When Sweet A was a little less than two weeks old, Mr. ATHG and I met with a lactation consultant to assess our breastfeeding situation and needs (something I highly recommend any new mom who intends to breastfeed do). During our hour long meeting, the consultant asked me if I would be returning to work. With a heavy sigh, I replied, “Yes. Unfortunately” (Don’t get me wrong, I love my job, but I would love to be able to stay home with my little one during the first year of her life). The consultant then went on to ask, “After three months?” To which I replied, “Six weeks.” The consultant asked me what it was I did for employment, and when I told her I was a teacher, she replied, “Oh, you’re one of those unfortunate ones.” Say what now?
I’ll admit, I was initially taken aback by this comment. What did she mean? Does she not like teachers? But then I realized what she meant. We teachers essentially get screwed over when it comes to maternity leave. The more I thought about this, the less it made sense, and the more aggravated I became. If teaching is such a pro-kid profession, why then is it so anti-family when it comes to it’s employees? Now don’t get me wrong, I know teaching offers a lot of pro-family benefits that other professions don’t offer (the hours, summer vacation, great health benefits…), but if you’re a new mom, you’re screwed.
I know a few new moms who were able to take nearly a year off when their babies were born because they had enough accrued sick time or could afford to take the unpaid leave. Unfortunately, I know many more moms who had to return to work long before they were ready to because their six weeks of leave (most likely unpaid leave, by the way) was up. This is the situation I find myself in. As my six weeks are quickly passing, I’m becoming more and more reluctant to leave my baby in the hands of some stranger while I return to work to, essentially, care for other people’s children. I wish we could afford for me to stay home, at least part-time, but alas, we cannot.
People outside of the teaching community go on and on all the time about how good teachers have it. I certainly won’t enter that debate right now, but I will say that when it comes to maternity leave, life ain’t so great. I had a conversation with a fellow art teacher last Spring about his wife going on maternity leave when their baby was born. When he informed me that she worked for a retailer, I was all set to lend a sympathetic ear, expecting him to complain about the lousy benefits at this company. I was shocked when he informed me that she would be getting six months of PAID leave (this particular retailer made msn’s Top 100 Companies for Working Moms list)! I’m not going to lie, I briefly considered quitting my job to go work for this company. I mean, how is it that a “rugged”, traditionally male-geared retailer offers such superior time off for maternity leave while a traditionally women-centered field like education can’t even muster up six weeks of paid time off without forcing it’s employees to dip into their sick time? Quite frankly, and maybe this is the lack of sleep and my quickly approaching back-to-work date speaking, I’m appalled by how little support we teachers receive when it comes to bringing new babies into the world.
After the lactation consultant heard that I would be returning to work in a mere six weeks, she quickly started explaining what I would need to do in order to continue breastfeeding Sweet A (something that is recommended be done for at least the first six months of a baby’s life). She asked if I would be able to pump every 2-3 hours, and when I responded that I wasn’t sure because I hadn’t seen my schedule yet, she was flabbergasted. She went on to ask, “But you’re required to have a 15 minute break in the morning and the afternoon, right?” I nearly laughed. She obviously isn’t aware of the reality of a teacher’s (especially an art teacher’s) schedule. I didn’t have the heart to tell her that last year I had to work nearly four hours straight, without a single break, until lunch time. The consultant then asked me if my schools would be providing a private location for me to pump. I honestly didn’t know, I secretly doubted that would happen. Thankfully though, I’ve since been able to look at my schedules, and I’m pretty sure, aside from one day a week, pumping every 2-3 hours will be entirely doable. I’m sure said pumping will be occurring in my classroom though, but I hear they have a lot of great pumping products out there that will make it a bit easier for me.
I’ve been thinking for a while now about how I think schools can make life much easier on new mothers. Of course, I think it would be ideal if I could just bring Sweet A into work with me. I mean, how convenient would that be? I could just throw her in a sling and haul her around with me while I teach. Unfortunately, that plan isn’t too realistic, but here are some other ideas I have that are more realistic…
- Provide at least 6 months paid maternity leave, with the option to take off an entire year. The last six months would be unpaid, but the option would be available and that’s all that matters.
- Not require mothers to use their sick time up for maternity leave, allowing them to still have that time to take when they return to work for things like well-baby appointments, or, you know, sick days.
- Provide a flexible schedule to moms returning to work so they can pump, or send someone to cover for them so they can go pump if their schedule doesn’t allow for that time.
- Provide mothers with a private and comfortable room to pump in.
- Offer on-site day care to teachers.