By Kim Donoghue, A Better Balance Community Advocate
I became pregnant with my first child after my husband and I moved to New Mexico. I immediately started looking for work after moving because we desperately needed the additional income. We were living in a tiny one-bedroom apartment with two dogs, constantly tracking our expenses; I could only afford to purchase one pair of maternity pants and one top.
After spending months applying for positions, I got a job working in marketing for a government agency four months short of my due date. I had to submit multiple inquiries to my supervisor, the agency’s Human Resources department, and the agency’s general counsel about how much time I’d be allowed to take off when my baby was born. Eventually, I learned that I could apply to take 30 days of emergency medical leave after giving birth, without pay. I submitted a request to take this leave, and after three stressful months of waiting for a response, my request was finally approved just days before my due date.
My daughter was born in April 2020, one month after New Mexico issued its shelter-in-place order in response to the coronavirus crisis. My one month of leave was nowhere near enough. Despite the fact that I was working from home, caring for my infant in the early months of her life while continuing to perform my job was still the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. My daughter was born with a tongue and lip tie, as well as mechanical feeding issues and acid reflux, all of which took several months to diagnose. She was constantly crying, spitting up, and in distress for hours on end. I tried to breastfeed and bottle feed her while seeking help from lactation consultants, doctors, support groups, and chiropractors—all while also trying to complete my work duties on only two or three hours of sleep a night.
On top of this, I was still recovering from a c-section, and my husband was only able to take two weeks off work to stay home and help me with things like getting out of bed and using the bathroom. I had no other family or support system in the area to take care of my daughter until she was old enough to attend daycare. I tried to find a facility that would take a 4-week-old infant, and felt like an awful mom when the director of one center told me my daughter was “too young” to be in daycare. When my daughter was born, I distinctly remember the look of disapproval from my midwife when I told her I’d be going back to work after a month and her reprimanding me about how I needed at least 12 weeks to be able to bond with my baby—as if it were my choice! I would have loved to spend three months taking care of my child, but we were not in a financial position for me to risk losing my job for taking leave.
I was forced to go back to work far sooner than I was ready to because my growing family needed the income to survive—a choice no working parent should face. Having felt the absence of my husband deeply during my childbirth recovery period, it’s my firm opinion that both moms and dads should have access to paid leave after welcoming a new child. We all need to call on our lawmakers to pass at least three months of paid family and medical leave for every worker, with protections in place so we know we’ll have a job to come back to. We need to make sure nobody is forced to choose between their paycheck and being there for their loved ones like I was during what should be a joyful and exciting time.