Families: Who needs ‘em?
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.