Last night I slept for a combined total of five hours: it was a good night. I write you this letter with my five-week-two-day-old daughter cradled in one arm, while I type with the other hand. At this moment, my laptop rests on a Boppy. If you don’t know what a Boppy is, you should definitely keep reading this letter.
Recently, there has been much media attention about paid maternity leave in the United States. You know the facts. We are the only industrialized nation without paid maternity leave and that our country’s position on this issue is best compared to Swaziland, Papua New Guinea, and Lesotho (a Google search told me that Lesotho is a country landlocked by South Africa). I have read many opinions on this topic, but I would like to offer a different view. I think you, members of Congress, have simply forgotten what it is like to have a newborn.
I have a toddler and I too forgot what it was like to have a newborn. Last night, I woke up four times to nurse my daughter and two times just to make sure she was breathing. At one point, her sleep swaddle covered her lower chin and I had to choose if I should risk waking her up to reposition it. I knew I wouldn’t sleep for fear of it moving up and covering her face, so I re-swaddled her. She woke up screaming her high-pitched-newborn-scream and I nursed her back to sleep.
After weeks of struggle, my daughter and I have finally gotten breastfeeding down. She now has a proper latch and I am no longer feeling discomfort or bleeding. My daughter has gained two and a half pounds from the food my body has given her. You may have forgotten how big of a deal that is. My daughter had a minor case of jaundice, so the day she surpassed her birth weight was a celebration. We cheered when we saw her weight on the scale and she instinctively started to cry from the loud noise.
I forgot how little a newborn is. The diapers are so small and her body is so floppy. She lacks neck control and shows her startle reflex from the smallest sound. She is still unsure of the world around her, but she gets comfort from me. She coos and smiles in her sleep. She is sweet. She is exhausting. She is endearing. She is vulnerable.
I am vulnerable too. I have so many hormones flowing through me that I cry from happiness, sadness, and fear. I worry that I worry too much. I worry about something happening to me and my girls growing up without a mom. I worry that my husband and I are becoming co-parents and losing our spark. I worry about my two and a half year old daughter adjusting to our new life.
I also worry about what it will feel like in five days when my paid maternity leave ends. I was one of the lucky ones to have part of my leave paid, but at six weeks I am no longer in that category. My salary stops. My husband and I had to choose if our baby, who spends the majority of her day in my arms and at my breast, is ready to spend ten hours a day with someone she has never met. She will be one of four babies cared for by one person. She will cry for me and I will not be there. She will have my milk that I have been tirelessly pumping and freezing, but she will not have me. She will learn to find comfort in another woman’s arms.
What will it feel like to be back at work, at the career I have worked so hard for, when every part of me wants to be with my baby? What will it feel like to not fully be present for my job or my family? I will work with too little sleep and come home to two children who need me. Neither of them will get enough of me. My husband and I will both feel like we have no time for ourselves, or for each other. We will be stressed. We will fight. We will apologize. We will not sleep enough. We will start the day again.
This is why I have chosen to give my family six more weeks. Work can wait. Paychecks can wait. I have this option, but most American women don’t. They have to put food on the table and pay the bills. There is no choice.
But you, Congress, have a choice in changing our country’s view on paid maternity leave. You can help women balance the adjustment between family and work. You may have forgotten what it is like to have a newborn, but you do have a choice. No matter what, please don’t forget that.