m not much of a yogi capital Y, but it was great practice at just connecting with my breath and treating my body as the amazing thing that it is. And just last week I started stealing trips to the gym in the early morning hours or evenings in between trips to the office, nursing, and all the other things we do every day. It might take me 9 months or more to return to my pre-pregnancy body, or maybe I’ll never get back there completely, but wow — I made a kid! And he’s incredible. He just learned to roll over and is wowing me and Daddy with new skills every day. I can’t wait to see what’s in store these next few years and beyond.

12 Weeks and Counting

So here I am at 12 weeks postpartum. The time at which I would, if school was still in session, legally need to return to my job in order to keep it, according to the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). (And keep in mind that FMLA, despite being a federal law, is only honored by some employers). Gratefully, I am an educator, and having had a spring baby, the summer stretches ahead with extra time to spend at home with the new kiddo. I recognize that most people aren’t in this position. So some people might rightfully be all #newmommyproblems with a sarcastic tone, and I get that. But to drive home my point that 12 weeks isn’t long enough — for anyone — I thought I’d write about some of the things that are going on right now. Things that would prevent me from doing a good job at work:

  • I am still waking up 3-4 times per night to nurse, resulting in little sleep; what little I get is interrupted and anything but restful.
  • because of the broken sleep, exhaustion is the norm; exhaustion does not produce optimal work output.
  • my work clothes still don’t fit; I gained 50 pounds during my pregnancy, and still have 20 (give or take) more to lose.
  • my baby continues to change on a daily basis; he just started being alert more during the day than asleep, meaning I get to spend more time bonding and getting to know him. If forced to do so, I know I would struggle on a deep emotional level to put him in someone else’s care right now. My heart goes out to mamas who have had to do this earlier than I will have to.
  • my back is jacked. up. Sometime around 3 weeks postpartum, I sat down funny and jammed my sacroiliac joint. The pain continues to be unpredictable and fierce. Although my partner may disagree, I feel like I’ve gotten pretty good at grinning and bearing it. I don’t want to miss any of the good parts of these first few months of my son’s life. So despite the pain, we’ve gone on walks. And to a local public pool. And had visits with grandmas and grandpa. But I’d be lying if I didn’t say that sitting in any one position for longer thirty minutes or so (like at my computer) is difficult. And given that I used all my sick days for my maternity leave, I wouldn’t have any sick days to use if I had to take any because of my back. What a catch 22.
  • I’m having acupuncture and chiropractic treatments weekly for the aforementioned bullet. I feel like I’m always either nursing or running to an appointment, which leaves little time for getting work done. (And anyone who knows me knows I’m a workaholic, so this is hard on many, sometimes paradoxical levels.)
  • this past week, my thumbs, wrists, and forearms started aching. It’s apparently a thing called mommy thumb. It’s painful and puts typing in the category of repetitive movements I should avoid doing too much of. For this reasons, too, returning to work at this point would mean I’d have to cut corners and would perform at a far-below-normal level.

I share this list not to complain (though I realize I might sound a little whiny), but rather to bring into light the physical challenges that follow in the aftermath of giving birth — even almost three months later. I’ve had lower back pain before, but never like this. And healing isn’t being helped by my diastasis recti, or splitting of the abdominal wall. Mine is slight in the whole scope of what can happen during pregnancy and birth, but it’s making the project of strengthening my core muscles (which will in turn strengthen my back and help alleviate some of the pain) more challenging than it would normally be.

I’ve tried working on scholarship (since publishing articles is a major part of how I get to keep my job in the long-term), but now realize why people stop the tenure clock. Hopefully I’ll get some work days in soon. Not sure how that’ll happen, but I remain optimistic that it will.

And to the readers who have commented both publicly and privately that people choose to have children aren’t forced into it, or having children is selfish, or as one reader put it, “If you ‘want’ that child, then you better be prepared to handle that ‘want’ without complaining that people owe you something financially for that choice,” I say: mmmkay. First of all, I never thought I couldn’t handle the want to have a child. And I’m not arguing that I should be given something special and out of the ordinary for my choice. All I’m saying is that workers should be taken care of, and women deal with postpartum issues in relative silence and isolation, sucking up the pain and hardship that follows whether they had a complicated pregnancy and/or birth. And, given that we live in a patriarchal society where women are not treated the same as their male counterparts, I think it bears repeating that having a baby requires more time off from work than most people in this country are given. Time off is not some sort of gift — I’m learning first-hand right now just how difficult being responsible for childcare really is. I babysat as a kid, but that was nothing in comparison — caring for a baby full-time is exhausting, emotional, physically challenging work. And I can imagine that if men were the ones bearing the babies, the situation would be a whole lot different.

But despite all the back and wrist pain, sleepless nights, and overwhelm, there’s this. And it’s pretty darn great.

IMG_2612

The Politics of Having a Baby

It’s not politics, really, and yet everything having to do with juggling your life after having a baby is political — largely because women do the baby-bearing and patriarchy is alive and well in our society. And since my last post was called “The Politics of Being Pregnant,” I figured I’d stick with the theme… And mostly: pregnancy — what happens before, during, and after — is this thing no one really talks about openly. It shouldn’t be a secret, and no one should apologize for doing it. And places of employment should encourage, not discourage, it. At least in my humble opinion…

My son will be 9 weeks old in a few days, and I feel lucky to be in the position that I am. He arrived mid semester, and I was able to be home for the rest of the semester to care for him. Although I have to work at home for part of the time to make up for sick days I didn’t have, I will have been able to care for him, almost 24/7, for nearly 5 months of his life by the time I return to work full time. This scenario is pretty unheard of in our society. While I thought the lack of new-parent leave was problematic before becoming pregnant, my understanding of just how ridiculous it is has skyrocketed since actually giving birth. Allow me to explain:

The Birth Process
Gratefully, my labor and delivery were largely without incident. I went into labor at 3:00am early on a Saturday morning and delivered 18 hours later. My contractions were random and easy for a few hours, but around lunch time, they got very painful (I’m talking the-wind-got-knocked-out-of-me-and-I-can’t-put-words-together-to-make-sentences painful), and by 4:30pm I wasn’t sure if I could handle it getting worse. We called our doula, Mary Riley (who is amazing!!), and headed to the local birth center. The drive was 40 minutes, and I arrived at 9cm dilated. I can’t even begin to describe the pain — I kept saying to Mary, “but I can’t get comfortable!” and she would say, “that’s right — you’re in labor — but you know what? Your body won’t give you anything more than you can handle.” She was right, but wow, did it hurt. More than words can describe. More than I could ever have imagined before going through it. But I didn’t question my decision to do it without drugs, and I kept thinking about something that my partner had read in the book The Birth Partner: “in the end, there will be a baby.” And eventually there was. Allen arrived at 10:06pm, and our tiny family of two grew to three.

And Then the Afterward Part: My Body and Breastfeeding
I had no idea how much blood there would be. Every woman is different, but I bled (like a lot) for days. Weeks, actually. I didn’t know beforehand: I was so focused on the birth process that I never thought to read about what happens next. And I felt like I’d been in a car wreck. Walking, sitting up, bending down — it was all a challenge for weeks to come. I’m currently battling some pretty gnarly lower back pain that resulted from sitting in bed funny one night. Amazingly, I didn’t have back pain during my pregnancy, but it took one plop onto the bed for a breastfeeding session, and I haven’t been the same since. The afterpains, aches, and throbs that would continue for weeks on end weren’t something I anticipated — I kind of (naively, in retrospect) expected that I would just bounce back physically. And, I didn’t have a C-section or forceps or vacuum suction, interventions that many women need that add a whole other layer to recovery. I never heard anyone talk about what it’s like for the mother after she gives birth. And after all, there’s a kid to take care of now — I thought (naively again), maybe our bodies just kick back into gear because they have to.

And they do. Sort of. But to take care of baby; not do that and go back to work.

I now think new moms are incredible superhero-like creatures who do everything and then some. And I’m not tooting my own horn here — dust bunnies are abundant, mail is piling up, and I can’t generally start and finish a task without being interrupted by a tiny being who’s almost always strapped to my body these days. But on a miniscule amount of sleep and while being bathed in a wash of hormones, I’ve managed to sustain the life of a newborn. If that’s not superherodom, I’m not sure what is.

Which brings me to breastfeeding. Another thing I didn’t think to research. I knew I wanted to breastfeed — breastmilk is the most nourishing food you can give a newborn. A mother’s breastmilk is literally tailored to meet the needs of the baby she just carried around for 9 (give or take) months. And I figured it was something innate that would be easy to learn in the hours after giving birth.

Wrong.

While many mothers have no problem initiating breastfeeding with their newborns, many women struggle to lactate at all, others have issues with supply, and still more have a whole host of latching issues. The latter was my issue: it seemed that no matter what I did, breastfeeding was the most painful thing I’d ever done aside from labor. A few hours into my son’s life and my nipples were already bloody. Several weeks (6 and a half, to be exact) of bleeding, cracking, and radiating pain followed before it got markedly better. And I probably would have stopped long before if it weren’t for the support of a group of women I’ve met through a nursing circle in Poughkeepsie at Waddle n Swaddle, an amazing haven of a shop devoted to all things parenting.

Which leads me to the real reason I wanted to write this post — SIX WEEKS OF LEAVE IS NOT NEARLY ENOUGH. I had no schema to understand before, but now, now I get it. At 6 weeks postpartum:

  • I was still bleeding from giving birth.
  • My back had given out and I was seeing a chiropractor twice a week.
  • My breasts were sore from the challenges of breastfeeding.
  • I was (and still am) getting up three times each night to breastfeed, putting my average hours of (broken) sleep per night somewhere around 4 or 5.
  • I was consumed (and still am) by the mountain of information I don’t know about parenting, developmental milestones, vaccinations, and the list goes on.
  • I couldn’t (and still can’t) fit into any of my work clothes that aren’t maternity. And it turns out wearing maternity clothes when you’re not pregnant doesn’t work so well.
  • I was emotionally erratic from the sleep deprivation and ocean of hormones that followed giving birth.
  • I had no clue how pumping worked so that I would be able to feed my baby when I was back at the office (that’s a whole other post in itself).
  • I didn’t (and still don’t) have time to wash my hair very often.
  • I was just (and still am) getting to know my son. He changes a little every day, and I couldn’t (and still can’t) imagine putting him in someone else’s care.

There’s more, but I really can’t fathom how working parents of new babies are expected to go back to work so soon. The recommended six weeks seemed like a lengthy amount of time before I experienced it. It’s not. It goes by in the blink of an eye. And some places of employment require a return to work even sooner, which is terrible. I have such strong feelings about this for obvious reasons right now, but it’s edging on criminal that our society claims to value family as much as it does, but literally punishes people for choosing to have children. I’m glad that legislators are talking about changing the policy to 12 weeks of paid leave. But honestly, even that isn’t enough. In some European countries, parents have up to two years to care for their newborns, and after that, there’s socialized childcare until their little ones are ready to start school. We are doing it all wrong in this country.

But to end on a positive note, this:Allen 8 and a half weeks

 

 

 

The Politics of Being Pregnant

28 weeks and countingI’ve weathered a growing (no pun intended) stream of unsolicited advice, comments, and thoughts on the shape of my pregnant body in the past few weeks, as I’ve begun to show in earnest. While I welcome any bit of conversation about pregnancy from people I know (whether it be family members, friends, colleagues, or students), I am increasingly shocked at how often strangers feel the need (and the right) to comment on my shape, offer predictions, and ask probing questions about name, gender, and philosophy that my partner and I are still figuring out. Of course everyone’s different, and perhaps I unknowingly welcome it, but the comments about what I look like have started to get under my skin.

As someone who was tall for my age as a child and teenager, I have plenty of practice with unsolicited comments about my shape, height, and amount of space I take up in the room. That being said, pregnancy is a very stressful, sometimes unpredictable, often exciting time that is quite personal. And I’m growing weary of juggling the daily challenge of just being pregnant (and everything that goes along with that) and the mounting commentary about my belly, largely from people I don’t know. At the gym this morning, this dialogue with a woman I’ve never spoken to before illustrates just what I mean:

“When are you due?”
(I remove my headphones.)
“End of March. We’re very excited.”
(I smile and put my headphones back on.)
“It must be a girl.”
(I remove my headphones again.)
“No, it’s a boy.”
“Are you sure? You don’t look like you’re carrying a boy. Your body is just so, well, round.”
(I replace my headphones and don’t know (or care) if she’s still talking, and busy myself with another round of reps.)

Other things I’ve heard in passing:

“You’re carrying so high.”
“You’re carrying so low.”
“You don’t look pregnant.”
“You’re huge.”
“Are you sure it isn’t twins?”

And so on…

So what is appropriate to say when someone is pregnant? I’m not sure there’s a rule book. But what I do know is that going through the process for the first time has opened my eyes about it in ways I hadn’t expected. Thanks to the lengthy history of deeply rooted sexism in our society, women are already judged for their appearance in numerous ways. And despite the fact that we are — literally — built to bear children, pregnancy and the resulting physical effects on women’s bodies appear to produce an irresistible topic for conversation that, based on my experience, is sometimes more about the person asking questions than it is about the person answering them.

Again — friends, colleagues, etc. — don’t feel like you can’t ask me questions or engage me in conversation or comment on what I look like. I have no problem with this. It’s the individuals I don’t know who feel the need to insert their opinions front and center that I’m having a hard time wrapping my head around.

And all of this takes me to how women navigate our so-called maternity leave system in this country. Well, it turns out that most places of work don’t have maternity leave — SUNY included. It wasn’t something I even thought to question when I accepted the position at a public university. I naively assumed it was part of our contract. After all, we have a union! But after taking up work around Family Leave policy with colleagues on campus, I was surprised to find out that not only do we have to borrow time from our accumulated sick leave, there isn’t a hard and fast policy that helps women know what they’re facing when they choose to get pregnant. (Not to mention that pregnancy isn’t an illness; therefore, using sick days doesn’t make logical sense.)

Since I haven’t gone through the process quite yet (I’m only 30 weeks and expect to work up until my water breaks to preserve the sick days I do have), I can’t speak to what will happen. However, I can say that I have felt incredibly supported by my Chair, Dean, colleagues, and representatives from Compliance and Academic Affairs. While their hands are tied by the official language in the contract and Trustee Handbook, they’re all working with me to figure out a plan that will, as one administrator put it, keep me “whole and healthy.”

In preparation for a Teach-In on Family Leave on our campus last November, I did research on what maternity leave looks like locally and globally. I was shocked to find out that the U.S. is one of only 8 countries in the world that doesn’t offer paid maternity leave:
maternity leave NY Times

I also discovered that there’s been a bill stalled in Congress for over a year that calls for 12 weeks of paid maternity leave. Despite the fact that many countries offer more than 12 weeks, it would certainly be a start.

I could go on, but have said enough for one post. I encourage people to raise awareness about the abysmal state of maternity leave in our country; to talk to colleagues and family members about what has historically been an individually-fought-for, mostly-hidden negotiation in many workplaces; to consider the effect of words when offering them to pregnant women, especially those you don’t know; and to honor pregnancy as something that is exciting and incredible — as opposed to a burdensome hindrance.

I absolutely can’t wait to meet this little boy I’m carrying around with me for roughly 10 more weeks. And while I know it will completely change my life — and my body — in ways that I can’t yet understand, the experience has already shifted my paradigm when it comes to further understanding how destructive and unfair issues of sexism and gender discrimination still are in our society, and how they determine the policies by which we are bound in our workplaces. Till next time…

 

May Day

megaphoneIt seems apropos to post this photo here — in honor of both May Day and #tbt. It’s from a long time ago, but still represents how I feel about speaking out: if we don’t do it, who else will? I spoke on behalf of the United University Professional (UUP) Women’s Rights and Concerns Committee today at our May Day rally at SUNY New Paltz. Here’s what I had to say:

The most recent Census Bureau analysis showed that women—still, after several decades of organizing and awareness raising—make only 77% of what men make, or 77 cents to the man’s dollar. In 1955, nearly 60 years ago, women made roughly 65 cents for every dollar men made. Given the amount of information we have today about the disparities between men and women, I believe we can do much, much better. According to a study conducted by the UUP in 2009, male SUNY employees make roughly $11,000, on average, more than their female counterparts. That’s a little more than 20% of my current salary. And I’ll be honest, I could use that extra money every month, given how inflated food, gas, and housing costs are in this region. According to a pay disparity study conducted several years ago by the SUNY New Paltz UUP Women’s Rights and Concerns Committee, this pay disparity is alive and well right here on our campus. I’m here today to talk to you about why it’s not enough to be aware that men still make more than women—it’s time to take action so that we can close the gender gap in pay. After all, as my sign says, “everyone deserves to make a decent living wage.” 

When I agreed to speak at today’s rally, most people were supportive. But, a few people raised the concern that maybe I shouldn’t speak because I’m only in my first year, and I don’t have tenure. I admit I got a little nervous. But then I thought, if we keep acting in fear of what might happen when we stick up for ourselves, raise our voices, and point out what’s not right, we just feed right back into the status quo that keeps it acceptable to think that the value of women’s work is lower than that of men’s.

Aside from the fact that women aren’t paid as much as men on our campus, there is something else that concerns me—both personally and philosophically. And that is our family leave policy. While we, like other institutions of employment throughout our country, operate under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) of 1993, this legislation is not realistic.

Previous to the implementation of FMLA, families struggled to cobble together a patchwork quilt of care that often proved inconsistent, unreliable, and expensive. If loved ones got sick, became pregnant, or adopted a child prior to 1993, there was no legislation that protected their jobs or allowed them the necessary time to cope with the circumstances that come with caring for ailing family members or young children. But the thing that no one talks about is that this legislation guarantees employees up to 12 weeks—or 3 months—of unpaid leave. Unpaid. FMLA essentially punishes workers for having babies, getting sick, and being the primary caretakers for their loved ones. What kind of logic is that?

I’m going to be very honest with you right now. As a woman in her late 30s who has worked since she was old enough to get her working papers, and who has always wanted to have children, I’m terrified of getting pregnant, because I don’t know if I’ll be able to afford to take a leave without pay. And that brings me to the subject of maternity leave.

There is no clear policy on our campus for maternity leave—or paternity leave, for that matter. I’m told that if I were to become pregnant, I could borrow days from my sick bank. After working here for a full academic year, I will have accumulated about 12 sick days. That means that at this point, if I were to get pregnant, my paid maternity leave could be up to 12 days, or roughly two weeks. Anything after that would be unpaid. With a partner who can’t afford to pay for our expenses on his own, I’m not sure what to do about this lifelong dream I’ve had of having children. I feel incredibly lucky to have been hired in a full-time, tenure-track job, and I absolutely love coming to work every day, but the reality is, I’m not sure I can afford to have a child.

I use myself as an example not to make this all about me, but to say 1) we shouldn’t be afraid of talking about what is real, and 2) arguing for a fair family leave policy for our work should be the norm, not the exception.

I believe the policy should be that if you get sick, pregnant, adopt a child, or have to care for a sick loved one, you get a minimum of 12 weeks of leave and you get paid. They do that and more in other countries, and in one of the richest nations in the world, I think that’s the least we can do for our SUNY workers.