In September 2010 I gave birth...
In September 2010, I gave birth to my first child via c-section. I had arranged for 12 weeks of maternity leave at 2/3 pay, using vacation time, sick leave, and taking four weeks unpaid. I worked for a small nonprofit that lacked resources for paid maternity leave. Fortunately my husband's company had a very generous parental leave policy - 8 weeks for full-time caregivers and 3 weeks for part-time caregivers. We decided that after my 12 weeks, he would do 8 weeks.
Infant care in our area is not generally available until the baby is 6 weeks old. Without paid leave, I'm not sure what we would have done since our parents do not live close by and we have no other family in a position to help us. Infant care ia also very expensive, at a minimum it is $1200/month. Our paid leave enabled us to be at home with our daughter, making sure she had individualized attention, until she was nearly 5 months old.
At 12 weeks, our daughter was hospitalized for three nights. With paid leave we didn't have to think twice about how to juggle work responsibilities and financial needs with our daughter's welfare. We were both able to be at the hospital and available to make medical decisions regarding her care. When she was discharged my husband was beginning his leave which meant he was able to handle her follow-up care and give her her medicine. These are not things we would have wanted to entrust to a stranger.
My husband's company's leave policy is unique - no other fathers we know were able to take parental leave to be with their babies. Having this policy meant my husband could learn how to be a full-time caregiver and bonded with his infant daughter in a way that many fathers don't - so often there is maternal leave, but nothing for the other parent. Parenting is a partnership and our leave really enabled us both to become parents together - we are both primary caregivers.
Having paid leave also meant that breast feeding could be established, the benefits of which have been widely documented. Also, our daughter was diagnosed at two months with a disorder called torticolis which left untreated can impact social and cognitive development. The treatment is physical therapy. Having paid leave, and also being able to use sick leave for childrens' doctor's appointments, meant that our daugher's well-being could come first and that we knew we would be able to accomodate a physical therapist's 9-5 schedule.
I can't imagine what it is like for mothers and fathers that do not have paid leave. I know our daughter benefits from our understanding and compassionate workplaces. Investing in parental leave is investing in our children and our future.