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Foss: Reflecting on maternity leave

Foss: Reflecting on maternity leave

As a society, we can do more to support parents as they adapt to life with a newborn. 
Foss: Reflecting on maternity leave
Columnist Sara Foss with husband Ethan and son Ira.
Photographer: Provided photo

Two weeks ago, the thought of returning to work after nine weeks of maternity leave filled me with a strange sense of dread. 

I just couldn't imagine leaving my son for the day. 

Or any amount of time, really. 

But I couldn't imagine staying home with him until he was old enough to go to school, either. 

I wanted to return to writing and reporting, and as the date of my return drew closer I found myself reading news stories and thinking it would be fun to comment on them or explore them in-depth. By the time I left for work on Monday, I felt ready to go, but also a little regretful. If anything, I wished I could be in two places at once -- at home and at work. 

This is a feeling many parents have, and I was familiar with it thanks to conversations with friends and articles I'd read. 

But I still wasn't entirely prepared for what it would be like to experience it myself -- to worry about leaving my child in other people's care, or to consider how best to maintain a healthy work/life balance. When someone asked me what I wanted from a day care, I replied, "I want them to keep my baby alive." 

I've learned a lot since having a baby, but if there's one thing I've learned, it's that a supportive network of friends and family, combined with an ample amount of time off from work, makes everything easier and more manageable. 

It helps immensely when people bring you food, or stop by to stay hello.

Having a baby -- especially a winter baby -- can be isolating, and visitors make you feel like you're still a part of the world. 

In the weeks after my son was born, I completed several post-partum screenings that assess whether new mothers are suffering from post-partum depression. I wasn't -- in large part, I think, because of the steady flow of friends and family bearing meals and the steady, calming presence of my husband. 

New parents need help, and they don't always get it. 

During my maternity leave, I occasionally found myself marveling at single parents, wondering how they got through the day without collapsing in complete exhaustion. How did they feed themselves? I wondered, while my husband cooked dinner and I tended to the baby. How did they ever run errands? Or take a break? 

Strong support from friends and family makes adjusting to life with a newborn about a million times easier. 

But let's not kid ourselves -- money matters, too. 

Being able to take time off from work to recover from childbirth and bond with my baby without suffering a loss of livelihood was a huge gift -- one I'll always appreciate. Caring for a newborn is anxiety-inducing enough without the added stress of worrying about how you'll pay for groceries and housing. 

If there's one thing I give Gov. Andrew Cuomo credit for, it's pushing the state Legislature to pass New York's new Paid Family Leave program, which went into effect this year. 

This program enables workers to take time off to care for a baby (or a sick relative) and still get paid, and it should make life easier for families throughout the state. Babies are a financial strain, as the steady stream of medical bills I've received since leaving the hospital attest to. 

I've lost count of the number of people who have told me that taking care of a newborn is the hardest thing they've ever done. 

And it is hard. 

But it doesn't have to be as hard as it is. 

As a society, we can do more to support parents as they adapt to life with a newborn. 

We can bring them food and help with errands, but we can also support policies and programs that will make it easier for them to take care of their children. In the long run, we all benefit from this, because it helps families establish a strong foundation for the future. 

As the weather has gotten warmer, we've been taking my son out more and more. 

We've taken him on walks, and to the homes of friends and relatives and even to a poetry reading. We're excited to show him the world, and we're thankful for the support we've received from our friends, families and employers. 

It's the support every new parent deserves, and I hope one day we'll live in a world where it's the norm. 

Reach Gazette columnist Sara Foss at [email protected] Opinions expressed here are her own and not necessarily the newspaper's. Her blog is at https://dailygazette.com/blogs/thinking-it-through.

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