I read an article this week about maternity leave in Canada and parts of Europe and how it compares to maternity leave in the U.S. I soon discovered that it actually doesn't compare. Not at all. The United States is one of the only industrialized countries in the world that does not provide mothers and fathers with an extended paid maternity leave. Or any kind of paid maternity leave at all, for that matter.
Canadians are given 15 weeks of paid maternity leave followed by 35 weeks of parental benefits, all paid for by the federal government (source). Women in Spain are given 16 weeks of maternity leave at 100% of their salary. The U.K.: 39 weeks paid.
When I was a sophomore in college, our Sociology class got into a very heated debate regarding women and the "choice" to return to work after having a child. A male classmate announced that women in this country need to prioritize, learn to do without, and stop being so selfish. And by being selfish he was referring to the act of working as a mother.
I struggle daily with the decision to have a career while simultaneously raising two daughters. There is nothing anyone can say to a mother that can subside the guilt we feel when we drop our children into someone else's loving arms, trusting them to care for our babies while we reenter the work force. And in this country, in today's society, working mothers receive very little support, financially or emotionally. I took eight weeks off of work when Brees was born. I had saved up enough sick days and vacation time to afford myself 6 weeks paid and the other two weeks required sacrifice by the whole family. Not only was it financially difficult, but emotionally taxing as well. As if it isn't hard enough to leave your newborn baby, you are then faced with harsh criticism and judgement from others.
There is no easy answer as for what decision to make. As much as I love being a mother, I also love what I do for a living. I am a nurse and spend my days caring for others, working to better their lives in some small way. My job is rewarding and fulfilling to my soul. I am very, very passionate about what I do and proud of how hard I worked to get where I am. I touch people's lives and they touch mine. I think about my family throughout the day, wishing I could be with them. But I am also thanked daily by my patients' family members who can't be with THEM, thanked for giving of myself when they can not. A patient told me yesterday: "You are doing the work of Jesus. You are a healer, and He is giving you the strength and energy and love in your heart to do what you do everyday". I left his room in tears, so thankful for his kind words, knowing that people like him come to me throughout the day to bring me comfort and encouragement.
I was raised by a single mother who taught me the importance of self sufficiency and financial independence. Watching my mother struggle to raise two children and provide us with the incredibly full life that she did has definitely influenced who I am as a person. I value a hard day's work, being productive, contributing financially to my family. And I know that I am influencing my girls as well. I may not be able to be with them everyday, I may not fit the mold of what others think a mother should be, but I am working hard everyday to set the best example for them that I can, to show them immeasurable amounts of love, to teach them to live their life. Their own way.
And so I reflect this morning on who I am, what I believe in, what I have accomplished as a woman. I am a mother, but I am also a woman working her way through a rising career. Can we have our cake and eat it, too? I certainly hope to try as best I can, regardless of what society thinks I should do.