Balancing Family Leave

[Theresa and her first child have been nido members over the past year, but with a second child on the way, her most recent blog post reflects upon the challenges of new parental leave in our society.]

In May, my family will grow by one. We’ve been doing the usual preparing, or at least as much preparing as one does with a second child, which I’ll admit hasn’t been that much. The main tasks thus far have been trying to prepare our daughter, who will be 22 months at the time, for the arrival of a sibling (another girl she tells us [we’ve chosen not to find out] who we shall name “Milk” [we’re not quite sold]), and trying to imagine the best possible work–life balance in both the immediate postpartum months and in the months and years to follow.

Though figuring this out is a challenge for all parents-to-be—especially in this country, where we have no national policies on maternity leave, where paternity leave is still rare, and where the addition of a child to a family is treated by the working world primarily as a medical event and nothing more—it is particularly difficult as a freelancer. I have no maternity leave policy, paltry or otherwise. I have no FMLA or short-term disability to protect me. If I don’t work, I don’t get paid. If I don’t work, I will lose clients and projects.

In the freelance world, it’s not uncommon to hear of new moms going back to work the same week their child is born, the baby in a bassinet beside them or tucked up against their chest in a wrap. They work as their child naps. They work as the baby nurses. In fact, before my first child was born, I had some thoughts that this would be me, maybe not in that first week or month, but not too long thereafter. Then reality hit, and I had a newborn who wasn’t much interested in sleeping or quietly hanging out, even while being held. She needed to be bounced on an exercise ball or walked around constantly, neither of which is very conducive to working. In the end, I took a full six months away from work, then slowly returned, first by making use of nap times, then by adding in an in-home sitter, and finally by joining nido shortly after my daughter turned one. Still, I work only a fraction of what I did before she was born.

Let me be clear, this is a choice I made, and a choice that is best for me and my family. It is also a choice I am extremely fortunate to have been able to make. I have a partner who makes a salary substantial enough to support our family and who is also able, through his work, to provide us with health insurance. I have an extended family that goes above and beyond to help us out. I have a wonderful network of friends. I have the benefits of a good education and a strong resume. I have the experience and reputation in my field to be secure in knowing that even if I do lose work now, I will later be able to rebuild my portfolio of clients and reestablish my workload. And I have access to a place like nido, a rare place combining co-working and childcare that I’m lucky enough to have just a few blocks from my home. This is privilege; I’m fully aware of that.

Yet still, as I prepare for the addition of a new member to my family, I can’t help but wish that our society didn’t make it so difficult for parents, and women in particular, to balance family and work, to use their substantial knowledge, skills, and abilities both at home and in the broader world. As I listen to all the mad rhetoric of an election year here in this country, I wonder when it is we will start addressing these issues—and with far more than lip service to how great mothers (and fathers) are. And I ask myself what it is I can do, to make a difference. Ideas are welcome.