Parental Leave: Giving Your Body What It Needs – Even if You Didn’t Physically Give Birth
If you are pregnant, recently had a child, or adopted, you have likely received unsolicited advice or even criticism. Everyone has opinions and with today’s technology and the encroachment of the internet, those opinions are often loud and hard to ignore. Even brave moms like Amy Schumer, who are holding space for working moms and showing what motherhood really looks like, are heavily criticized online. Many new parents feel like they are in a no-win situation when deciding when to go back to work — especially women basing work decisions on what their body needs to feel “normal” again.
Only you can decide the best course of action while considering your health needs and the needs of your family.
Taking off the time you need to heal after adding a baby to your family doesn’t make you a terrible employee. Alternatively, going back to work earlier than other parents doesn’t make you a terrible parent. We must remember that while it is easy to judge from the outside, we are the ones that must live day-to-day with our choices.
If you have the option to take parental leave at your job, do NOT feel guilty about taking the leave you are entitled to.
We can all agree that regardless of how your child came into the world, parenthood is a hard process. Birthing mothers need time to physically and emotionally recover from giving birth, and also need the full-time support of their partners so that they can concentrate on resting and getting to know their baby. Adoptive parents also need parental leave for their family to adjust to their huge life change. Since newborn babies typically eat every 2-3 hours around the clock, it’s safe to say both parents are going to be exhausted in the early days of their child’s life. Sadly, many US-based companies do not give fathers as much time off as the mother, if they give any paternity leave at all, and many people also advocate for a maternity leave greater than 6-12 weeks.
On the flip-side, some new parents may experience a desire for things to get “back to normal” as quickly as possible, especially if the family experienced a high-risk pregnancy or complications during or after delivery. Other families may be experiencing financial insecurity and may have no other option but to return to work earlier than social norms.
If you’re a new mom…
Be realistic in the amount of time that you’ll need to recover and talk to your employer about expectations beforehand – especially if your job is physically demanding, as most doctors agree that you shouldn’t even think about doing anything strenuous until at least six weeks postpartum. Recovering from birth isn’t about what you physically look like on the outside – it’s about how you physically feel on the inside and to fully recover will take time.
If you’re the (non-birthing) partner…
You should also talk to your employer about taking time off to support your partner because giving birth to a perfect little human is tough – you’re going to need to be a team player in every possible way to promote healing and encouraging your partner to rest. In fact, postnatal depression is common for both parents, and parents that have a history of anxiety, depression, difficult birth or health issues, and lack of support may be at a higher risk.
If you adopted…
For adoptive parents, initial bonding time is crucial for both parents and the entire family. While mom may not be physically healing from a delivery, the entire family needs time to adjust to your new addition. Adding a new member to the family is a psychological process that should not be rushed, and additionally, adoptive parents may struggle with bonding due to stress of the legal proceedings and the inability most adoptive parents have to breastfeed. While adoptive parents are covered under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), a parent generally must have been an employee for a period greater than 12 months.
Parental burn-out exists, and post-baby, the most important concern should be taking care of you so that you can in-turn take care of the priorities you find most important.