Coming back too soon
Published 7/15/2018 in The Maryland Daily Record
Thinking back to when my son was born in 2007, I feel very lucky that I was able to take a true maternity leave. Like many mothers, I had really clear ideas about how I wanted things to be; like many babies, my son had his own ideas that ruled the day. Thankfully, despite being born early, he was able to leave the hospital on schedule with the only real concern that he gain weight at a rapid pace. Certain things, like his bris ceremony, were delayed beyond the Jewish custom of the 8th day after birth, until he reached 6 pounds six weeks later, but overall we were very lucky that he was healthy.
Because he was born five weeks early, I ended up having an extra month at home with him. This made a huge difference to me. He was such a little baby that it took him almost two months to be able to fully breastfeed. Of all of my ideas, breastfeeding was an absolute going-to-happen nonnegotiable. With the maternity leave that I had, this time was devoted to all things that would enable my son to breastfeed.
When I think back to how we spent those days, it was generally related to the support of feeding. A doula, a visitor from La Leche League of NYC, a supportive friend, all made possible because I was able to take the time away from my career for a short time to fully focus on being a new mother.
It is no secret that many parents are not afforded this time off. My son’s best friend has a new baby brother. His mother, who has become a friend, ended up with only six weeks off with the risk of further time without pay. She asked for more time and was told that it would impact her position.
I could feel her pain in preparing to go back to work. Because her new baby boy was still so tiny and eating every two hours, she would return to work prepared to pump to keep up with his feeding schedule. This is not an easy endeavor and so many of us suffer through without genuine support in our work communities. I certainly did not have any support from my company when I returned to work, despite how ready I was to re-engage.
More recently, the media has been following Serena Williams navigate being a mother in the public eye. There are images of Serena breastfeeding in between practice rounds. Her HBO series, “Being Serena,” provides a candid view into her life as a new wife and mother and the struggles that come along with balancing all of these demands.
One key to what Serena is facing is the limit of her time. She had a difficult recovery from giving birth and has tried to push her return to competition sooner than she may have really been ready to. My feeling for her is the same as for my friend who simply needed and wanted more time before returning yet different demands caused them to go back before they were ready. This has implications.
Having the opportunity to set the policies within my own company, I recently sat with our employment attorney to solidify our employee handbook. As we have one male employee who is expecting a baby with his wife in the fall, I had to consider that our paternity leave policy would impact him before anyone else in the firm. This was the first opportunity I had to think about how this experience would apply to both men and women.
I always had my lens of maternity leave and now see the mutual benefit of allowing new fathers this same time to adjust to parenthood. My attorney explained the ways in which small business is exempt from many of the laws that govern paternity leave policies. In hearing these exceptions, I decided that until and unless each employer starts to do better and each of us who can, start to make changes that benefit our employee’s quality of their lives, these changes will not happen on a wide scale.
I am going to rely on my actions as an employer to be an example of how companies can do better. We are granting three months paid paternity leave to all employees who are eligible. While there is certainly more we can and will do, I know that this is a solid start.
—Dorie Fain, founder and CEO of &Wealth