Families: Who needs ‘em?

Ruby (At 3 Weeks), Amped Momma, Exhausted Dada

This picture was taken when Ruby was three weeks old, during my second week of mothering. It was early in the triathlon of late night feedings, diaper changes, and the seemingly endless shooshing of a crying baby, and already Sam and I were exhausted. We’d had 36 hours—not 9 months—to prep ourselves for parenthood (the last minute crash course in swaddling proved to be clutch). But this isn’t a competition.

Regardless of allotted nesting time, I think what we were experiencing when my cousin snapped this photo is universal among new parents: While we were nothing short of elated, there was a sense that we’d been hit and flattened like silly cartoon characters, by an 18-wheeler that missed a hairpin turn after careening down an 11% grade slicked with black ice.  The impact on our lives was so stunning, I didn’t even hear the warning screech of air brakes. One minute, I wasn’t a mother, the next minute I was. And this photo, which I’ve posted before, exemplifies that for me.

And it reminds me, every time, of a conversation I had with a representative from my HR department two months before it was taken. I had called to find out whether I would qualify for maternity leave once we were matched with our baby, and was told that I would not. “You’re not really a mother,” the representative told me.  “Maternity leave is for women who have babies. Because they have to heal. You’re not healing from anything.” I hung up in disbelief and anger.

But I let it go and when Ruby was born,  I took 12-weeks off without pay so I could not really be a mother. My husband and I borrowed 3-months’ worth of salary from my generous in-laws so that I could not really make and wash bottles, not really change diapers, not really attend doctor visits, not really pace around my dining room table for hours and hours with a crying baby in my arms, so I could not really rock her to sleep. I had support—certainly not from my employer—that allowed me the luxury to not really bond with my new child, to not really sit in my rocker with her or lie in my bed with her naked body curled like a ribbon against mine, to not really have her perfect ear pressed as close as possible to the beating of my heart, a sound I hoped was something close to the white noise she’d known in her birth-mother’s belly.

Today, a court ruled that the Massachusettes Maternity Leave Act, a law from the dark age of 1972, affords a woman 8-weeks of maternity leave following the birth or adoption of a child. After that time, she is not protected by the law and can be fired from her job. An excellent policy for children and parents as far as I can tell.

Apparently, I was lucky to have absconded with an entire 12-weeks of unpaid leave without fear of being fired from a place that clearly undervalues me to begin with.

13 Responses to Families: Who needs ‘em?

  • california woman says:

    you both look like kind people. i hope you go out of your way to make friends with positive, like-minded black people (if you don’t already). otherwise, your child will feel as though you adopted her in order to ‘rescue’ her from blackness. a lot of white people don’t get this. they surround their black, or asian, or latino children with only white people, and the child suffers immensely. not to offend, but i’m a former teacher (now a child psychologist), and i’ve seen enough of that to last me a lifetime. anyway, good luck and god bless!

    • Aaryn says:

      Thanks for your comments. They are spot on. We do not subscribe to the “great white hope” philosophy. We would never consider anyone in need of being rescued from their blackness (the horror!); on the contrary, we are teaching our daughter to celebrate it and we do this by creating strong, meaningful relationships with our black friends and continuing to reach out to the black community for the support and life experience that we cannot give her. And we take her every summer to Pact Family Camp where we all continue to grow and learn. Thanks again, for your comment. I very much appreciate it. xo.

  • Jenn says:

    Society’s view women is strangely paradoxical. We are expected to beautiful and sexy, but if we are and we’re raped its our fault because we dressed too sexy. If we are too fat, we are viewed as a blight on society’s landscape (not true of men to the same extent). We are expected to procreate, and we can’t we’re not really mothers when we adopt? and if we don’t because we don’t want to have children we are selfish? OH and if we do, procreate, because well, the future of species depends on it, we’re punished for that as well. Because really, 12 weeks of maternity leave? UNPAID (because that’s how much we value motherhood) is ridiculous.

  • Kerryanne says:

    I live in a country where women are entitled to 18 paid weeks of maternity leave, must stop working one month prior to giving birth (paid) and then insurance provides a home care assistant several hours per day the first few weeks to clean the bathroom, etc so mommy can rest and bond with baby. However, if you adopt, you are entitled to a whopping 4 weeks and nothing else- didn’t give birth? Not a real parent. It was turning into such a demeaning battle to try and get additional *unpaid* leave, we decided I would quit. It still infuriates me to think about it.

  • Lisse says:

    I have not figured out how this law interacts with FMLA and why it would supercede it.

    My employer at the time not only did not offer adoption assistance, and did not have anything to compensate for my ineligibility for Short Term Disability coverage, they also did not want to permit me to use the sick and vacation time I had expressly saved for the purpose of maternity leave. I told them point-blank that it was discrimination and in less than 3 hours they came back granting me “an exception.”

    It’s my goal to get my current company to set up some arrangement for adoptive mothers. Even though it will no longer benefit me, it’s the right thing to do.

  • CDG says:

    Just one more reason to be *immensely* disappointed by the people who govern in my home state.

    I thought we were going somewhere with marriage equality and shutting down the dog racing… but apparently, we’re still more than a little ass backwards over here.

    Equally embarrassing? The ruling only got one news cycle’s worth of coverage on most major news networks. Outrage? What outrage?

  • crybabysoda says:

    And whatever became of the wet nurse?

  • Aaryn says:

    The Family Medical Leave Act allowed me to take the twelve weeks off. It did not, however, include any monetary stipend. And my employer didn’t/doesn’t cover adoption leave the way it covers maternity leave. Which is wrong.

  • Valarie Yruretagoyena says:

    We have that its called the family leave act!

  • tfox says:

    Aaryn-

    I think that you were unlucky enough to get in touch with an uninformed HR person – the Family Leave Medical Act was enacted in 2004 – I am pretty sure you would have been covered for maternity leave.

    Link to CSULB info: http://www.csulb.edu/misc/adminguidelines/pdf/staff_personnel/maternity_paternity_adopt.pdf

  • Are you some kind of socialist or something that you don’t think employer rights are paramount?

    Sometimes the U.S. is hard to take.

  • Ken says:

    In Canada maternity leave is 1 yr, can be taken by the mother, the father, or split between them, and you collect Employment Insurance benefits for the full 12 months. I just don’t understand why the US is so completely backwards on this issue. Since when is pregnancy/childbirth a ‘disability’?

  • Kizz says:

    You know, what I love about this is that it’s legislation that so clearly exemplifies the family values that our politicians hold so dear. Values that keep all the crayons of one color in a box together. Values that stress the importance of faith over science (with the exception of cases of infertility requiring IVF or other procedures to create “real mothers” who need to heal). Values that make our country what it is today.

    P.S. I love Ruby. (And her parents.)

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