Taking Your Leave

I came across a Facebook thread the other day, liked by a pregnant friend. The title was something about supporting Dads to take their paternity leave. I remember discussing this topic with a friend in Finland once. She couldn’t conceive of the thought that a father a) had no paternity leave and b) could be looked down upon for taking all of it. “It’s the exact opposite here. If you didn’t take your full leave, people would look down on you for being a terrible father and partner. It's part of creating stability and helping your partner heal.” It’s no surprise that I wish that were our cultural norm, so the article really caught my eye.

I clicked on the thread of comments after the article, expecting to see all sorts of commentary. But the thread was pretty consistent. It was mostly mothers who commented. “We feel lucky my husband can be home for a week.” “I’m going back to work the day after I get discharged from the hospital so I don't lose my position.”  “We have to make it work because neither one of us has any paid time off.” There weren’t many people implying their story was pitiful or unusual. It was a sharing of times that were just truly hard with a side of joyful.

It was one of the most desperate threads I have ever read. I’ll admit I stopped after a story about a woman who returned to work after 2 weeks off, unrecovered form her cesarean birth and pumping breastmilk in a car, through tears, on unpaid and harassed breaks. She reminded me of a patient I had a few years ago who had decided not to breastfeed her second baby. When we talked about her feelings, she said that she had to go back to cleaning houses in 3 weeks, and the situation had been the same with her first. But her first had become very ill when she transitioned her off the breast to the bottle, and it had been a financial disaster for her family because she was essentially a day laborer. She wanted to breastfeed her baby, but felt it was easier to start with formula than transition to it in three weeks.

I read comments like these from suffering families, and I wonder, quite literally, when does it end? An article that was supposed to be about encouraging men to take their paternity leave sparked an entire (very necessary) conversation about what families do when they have none. The thread might be more eye-opening for someone considering ending their paid leave early than the actual article! But these articles are important to encourage a shift in thinking about our priorities surrounding family leave. And they also spur the conversation further to include those who muddle through with none. I hope everyone who posted on that thread continues to share their story. I’m going back to keep reading.