Gripes

"Oh, you’re one of those unfortunate ones."

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…

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. Provide mothers with a private and comfortable room to pump in.
  5. Offer on-site day care to teachers.
That last one is a big one for me. I’m having such a hard time coming to terms with the idea of having to leave my baby with a stranger when I return to work. It would be so much less stressful for me if schools offered on-site daycare to teachers. Think of how much more convenient that would be. I would pay big bucks for that convenience (well, maybe not big bucks, but I would definitely pay the going rate for it). I bet fewer teachers would be showing up to work late or leaving early if on-site daycare was offered. And it would make breastfeeding more doable after returning to work.
*Sigh* But enough of my complaining. I can hear my little one waking. 

What are your thoughts? How much time were you able to take off? What did you do to make returning to work easier? And how did you quiet the guilt from leaving your young babe with someone else all day?
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17 thoughts on “"Oh, you’re one of those unfortunate ones."

  1. Anonymous says:

    Oh Honey! Been there. It will be okay I promise. Hang in there through the fun of starting to pump. It ain't easy but it can be done. You get really good at doing it quickly or eating lunch at the same time! I did do it in my room. Closed the blinds, locked the door and actually used a stand up board to conceal me, kinda like a science fair display board. A Medela will make it easier because it works so fast. Nursing was the last thing before I left home, pumped before my first class, at lunch, right after school, then nursed as soon as I got home. Did 11 months with one and 6 with the other that way.
    We do get stiffed in the “caring” for parents realm. Some days will be VERY long. (and some nights too) But that little sweetpea will be the gold at the end of your rainbow painted days! Look forward to seeing the baby every night and hang on till then! Good Luck!

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  2. Good luck! I pumped until my little guy was seven months, all while in school. I too locked off and buried myself in a closet area to pump. Just look forward to that November/December break. Makes it much easier knowing you'll have that time with baby. That's what I did for myself.

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  3. I am sorry you are having to deal with that. Yet another way that teachers are taken advantage of…
    I actually took off 10 year's for my maternity leave! lol We were dirt poor, but it was worth it. I went back to teaching when my youngest was 3, and he went to preschool. I don't know what your situation is, but if there is any way for you to take a leave of absence, it might be worth it. Figure out how much $$ it is going to cost you in child care, eating out, etc. You seriously might be able to do it…
    Good luck to you.

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  4. I have to say I'm shocked that you only get 6 weeks, Oregon, as a sate, requires that I get 12 weeks. I thought that was part of the nationwide family medical leave act. Still you are right on so many points. It kills me that I have to drain out every single sick leave day I have saved for the last five years. What happens if baby or I get sick during the rest of the school year. Not to be sexist but SO many teachers are women! Especially at the elementary level. You would think teaching would have the highest standards for supporting nursing/new moms.
    It is the pumping issue that I also don't know how to deal with. 15 min break…my butt. Like you I'm going to have to pump during lunch but can't figure out where to do it. It was suggested I use the staff bathroom but I find that icky and don't want to eat and pump while sitting on a toilet. I think I'm going to have to sit in a tiny closet next to the kiln. The whole thing makes me feel a undignified.

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  5. You should be able to take FMLA, but what the problem with that act is that PAY is not required. Our country is very behind on maternity leave. I was only subbing when I had babies, so I didn't have a great job to quit anyway. It wasn't hard to give up that amount of pay. I'm amazed that people talk about what an easy job teachers have. Spend a day with me, just the schedule would be crazy enough for you. All anyone can see is the summers off! Good luck. I really admire people who continue to breastfeed after returning to work. I'm not sure I would have been dedicated enough.

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  6. I went back to school 8 weeks after my son was born. My short term disability insurance paid me for 6 weeks and then Christmas break fell in the middle so 8 weeks total. I did have to use up all my sick days too to use FMLA. I was glad that I didn't get sick between returning to school and the end of the school year because I was concerned about that. I had to try to schedule his well baby check ups around the day I could leave school a little early.

    My mother in law is able to babysit for us so that makes it easier to be away since I can just pretend I'm being nice and giving her some grandma time. I also try to take my son over to their house like 20 minutes before I have to be on the road so we can play a little over there and sometimes I nurse him one more time before I have to leave. Then it's not like I'm kicking him out at the curb.

    As far as pumping goes, I bet you can figure out something that will work. I was really concerned about trying to make it work but it has been fine. I just lock my classroom door and put up a little curtain over the skinny window by the door. I have had to tell a few people if the curtain's up, don't come in because I'm pumping! Most of the teachers figure it out, just tech guys and the occasional custodian need a warning. I sit at my desk and work while I pump.

    I hope this isn't too much information- I'm trying to be supportive! 🙂
    I have about a 40 minute drive to school so I pump on the way in the morning (hands-free) from 7:20-8:00, then I throw something in the microwave for lunch and eat/pump/work for about 20 minutes between 11:50 and 12:20, then I pump again during my plan at 3:00. The only days that get a little uncomfortable are when I have five 40-minute classes back to back in the afternoon then I have to wait until 3:45 to pump. Even it's not too uncomfortable anymore, I think my body has adjusted. At one of my schools I have a few more breaks so I'll occasionally throw in an extra pumping session. I have a Medela pump and it is awesome. It was expensive but I've never had any problems and hear they have excellent customer service.

    It is really hard at first, and still not the easiest thing to do even now that my son is 9 1/2 months, but I just tell myself I have to do it and it's good for him to be around other people too. Once I get to school, it's just normal and goes fast. PT conferences or nights I have to stay late for open house or something like that are the worst! Good luck with everything!

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  7. You can cry on my shoulder. But I might be cryin with you!

    I took the 6 too then there was a break on each end making it 8. The days go by very fast. Once you get in school you are getting out and home to your baby. People expect a lot from the art teachers even though they won't admit it. Just make sure you focus on getting home to your baby. That is the goal.

    Leaving your baby with someone will be okay. I cried about that again today. I hate leaving her with anyone I don't feel like they can give her the attention that I do and care that I do (even her dad shhhh.)

    As for pumping I had a hard time pumping even one time a day at school. I breast fed for 5 months but had to supplement with formula. Most days I have a plan period in the early morning, Lunch 1/2 hour, then one at dismissal. . . It's insanity. I always thought that when I got good enough things would be easier. I feel I'm pretty good at my job but their are impossible situations like this that make me want to reconsider where I work. I was so sad when I had no time to pump.

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  8. My son is almost 23, so it's been a long time, but I took off from Christmas till the end of the year, using up all my accumulated sick time. I didn't pump, and my son survived just fine on the bottle (actually I think he was in love with his bottle and didn't want to give it up). He was healthy and loved his day care buddies (it was a home-based day care setting), and when he was old enough for pre-school, I swear they thought his day care provider was his mom. Being in day care for so long made him very adaptable to new situations. He's now a college graduate, kind, honest, smart, and hard-working, and I wouldn't change a minute (other than the fact that I miss him like crazy!). Good luck; it will all be OK!

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  9. I stayed home with my kids when they were babes…we were all young, and shiny back then and didn't mind being poor. My sympathy with your situation though…you make many good points. Life is hard on young families.
    I have noticed…and I mean I'm just sayin'…that I've seen many a female teacher with a supernatural ability to plan their pregnancies to the minute. They get that ole maternity leave to run right into summer vacation. Myself? No way. We had three, one right after the other, took a break and then had two more. I nursed some of my kids longer than others and here's what I learned…
    Breast feeding is nice when you're home with your baby all day. It's a lot less convenient when you're not. (Big sore, leaky breasts are not fun). Do what you have to do to keep yourself and your baby happy and sane.
    Hope you are loving every new day with your baby! Such an exciting time.
    Barb

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  10. This one hits so close to home for me. 😦 I just turned 30, just got married and we really want to start a family.

    Unfortunately, my company doesn't give a single paid day of maternity leave. I can take up to three months off, but I have to burn my 15 days of PTO and then I wouldn't get paid. And then I wouldn't be able to take a day off or be sick for an entire year.

    I have no idea what I'm going to do. Talk to my boss and see if there's anything that they can do for me. Which is probably going to result in me looking for a new job. :\

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  11. I just found out that I do not get ANY paid days off for maternity leave! I only get my accrued sick days. I'm so angry! I thought it was required that mother's got 6 weeks of paid time off! I have to take an unpaid Family Medical Leave if I want to take the time off AND on top of that, I have to pay my full medical insurance during that time!

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  12. BTW: Love your blog! This is exactly why I bit the bullet and took the year off. I knew, based on schedules past, that my schedule would not permit pumping. But, great thing is… there is a LAW in Louisiana (and I am pretty sure elsewhere) that requires your place of work must provide (1.) pumping time, (2.) a place to pump. So, if I did have to go back to work, I was going to demand both. Also, if you are lucky enough to have a female principal, they are usually more inclined to helping out. Sometimes just bringing the subject up to a male gets things accomplished just because they are uncomfortable! HAH!

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  13. Just found your blog today and I really like it. (c: I imagine there would be better maternity benefits if 1) more than 75% of public school teachers were not women (the fewer women, the less worry when someone needs maternity leave) and 2) if the budgets weren’t so bare bones. Many schools can’t afford to pay a teacher who isn’t teaching (as in on maternity leave) along with her replacement. Since most subs aren’t volunteers; that leaves offering only unpaid maternity leave. I’m not saying it’s right, I’m just saying that if there isn’t funding, there isn’t funding.

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  14. how is it that my districts high school has a daycare for their students free of charge, but I have nothing like that available as an elementary art teacher for my future not-born-yet kids??

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  15. Anonymous says:

    When my son was born, I had no sick days left and had to take unpaid time off- FMLA- I could only afford 2 weeks. Therefore, I got to spend 2 weeks with my newborn before leaving him in the hands of well-meaning friends to finish out the last 5 weeks of school. He is 3 now and I still get angry when I think about it…

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