Mom Sums Up Common Misconceptions About Maternity Leave

In 2022, Anna Whitehouse, the founder of Mama Pukka, went to LinkedIn, posting about the common misconceptions people have about maternity leave.

Between the lack of showers, cuddling on the couch, and early morning wakeup calls, Anna’s goal was to educate businesses on what exactly happens during that “12-week vacation.”

40% Of Women Do Not Qualify For The Family Medical Leave Act

The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is a law that was passed in 1993, protecting covered employees for 12 weeks of unpaid leave, either for a family or medical reason, including new mothers.

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Sharon McCutcheon/Unsplash
Sharon McCutcheon/Unsplash

These people are protected at the federal level. Sadly, 40 percent of new mothers do not qualify for FMLA.

12% Of Women Are Granted Paid Maternity Leave

It might come as a surprise to learn that not every employer grants women paid maternity leave. In fact, only 12 percent of women have the option of a 12-week paid maternity leave after giving birth.

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Alex Bodini/Unsplash
Alex Bodini/Unsplash

That being said, these new moms are all working in the private sector.

Maternity Leave Is Decided At The State Level

Maternity leave is not decided at the federal level, even though some women on maternity leave might fall under the FMLA. Instead, the policy is decided at the state level.

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Paul Hanaoka/Unsplash
Paul Hanaoka/Unsplash

In a country of 50 states, only three have an active maternity leave policy: New Jersey, Rhode Island, and California.

The Only High-Income Country To Not Offer Maternity Level At The Federal Level

Out of all of the high-income countries around the world, the United States of America is the only one to no offer maternity level at the federal level. In 178 countries, paid leave is a given!

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Engin Akyurt/Unsplash
Engin Akyurt/Unsplash

In the US, though, the policies are made at the state level, with a majority of businesses giving unpaid leave.

25% Of Women Return To Work After Two Weeks

While maternity leave is typically a 12-week time for a mother to worry about nothing but her newborn child, 25 percent of women actually return to work after two weeks.

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Sharon McCutcheon/Unsplash
Sharon McCutcheon/Unsplash

The reason for the swift return is money, as a lot of women are only granted maternity leave time off without pay.

It Is Not A Vacation

Anna Whitehouse went to LinkedIn to post about maternity leave. Her main point was to educate businesses, telling them that the 12-week period is not a vacation at all.

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Alexander Dummer/Unsplash
Alexander Dummer/Unsplash

She is busy every day all day, calling being a mother “the most privileged position in the world.” Of course, it is not “privilege” in the typical sense of the word. It is hard work.

“Anticipation, Expectation, Arrival, And Survival”

Anna started her post by telling businesses that maternity is anything but a relaxing vacation, it is a bucket of anticipation.

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Anthony Tran/Unsplash
Anthony Tran/Unsplash

She wrote, “A reminder to businesses: Maternity/ paternity leave is not ‘a holiday’. It’s not ‘a nice break’ and it is not time off. It’s a heady cocktail of anticipation, expectation, arrival, and survival.”

It’s Navigating A Whole Lot Of Things At Once

The mother then explains how her new job is all about multi-tasking and navigating a bunch of new things that she’s never done before.

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Vitolda Klein/Unsplash
Vitolda Klein/Unsplash

In her post, Anna wrote, “It’s stripping yourself back to a primal state and nakedly navigating blocked milk ducts, torn stitches, bloody sheets, broken minds, manically Googling blackout blinds.”

It Is A Job

One common misconception Anna wants to educate people on is that maternity leave is not a vacation. It is a full-time job—one without sick days.

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Marisa Howenstine/Unsplash
Marisa Howenstine/Unsplash

In her LinkedIn post, she wrote, “You are needed. Every second you are needed – if not in person, in mind. It is a job. Without sick days. Without fair remuneration.”

It Takes Guts To Do The Job Well

Being a mother is hard work, especially when it comes to a newborn who needs attention 24-7. In Anna’s post, she explains how, while it is a privileged position to have, it is not easy.

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Derek Thomson/Unsplash
Derek Thomson/Unsplash

She wrote, “It is the most privileged position in the world, but it takes balls, guts (often with no glory), [chests], and any other extremity you can put to work.”

There Are Highs And Lows

Bringing a life into the world can be one of the biggest highs for a new mother. But Anna explains that when there are highs, such as taking her child to the park and watching them smile and giggle, there are crippling post-partum lows.

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Aditya Romansa/Unsplash
Aditya Romansa/Unsplash

Pretty much, it is the opposite of a relaxing 12-week vacation.

“It’s The Starkest Of Contrasts”

Anna explained these highs and lows in her LinkedIn post, in a very open and raw way.

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Picsea/Unsplash
Picsea/Unsplash

She wrote, “It’s the purest happiness. It’s the starkest of contrasts. It’s hobbling to the park post-birth, riding an oxytocin high; returning home, crumpling into a fetal position, succumbing to a postnatal low.”

A Pure Form Of Love

Taking care of a newborn is no easy task. It means long nights, little sleep, and minimal bathing. Even so, it is a beautiful time and the purest form of love.

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Jonathan Borba/Unsplash
Jonathan Borba/Unsplash

In her post, Anna wrote, “It’s life in its purest, ugliest, most startlingly beautiful form and it is raising others higher, above your hunger, above your exhaustion, above your needs.”

It’s All About Raising The Next Generation

Maternity leave is not something that should be overlooked. It is a new mother trying to keep her head on straight while taking care of a life (or, sometimes, lives) that depend on her for survival.

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Omar Lopez/Unsplash
Omar Lopez/Unsplash

It is about sacrifice and “raising the next generation,” according to Anna’s post on LinkedIn.

People Don’t Check-In With Themselves

While some people might see maternity leave as a 12-week vacation from work, it couldn’t be further from the truth.

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Unsplash/Luis Galvez
Unsplash/Luis Galvez

For many mothers, it is difficult to remember to check in with themselves because they are hyper-focused on taking care of a new life. They might not even know they are depressed or overwhelmed.

It’s Not Enough Time

For many mothers, the 12-week maternity leave is not enough time. Sometimes, they are not ready to go back to work. Other times, the child isn’t prepared for their mother to leave them for extended periods throughout the day.

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Nubelson Fernandes/Unsplash
Nubelson Fernandes/Unsplash

Anna isn’t the only one whose post about maternity eave has gone viral.

“I Wasn’t Ready. My Daughter Wasn’t Ready.”

Rachael Larson also wrote a post on LinkedIn, explaining how she was overwhelmed and not ready to go back to work, even after her 12-week leave.

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Katie Emslie/Unsplash
Katie Emslie/Unsplash

In her post, she wrote about her first day back at work, saying, “I wasn’t ready. My daughter wasn’t ready. She wasn’t sleeping and was extremely fussy.”

She Was Exhausted

Even so, Rachael put on a smile, hopped in her car, and went to work. But in her post, she also shared a picture of her that first day back, trying to hold back tears while sitting in her car.

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Sergiu Valena/Unsplash
Sergiu Valena/Unsplash

Her post continued, with the tired mom saying, “I woke up five times the night before to feed her. I was exhausted. As a majority income source for our family, I was forced to suck it up, put on a smile, and get back to work.”

New Families And Parents Need More Support

Rachael continued in her post, saying that new families need support, even if they are able to afford things like daycare facilities.

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Keely Sikkema/Unsplash
Keely Sikkema/Unsplash

In her post, she wrote, “I had a daycare facility that I could afford with great teachers I trusted. But… I was not ready. We need to do more to support parents and families.”

The Takeaway: Maternity Leave Is A Full-Time Job

Both Anna and Rachael’s respective posts went viral, starting a much-needed conversation about maternity leave and how various businesses allot time off for new mothers.

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Alex Bodini/Unsplasg
Alex Bodini/Unsplasg

The biggest takeaway from both women is that maternity leave is not a vacation; it is a full-time job, a messy one with ups and downs. And one that needs to be talked about more.