I recently came across Scary Mommy’s article 6 Reasons The Family Medical Leave Act is Bullshit and, man, did it resonate.  I’m a happy mom of 3 thriving children.  Life is crazy, but manageable. I’ve never really resented being a working mom…that is, except for when it comes to the few first precious months of my children’s lives.  I harbor quite a bit of anger and resentment over that time.  You see, despite having had 2 newborns dropped on my doorstep (literally), I haven’t had a single day of “maternity leave”.  That precious time designated for bonding with your child and figuring out how life works in this strange new world of Motherhood – I didn’t even get ONE DAY. Neither did my wife.

I’ve previously shared the story about how my family was created (here and here) via foster care and adoption, but what I haven’t talked about are the days and weeks that followed.  What I haven’t shared is how exactly a dual income household manages getting children dropped into their laps out of the blue.  Spoiler alert: no matter how well you plan, it never goes smoothly, but we did live to tell the tale.

December 2009

We’ve been licensed to be foster parents for many months now and had basically given up on getting placements this year. My company doesn’t allow you to roll over many days off so my bank of paid time off is nearly empty.  We’ve scoped out daycares and know our top picks, but they have waiting lists and without knowing when your child is coming or if s/he is going to be an infant or a kindergartner (we were licensed for ages 6 weeks – 5 years old) it was impossible to hold a spot. As we told ourselves, we’d figure it out when the time came.

And then, it came.  With exactly 48 hours notice, I was now (foster) mom to a 3 1/2 year old and a 6 week old.  Also, I was in the middle of a high-visibility project at work that would have been more complicated to hand off to someone else than just finish myself.  Shit.

I took a few days off, got the kids settled, and found them both a spot in a daycare I felt so-so about (maybe i’m just being overly critical? maybe this is how all daycares are? i’m so stressed and out of my league here WTF do I know??).  Because it was the holiday season, it just so happened to work out that their first few weeks would only be 2 or 3 days.  Perfect, right? HahahahaahahahahaHA.

Looking back I can see what a terrible plan it would be to rip a 3 1/2 year old from all that he knows, stick him in a new house with new parents and a new baby sister, oh yeah, and let’s also throw in ‘Starting Preschool’! The transition was, shall we say…bumpy. Somehow we all managed to hobble along for the next couple months until it kind of resembled some version of normalcy.  But, I never did get comfortable with the daycare.  I kept touring new places and getting my name on lists (now I had the kids and knew their ages!) and prayed for a spot to open up somewhere (anywhere) else for the two of them.  Then IT happened.  I got out of work earlier than usual to spend some extra time with the kids. I arrived at daycare and walked in on my baby being treated poorly.  I won’t go into detail but I will say that she didn’t sustain physical harm; however, reports to the state were made and people were fired.

Because the daycare was a part of a large national chain, a spot at a different location magically opened up after that.  Finally, something went right.  This new place was wonderful, nurturing, and safe.  And, yes, another transition for my weary children.

Life calmed down after that…you know, as much as it ever does for 2 working moms with an infant and a preschooler.  And so concluded “maternity leave” #1.

November 2010

Day after Thanksgiving. I’m living my life. Getting the kids ready for a play date at a friend’s house. Answer a call from a number I don’t recognize and WHAM.  Life is forever changed.

3 day old baby being discharged today and needs a home.  OF COURSE we will take her.  I have no idea how we are going to make this work, but we have to take her. Again it is the end of the year and again my wife and I are nearly out of paid time off (it felt like we were getting weekly sick calls from daycare to pick up one child or the other). We don’t have the assistance of family, and foster parents don’t get maternity leave.

We turned to our employers and we figured it out.  My wife got creative with her hours working long days and weekends to be home with baby 2 days a week.  I increased my work from home schedule to cover another 2 days a week, and we found a foster parent in our town who was willing to help for the last day.

I’m grateful that we made it work. But I’m pissed as hell that my sweet girl had a rotating circus of caregivers in the most fragile weeks of her life. I’m pissed that, once again, I missed that time with my baby.  Yes, I was home with her 2 days a week (and weekends) – but those days were spent praying that she didn’t scream while I was on conference calls and typing emails one handed while I held her bottle with the other. Every time I had to leave my tiny baby to go into work, I sobbed. I distinctly remember having to do a presentation to senior management a couple weeks into this insanity that was now my life – a 4 1/2 year old, a 12 month old, and a 2 week old at home – and all I could think over and over again was THIS IS BULLSHIT. I think I managed to do okay.  I mean, I know they didn’t fire me, but I don’t recall specifically how it went.  In fact, aside from the whole “bullshit” thing, I don’t remember much from those few months. It is all a fog – the result of survival mode on steroids – and that makes me sad.

Eventually baby #3 got old enough and healthy enough (did I mention she was a very sick infant?) to go to the wonderful daycare my other 2 were attending and again life “calmed down”.

As I said in my intro, 4 years out, life is good. We are a close-knit family and I’m pretty sure my wife and I are the only ones who carry scars from those initial months lacking of maternity leave. Clearly mine are pretty deep.

Could I have used FMLA? Sure. But please refer to the article referenced above about why it is bullshit.  Unpaid. Not even short term disability percentage of pay. UNPAID.  In hindsight, I wish we had taken the financial hit to allow me to stay home with one or both of the babies for a while, but remember, we had no idea at the time that these children would stay forever.  I didn’t know if these would be the first 3 children in a long line of children that we would be blessed to foster. From a dollars and cents standpoint, it just didn’t make sense. The irony wasn’t lost on me…the fact that I was a foster parent – providing a service on behalf of the state – and getting screwed by the state and it’s inadequate laws at.the.same.time.

Now I know. These are my babies. My son and my daughters forever.  I will never get back that precious time I lost.

And that, wrapped up in one big pissed off bow, is why I believe in the importance of paid family leave.