Wednesday, January 16, 2013

On Maternity Leave

Williamsburg, 2013

Now that we're nearing Axel's half year birthday (hard to fathom), I'm certainly feeling more agile as a new parent. Before he was born, I trawled blogs and devoured books, eager for any concrete shred of information about caring for a baby. I hadn't spent much time around babies, so it didn't seem like it would be intuitive.

It was, and it wasn't. I remember sometime, maybe one week in, when I wondered if I would ever eat dinner again. Axel was on his own clock, and all newborns need a lot of holding, and a lot of feeding. I was half delirious from being up every 2 hours at night, and even though there's a deli on our corner, navigating the logistics of getting milk seemed like a big task.

We muddled through, and by week 8 or so, I was feeling really content and happy in our new rhythm. Tired, but happy. Axel was sleeping in his crib, we had a community of other new mothers nearby. It started to seem really natural.

Just when I was feeling confident, I went back to work. As a freelancer, I didn't have to go back at any certain time. But I also didn't get any kind of paid maternity leave, so I looked around at all of the women I knew returning when their babies were 12 weeks old and though, "I must be able to do this too." Taking 6 months, say, seemed kind of decadent.

Now, after, Christmas, when Axel is 5 1/2 months old, I feel really comfortable leaving him with his nanny, who he loves. I am also fortunate to be able to keep a flexible schedule these days.

But no matter what, 12 weeks was way too early. A former colleague who just had a baby wrote this piece about fixing maternity leave in America. I do feel like a year may be too much. But definitely, there's a huge difference between a baby (and his parent) at 3 months and at 6 months.

Now I know that Axel really enjoys socializing with other people, and my brain is slowly beginning to work properly as well. So, yeah, if we can't be Sweden or Norway, at least give mothers a little more breathing room, like, say, 4-6 months off. I think that's far more humane.

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