I had a crazy thought this morning. If I worked in the U.S. for a company that didn't provide additional maternity leave coverage, I would have had to go back to work last Monday -- on May 26, when Alex was 6 weeks and 3 days old.
I don't know how women manage to pull themselves together to do it. Because at the six week mark, I'm still not getting more than three consecutive hours of sleep at a time and I still feel like a 24-hour all you can eat buffet. To go back to work now would mean pumping in the bathroom every three hours (or giving up breastfeeding) and forcing my brain to actually work. Right now, the hardest thing I make my sleep-deprived brain do is to figure out what to make for dinner.
I'm not saying that I couldn't do it, because you do what you have to do. It's simple really -- you don't go back to work when the company says you have to then you could lose your job. And if you lose your job, you're not getting paid. And if you're not getting paid, it's pretty damn hard to support a family -- even with a spouse in a decent paying job.
But I sure am thankful that I live in Canada, where the government says women (or men) can take up to 52 weeks off, while receiving EI benefits for 50 of those weeks. Now the EI benefits aren't a heck of a lot of money, but they're better than a kick in the ass.
Some women I know, who had their kids in Canada before maternity leaves were a year long, don't understand why a year is necessary. What could you possibly do with a whole year off work, they ask. And why do you even need it?
The answer is, I don't need a year off. Recovering from birth and the early days of caring for a newborn can be accomplished in six weeks if necessary and can definitely be accomplished in three months. But year-long maternity leaves are not about recovering from the birth and the sleep-deprivation, they're about spending time with your new family and watching your child grow and develop.
Children learn so much in the first year of life, and it's incredible to be with them as they develop, mature and learn. Sure it can be frustrating at times, but watching your child smile for the first time -- or crawl or stand or discover a new toy -- makes the early round-the-clock eating, sleeping, pooping days worthwhile. And I'm so glad that I can be around to experience both the difficult times and the rewarding times rather than shipping my kid off to a sitter as soon as the rewarding period starts and have the sitter tell me at the end of the day that my daughter learned to rollover today.