The other day, I was asked by a journalist what I would say to myself five years ago as I was pregnant with my first child. At first, the question took me off-guard. So much has changed in terms of where I’m at with my career and how my husband and I are approaching this differently, based on the comedy of trial and error from our first year with Brendan. And yet, not much has changed; there’s still no federal paid leave policy, and childcare rates have increased while caretakers are still not making enough to cover their own expenses. Sure, there are a bunch of cool new products on the market, designed and priced to make the first 6-12 months of a babe’s life a little easier, but I struggled to come up with a quick answer for her as we concluded our interview.
I hoped that by the time I was lucky enough to have another child that we’d be further along on policies and cultural guideposts that helped make it easier to raise a newborn. I’m sure I’m a bit naive, always believing that doing a 180-degree turn with a cruise ship would be easier than it looks.
The question kept me awake for a while that night. What was the difference between the five years between my pregnancy with Brendan and this one? What had changed for the better, and what had stayed the same?
Comparing both pregnancies, I’ve been in similar professional settings. I’m a consultant and running my own business, meaning that I don’t get guaranteed paid time off. With my maternity leave during Brendan, I was told that I’d no longer have a job due to staffing transitions after he was born. This was shared with me after it was common knowledge that I was pregnant at a company with no paternity leave policy. With that, I put in my notice and started hustling for freelance gigs to help build up our savings so that I could help contribute to our monthly bills. I was fortunate to land at a place where I was offered a full-time role when my leave was over, giving me some choices. Though, it wasn’t guaranteed.
This time around is a bit of a different story. I’ve built up a roster of clients over the past few years that are genuinely supportive. So much so that it often makes me cry; I know it’s a very rare privilege. I fully realize it’s not common to hear “We’re so excited to work with you when you get back” when there’s no guarantee of anything coming of it. My clients this time went one step further – they’ve made sure that not only am I involved in contracts that cover my leave, but also have offered to cover my duties while I’m out.
This is sadly an exception to the rule as consultants. For full-time employees, there are some protections based on the Family Medical Leave Act and the Pregnancy Discrimination Act that gives some stability in terms of workplace discrimination or harassment. And while there’s still no federal policy in place for paid leave when birthing or adopting a child, some states have moved forward on their own policies. Washington State is one of only 10 states that has a Paid Family Leave program. The policy covers an employee up to 90% of your weekly pay for 12 to 18 weeks of medical and family leave a year as long as you’ve worked at least 16 hours a week the year prior. Even though it’s complicated, it’s a tangible step in the right direction – one that wasn’t in place when Brendan was born.
And yet, I am privileged. I am one income of a two-income household. We have the flexibility to structure our finances so that we are planning ahead for leave and not left in a lurch. I’d be remiss in not mentioning that obvious fact. When I look at the hoops that I don’t have to jump through this time around – perceptions, missing out on opportunities, no financial cushion – I’m grateful. And yet, we can and must do better for families who are barely making it paycheck to paycheck without a major life shift. Those who are scrambling to find formula on store shelves. Those who have to debate whether they feed their family or keep the lights on. That is the reality in our country.
In hindsight, I wish I would’ve said all of that to the reporter. I wish I could have conveyed that more articulately. I wish I could have left her with one major takeaway: We’ve made some strides, and there’s so much more to do.
This article’s featured image is by Ömürden Cengiz.