Perinatal health consultant Arianna Taboada goes through the ins and outs of paid and unpaid parental leave in the United States. She shares with Adriana Lozada how to be realistic about your options for the best possible return to work for you and your family, while lessening the overwhelm.
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- Comparative Chart of Paid Family and Medical Leave Laws in the United States, A Better Balance
- This is the comprehensive breakdown, state-by-state, that Arianna mentioned specifically
- Paid Family & Medical Leave, A Better Balance
- Paid Leave, National Partnership for Women & Families
- The State of Paid Leave in the U.S., U.S. News
- Paid Family Leave website, California Work & Family Coalition
- California, where Arianna lives, was the first state to enact paid family leave policy, in 2002, as she mentioned during the interview
- Parental Leave Systems, Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)
- Among 41 countries, only U.S. lacks paid parental leave, Pew Research
- Americans Widely Support Paid Family and Medical Leave, but Differ Over Specific Policies, Pew Research
- A National Paid Leave Program Would Help Workers, Families, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities
- Easing the Burden: Why Paid Family Leave Policies are Gaining Steam, Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research (SIEPR)
- Paid family leave still out of reach for most American workers, Axios
- The Main Street Alliance website (all about small business-specific advocacy)
- Frequently Asked Questions and Answers About the Revisions to the Family and Medical Leave Act, U.S. Department of Labor (DOL)
- Get Your Sh*t Together, Baby! Glamour
- The urgent necessity for paid parental leave, American Psychological Association (APA)
- Paid Leave, Think Babies
- Paid Leave Advocacy Toolkit, Zero to Three
- Email your members of Congress: Pass national paid family and medical leave, PL+US
Related Birthful episodes:
- Why Employers Need to Value Your Parenting Skills
- Emotional Prep for Going Back to Work While Breastfeeding
- Working while Breastfeeding
- Let’s Tackle Postpartum Mood and Anxiety Disorders
- Back-to-Work Sleep Considerations
What You Need to Plan Your Parental Leave
Adriana Lozada: Hello, hello, Mighty Parent or Parent-To-Be! Welcome to Birthful. I’m Adriana Lozada and today we are starting a new series that’s going to focus on helping you get a head start on some of the big logistics that need to be in place by the time your baby arrives, and so we’ve very aptly have named it the Get a Head Start on Your Postpartum Logistics series… because what else would we call it?
In today’s episode, we’re going to tackle what you need to consider to start planning your parental leave and how to best go about that, and I’m thrilled to have Arianna Taboada here for this conversation, not only because I so enjoy talking with her, but more importantly because Arianna is an expert at helping people plan their parental leave. Arianna holds a master’s in social work and a master of science in public health, and she frequently speaks and writes about parental leave as an issue of social justice, human rights, and economic equity. She’s also the author of The Expecting Entrepreneur: A Guide to Parental Leave Planning for Self-Employed Business Owners.
Now, as a society, we’re quick to reduce parental leave to a numbers game, but it’s obviously way more than just the math. Arianna is here to explain how to figure out what options are available to you regardless of who you work for and how you can plan for a return to work that preserves the emotional, mental, and physical wellbeing of your whole family.
You’re listening to Birthful. Here to inform your intuition.
Adriana: Welcome, Ariana. I am so happy to have you back on the show. And as we start, why don’t you tell the listeners a little bit about yourself and how you identify.
Arianna Taboada: Sure, Adriana. And, as always, it is so much fun to be back in conversation with you. I am a maternal health researcher by training; I worked as a health professional for several years before transitioning into private practice and entrepreneurship.
And some of the ways that I identify are I still strongly identify as kind of working within health systems and being an advocate in the health space. I identify as a mother. I identify as the daughter of immigrants and part of a binational, bicultural, bilingual family. And have moved back and forth myself, between here in California and Central Mexico, many times. And I also identify as an entrepreneur— it’s one of the things that has been kind of an identity development journey of itself.
Adriana: And you have a book also, which is all about the topic that we’re gonna talk about today, in broad strokes— although you kind of specialize in people who are service-based entrepreneurs.
Arianna: So I guess I should add on, I should add “author” to how I identify!
Adriana: And well, last time I had you here, we were talking about helping people plan to return to work. And I think we’re gonna take a few steps back today actually, and just go to the even before… So, when preparing for parental leave, I think first people need to understand what options are available to them. So can we clarify for the listeners a bit what those options are, at least in the U.S.?
Arianna: Sure. You know, if you have had a kid, you are probably aware that we really don’t have much infrastructure here in the U.S. We’re the only high-income country that does not have a federal paid leave policy. What we do have is legislation that was passed in 1993 under President Clinton, that’s the Family Medical Leave Act. And that is something that most people are familiar with as, like, the one policy thing we have in terms of federal leave. So it is job protection, essentially.
There are a bunch of criteria that you have to meet in order to be eligible for FMLA, to actually be protected under that legislation. Some of those things include having worked at a company for 12 months to be eligible. The company has to have 50 employees or more— so that usually means that small businesses are left out of FMLA. And what FMLA does is it protects your job for up to 12 weeks for, as the title says, for family or medical leave. So that includes things like pregnancy, either through birth, or a new baby adoption. It also covers certain health conditions.
Adriana: So that is FMLA. And it’s broadly available for everybody, because that’s federal level, if you meet the criteria. Now, there are some states that offer paid family leave. Can you talk about that part?
Arianna: Sure. And we’ll also… I know it’s a lot of information, so we’ll provide a link in the show notes to a great resource that kind of breaks down the state-level coverage, where there is a state-level paid leave policy.
So again, FMLA is just job protection. It does not include any payment. And these paid leave policies at the state level actually provide a financial benefit.
And even within the states that have a paid leave program, there’s a lot of variation in what it looks like. There are differences across them, ’cause each state has different politicians and committee members and advocates that have been putting forward different ways of providing a paid leave program.
So, again, eligibility differs across states. For example, in some places it does cover self-employed people, in other places it does not. And the wage replacement also varies, and is dependent on income. And there are some notes, kind of in the policies as they’re passed, but as inflation changes that the amounts will be reevaluated and reassessed. So depending on how much you earn on a weekly basis, sometimes that can be up to 90% of your wages are being replaced. Sometimes that means it’s more like half. So it really depends on how much you’re making in your kind of day-to-day job will determine what the amount of the benefit actually replaces for you as an individual.
Adriana: Well, and as great as it is that there are some things in place for people like FMLA and paid family leave in some states, there’s so many little nuances to it that if we look at the amount of people that are not covered, right? That don’t qualify for FMLA or paid family leave, which can include small businesses and freelancers and solopreneurs and people hired as contractors. It’s an enormous chunk of the population!
And I also wanna say that there’s a lot of people who don’t end up taking their FMLA or shorten their paid family leave because they can’t afford it. The amount of money that you’re losing regardless is something that might not be sustainable for your family to take advantage of that time off.
So how does anyone determine how much time to take off, in your experience?
Arianna: So I think to answer the question, going back to some of the context you provided is so helpful. Like you said, unpaid family leave is something that is truly not accessible in a place where we don’t have any federal policy that makes it accessible.
And so then, some of the latest stats, is that we have over a hundred million people who don’t have access to even a single day of paid leave. And that’s an atrocity in a high-income country.
Adriana: Well, and to put into perspective, we’re talking nuances in the U.S., but if you are listening from outside this country, you’re probably in disbelief, or sadly crying or laughing like it’s emotional because the U.S. is one of the very few countries in the whole world— I think we’re bottom two or three or something— that don’t offer any kind of paid family leave for their families in the world.
Arianna: Yeah. That, and it’s not because the U.S. as a country cannot afford it. I think that’s kind of what we’re dancing around. It’s because there is not a priority on infrastructure for families.
Adriana: Which is so sad that we’re having these conversations that take years and years to try to make little efforts into these advances when, if you look at other countries, we’re talking months when we’re fighting for weeks, and I think that really puts it into perspective of how little we prioritize our families in this country. I didn’t mean to go on a rant, but it is rant-worthy. It is rant-worthy—
Arianna: It is rant-worthy!
Adriana: —because we’re suffering. There’s… Tell us a little bit about the impact of not being able to take time off to take care of your child and yourself postpartum for several weeks or months.
Arianna: Yeah, so I mean right now one out of four birthing people go back to work before ten days are over, before ten days postpartum. So you can imagine, if you’ve given birth, you can imagine what kind of shape your body is in, your mental state. And that is what we know from research, is how important paid leave policies are for health outcomes. Not just for a birthing person, but from a two generation perspective for a child’s health, for family’s wellbeing.
And so it becomes really hard when it feels like the trade-off, all the pressure is put on an individual to figure out how to make it work, first of all. And then it’s almost like you have the competing priorities of “Do I prioritize my both immediate health and my long-term health? Or do I prioritize economic stability for my family?” And that’s really the choice we’re forcing people to make without paid leave in place and women, low-income workers, gig workers, communities of color are hit the hardest when we have to make choices like that.
Adriana: So given the reality that we have right now and what people have to deal with, how can they figure out how much time they can take off?
Arianna: Yeah, so, see? We made it full-circle. Context matters. And, in terms of figuring out how much time to take off, I think about it kind of in two different ways. So I’ll start for those who are employees and have full-time employment. Some of the most important things to review are your FMLA eligibility. And also, based on what state you’re in, you can review what resources available to you at the state level. So looking at FMLA, your state resources, and then your company resources. In this day and age, companies have also really had to step in where government has not and say, “Okay, we’re gonna figure out a way to care for our workers, retain our workers.” So, policies vary across companies, but there are a lot of companies that are trying to kind of take on that challenge and fill in the gap.
And so figuring out what is accessible to you through your company is a great first step. HR is kind of the typical place you can go to. If you have a working parents group at your organization, that is also a great place to go for peer, kind of, lived experience information and intel, if you will, on what people have done. And once you feel like you have information, going to your manager and kind of starting the conversation from a really informed place is one way that I’ve seen give people kind of the upper hand, if you will, on figuring out how to how to not just take whatever happens to be available, but to understand what are the resources that you can access, and then propose a plan, based on what you have access to, and of course what your personal kind of financial and personal needs are.
Adriana: How far in advance should people be starting to prepare for this transition?
Arianna: I definitely think it’s appropriate to start talking about it as early as your six month of pregnancy. I mean you’re gonna be looking pregnant by then, so folks at work will likely know that you’re going to be taking some kind of time to have your baby and be with the baby for a little bit, hopefully at least.
And it can be kind of great, you know, taking the lead to be the one to bring up the topic as opposed to wondering when it’s going to come up or, or having kind of an awkward silence with your colleagues, especially if you’re in a small workplace. So definitely bring it up, and I would say as early as six months pregnant.
The one thing I’d definitely say avoid doing is don’t wait for the back to work conversation or that negotiating piece to happen in your immediate postpartum because people talk to you about the sleep deprivation and all the emotional things that can come up. But you’re also just so far removed from your professional role in those first few weeks. That you don’t wanna have to shift back into that in order to advocate for yourself. So give yourself the time beforehand, to do the negotiating, do the working out of logistics so that you can enjoy those, those postpartum days and weeks.
So the other group that I spend a lot of time thinking about is people who are not full-time employees, who are business owners, freelancers, gig workers. And so the amount of time is informed, kind of, by a variety of factors. A lot of times it comes down to the financial resources that you can kind of cobble together, so looking at your business model, cash flow in the business, thinking about ways to experiment with or reshape how you are offering services or what, if you have a team, how your team is functioning and what role you’re specifically in. And really thinking carefully about how you can take time to step away from, kind of, the hands-on, day-to-day role that most business owners tend to have.
Adriana: And I love that you mentioned going into it from an informed perspective for employees, because it’s so easy to be overwhelmed by trying to plan for taking your leave. So, I think, just taking baby steps I am going to do early in my pregnancy (or really whenever you start, but the earlier the better), of just starting to gather that information so that you then are able to make the choices that are right for you and not be just like “I just want this done,” overwhelmed, “Just give me whatever.”
Arianna: Yeah, I mean for anyone it kind of is like a little side project that you have to take on. There’s kind of a research phase, and then there’s a, okay, I’m gonna go into planning mode phase, and then there’s an implementation phase.
Adriana: Totally. Absolutely. So piggybacking on all that, what do people need to consider when figuring out how to fund their parental leave, whatever that might look like?
Arianna: Yeah, so, again, we are unfortunately starting with the reality that most people are likely going to self-fund their leave in some way. Sometimes it’ll literally be coming out of their pocket. Sometimes it’ll be coming out of a state program fund. Sometimes it’ll be coming out of a company budget.
Knowing that there’s likely some amount of money you will have to figure out how to cover, one of the places that I most like to start is actually having people look at their personal or household budget to really think about “What kind of cushion do I have there? Do I have savings? If I needed to put things on a credit card for a while, would I be willing to do that? Are there places in my budget where I can actually make some changes and cut some expenses now in order to give myself a little more flex, down the road?” So that’s a good place to start and that can feel kind of scary.
I mean there’s a lot of new things coming at you in pregnancy and heading into birth. Adding this layer of financial planning can feel pretty unnerving. I’ll just, I wanna name it, right? Acknowledge that.
Adriana: Oh my gosh! So unnerving! There’s so much responsibility to it. I always try to tell people “Really take a good hard look at how much you can afford, but do try to take off as much as possible.” We were talking about this ahead of time, that research says that people from all over the world that are able to take longer amounts of time, they kind of hit, you were saying around six months. I’ve seen around ten months to be, kind of, like, the “ideal” amount of time, regardless of money, that people feel is appropriate for their family. So trying to get to six months feels so big. However, then… How close to three months can you get? And if you’re only looking at ten days, can you get two weeks or three weeks? It’s really important to see if you can extend this as much as possible, I guess is the point I wanna make. Would you agree?
Arianna: Yeah, we’ve been talking about: How do you fund it? That’s just one part of the equation, in that it can feel hard when the trade-off is “Okay, if I take more time, what is the impact on my finances? But, on the other hand, if I take less time, what is the impact on my health? What’s the potential impact on my mental health?” What’s the potential impact on bonding time and just allowing yourself transition time into a new chapter in your life? And so I tend to be in the same boat, like the question of “Should I even take leave at all?” I’m like, “Definitely yes! Let’s figure out some creative ways of how that can look for you.”
And so knowing that, in the U.S. at least, we have this mental model of “12 weeks” based on FMLA, but, like you said, it’s an arbitrary number. It is not actually based on any empirical evidence that 12 weeks is an amount of time that makes sense in terms of parent-infant attachment, in terms of health outcomes, in terms of economic participation in the workforce. And so that six months that I mentioned and the ten months that you mentioned, there tends to be studies that are looking at a variety of things. It’s looking at breastfeeding rates. It is looking at infant health. It is looking at workforce participation. It is looking at maternal mental health and perinatal health. And so we really start thinking about there’s a lot of different factors to consider and trying to figure out what’s the financial piece, but also, what’s the mental piece, what’s the emotional piece?
What are the things that I as an individual know about myself that can help inform how much time I feel like I will really not just need, but want? In your ideal world, what would you desire in terms of time you have to be becoming a family?
Based on, kind of, my work in both the working with one-on-one with individuals and having been in a clinical setting, and then being right now really immersed as a researcher, it differs so widely for everyone. It seems like some people, you know, are kind of sitting at home thinking about “What am I gonna do when I go back to work?” if they have a three month leave. Whereas other folks take five months and they’re really not ready to transition back in at that point. So there’s not a “right” time, kind of, health-wise or even mental health-wise, but there’s definitely a right time for you.
So thinking about what that right time for you might be, is, I think, the key element in negotiating in whatever way you are able to… the time that best meets your needs.
Adriana: Considering that, you won’t quite know exactly when’s the right time for you until you’re kind of in it… To sort of plan for that flexibility seems like it would be a good idea.
Arianna: Yeah, I mean, I’ve never met anyone who regretted taking more time. It’s way easier to go back in a little earlier than expected, or to do a little work here and there before you’re technically back in. And that’s much easier than to all of a sudden have to be at your desk full-time and really feeling like you’re not ready for that and you wish you had taken more time. So, erring on the side of caution and more space, more time, is always a smart thing to do.
Adriana: Yeah, and I think it’s important also to stress we’ve been focusing a lot on the the primary caregiver, usually the birthing person, but the importance also for the partner to go through this process as well and see how much they can take and to take as much as possible, just because there are as many benefits for the partner as for the primary caregiver in terms of their long-term involvement, then, in connection with their children and involvement in the family. So there are really great benefits to them long-term as well. Do you know of more benefits? I’m sure you do.
Arianna: Well, I know you had Amy Henderson on in the past, so that episode probably covers some of the really interesting work about how all parents of all genders benefit from having the time and space and support to transition into parenthood. And I think some of what is so exciting about the paid leave policy proposals and also the way companies are redesigning their leave programs and policies is to lose that distinction between “primary” and “secondary,” and to have gender-neutral parental leave policies and recognize that investing resources into all parents being able to have that time is so crucial. It actually pays dividends on the health front, on the kind of economic security and safety front, on the workforce participation front. And so all of the best possible outcomes that we would want to see happen are more possible when we have adequate time, built into policies and when they’re gender-neutral policies.
Adriana: And we need to remember and understand that it’s good for the family, it’s good for the community, and it’s good for the country. Like it’s a win-win for everybody at all levels! So, in terms of getting ready for this, do you have suggestions of how to start preparing during pregnancy? And then things you can do while you’re in that early postpartum period? Can you tell us a bit of what those might be during pregnancy, for example?
Arianna: So we talked a little bit about that negotiation piece, negotiating during pregnancy with your workplace, your employer, with your team. And if you work for yourself, you kind of have to sit down with yourself as the boss and figure out “when it’s right for me” time. Some people wait until Week 41 to have their official stop work date. And if you… I mean, babies come when they wanna come! So if you have any power in that decision or any flexibility in that decision, you might want to think about, you know, “How tired am I going to be?”
Or how, “Logistically, what things do I have to get done before the baby arrives?” And think about “Do I wanna take maybe a day or two, or even a week or two?” I’ve known clients who stopped at 37 weeks, at 38 weeks. And I’ve also known people who planned to stop at 38 weeks and went into labor early, and have a preemie at 32 weeks, and you can make it work. It’s just spending the time thinking about it before you end up in the thick of it, having to make those important decisions.
Adriana: And I think, just like you said before, of it’s hard to tell when the right time is for you until you’re kind of in it, for that postpartum. One of the things that I like to tell my doula clients is starting, like, at Week 36, start telling yourself or asking yourself several times during the day, “If I were to go into labor right, now am I well rested?”
Arianna: Yeah, I mean, that’s a great thing!
Adriana: And if the answer is “no,” then do something about it.
Arianna: Yeah, and I love that. “Are you well-rested?” Taking the time and asking yourself that question. And maybe I’ll add in, if you’re using the “well-rested” already, feel free to use… add an additional little question of “Am I well supported? Do I have the things in place, the people in place, the networks, the supportive networks to have the type of experience that I wanna have for myself?”
So that might be things like thinking about a, not only a doula for birth, but a postpartum doula. Or it might be thinking about a new mom group in your community that you can join after. Or it might be having looked up— knock on wood, again— if for whatever reason a mental health condition comes up, do I know the number of a hotline? Do I know the number of a local mental health professional that I could call and get assessed? So that, again, when you’re in those postpartum weeks, and if you happen to need any of those things, you’re not having to do the research at that time. You have those at your fingertips.
Adriana: I love adding that component of “Am I well supported to it?” Yes. Now, what do you need to think about or how do you plan for returning to work?
Arianna: Sure. So this is one of the topics I love, because I just feel like it is impossible to imagine that one day we are a hundred percent on, like, leave or “parent-only mode,” and the next day we are a hundred percent on “work mode.” We need a little bit more transition time as humans and to adapt to our reality.
And so there are five things that I often, kind of, bring up or try and center in the conversation around returning to work. The first is just that the transition time, to really embrace that spirit of experimentation, curiosity as you transition because there will be changes in everything— from how you feel and your identity, to just the logistics of things and how you show up at work.
The second thing is addressing health needs. Another area we fall short of is postpartum care in this country. Actually, the World Health Organization standards are four postpartum visits to cover a variety of things including physiological recovery, mental health, emotional health, lactation support…
Adriana: You said four?
Arianna: Four. Four visits.
Adriana: So four… and people usually get one at six weeks, which seems so long,
Arianna: That one visit even falls woefully short of what we, again, what we know, what we have evidence for being a driver of positive health in the long term. And so before going back to work where there will be real demands, multiplying on your time, making sure that you assess what your health needs are and try and get any issues that are coming up or that are ongoing addressed, or at least starting to address them before you head back. Another aspect to think about is childcare logistics. I mean, that falls right in with, kind of, the transition. But it is… I have found it incredibly helpful to have folks actually start transitioning into childcare before their first day back at work. It gives your child time to get used to a new arrangement and it gives yourself time to actually have… provides this little buffer where you have some time where you are not in parent mode. And you’re not yet in work mode, and so just allows yourself some time and space to think about the upcoming transition.
Support is another thing. Both social support, at a kind of community/friends/chosen family level, and also work support. So again, as we had talked about earlier, are there working parent groups that could support you? If there isn’t a formal working parents group, is there other parents at the place where you work where you could informally turn to them? And supportive managers are also one of the things that can really help shape the trajectory of someone’s return to work.
And I think the last thing that I would mention in terms of an important aspect of returning to work is to know what your boundaries are, and practice communicating them. So that can be boundaries around simple things like your start and end time, if you have childcare drop-off or pick-up. There are hard stops and times where you are simply not available to be in where pre-baby you may have been or you may have had more flexibility. And so kind of both establishing boundaries and being able to remind people of those new boundaries, if they’re things that are different from your previous work life.
Adriana: All that you said is clearly fantastic and really, as you were talking, I was like, “Yes! I remember this.” And I remember just the childcare logistics for me particularly was the most daunting part of all this. And that trying to identify what’s most overwhelming for you and then plan, like you were saying, project manage it, going to research and then plan for it. Even just start scheduling on your calendar of when you’re gonna take the time to research it. And also I would like to bring in the flexibility— and I know that you are a fan of this anyway— is of understanding that how you might feel today that you are planning and pregnant, might be very different to when the time actually comes to return to work.
And depending on how your birth went and what’s going on with your family life, how your postpartum recuperation is happening, all of those things can influence. So trying to figure out some flexibility around your return to work seems like it’ll go easier if you have some more flexibility. So, do you have any tips for people in terms of how to build that flexibility?
Arianna: I think literally building it into your return can sometimes look like on-ramping, based on that element of transition time. So having your first day back be a Wednesday instead of a Monday, so you only have half a week having your first two weeks back, be part-time or for, kind of, fewer hours than you normally would.
And some of a lot of those things are things that people don’t know that they can ask for or propose. But things that most places, whether you… Of course, if you work for yourself, it’s like things you can build in and say yes to, and if you are proposing it to your company, a lot of times coming in with a plan is the thing that will get someone to say, “Oh, I can see you’ve given a lot of thought to this. Sure, we can have you ramp on in this particular way.” And people just don’t know… you don’t know what you don’t know, so it can be hard to ask for things that you don’t know you can even ask for. But those are two examples of really clear ways to have it actually feel like a transition, starting mid-week, starting at part-time or ramping up to your regular hours.
And also, another piece of the logistics is literally blocking off your calendar in very clear ways, like having “Do Not Disturb” (DND) times if you’re pumping. Having your very clear, like, “out of office from at X hour,” or “out of office before X hour in the morning,” if you’re playing the childcare game of drop off and pick up.
Adriana: And I love that ’cause it’ll actually help you too to really create those boundaries, ‘cause it’s much easier […]. Your calendar will help you if it’s already in there, as opposed to when it gets to that time and you’re like, “Ah, but we’re not quite finished here.” Well, if everybody knew that you had to be finished and were reminded that you had to finish at 4:00, at 3:00, at whatever time, 5:00, then that’s setting the tone instead of you having to physically, verbally remind everybody else.
Adriana: I like that. I like that. And also to remember that when your partner goes back to work, that that is also a time of huge transition— not just for them, but for you, in terms of however you’ve created your family dynamics up to then of your rhythms with your newborn, and that that’s a drastic change. So to plan for that transition, bringing in extra support as you need.
Arianna: I think all of the return to work stuff also means looking at what support you need in order to make that transition. So the same way that we thought about… I know you help people think about in those early postpartum days, “What kind of support are you going to need?”
You can think of this as another one of those moments to say, “Okay, assess what I currently have access to,” in terms of “Do I need help with meals? Do I need help with, like, basic household stuff? Do I need time for myself?” And articulating those and thinking about what will help, “What kind of support do I need at this particular transition point?”
And not many places are generous with paternity leave, let’s say. But split time, split leave is something that folks have talked to me about in the past. So let’s say, sometimes, the person who gave birth has a certain amount of time, but the partner has actually a few weeks that they could take— might be paid, might be unpaid. So, you know, the decision of “Do I take… Do we take those at the exact same time, or do we stagger?” Again, it’s a personal decision, and there might be kind of my go-to recommendation would be take maybe a few weeks together so that like the first one/two weeks while you’re kind of in that post-birth glow, but then you might wanna have that person save their other few weeks for when mom has to transition back to work. That’s something that I’ve seen work for a few families!
Adriana: I can see how that would work also, because it can take off a little bit of the stress of the daycare or of adding that component to it of who’s taking care of your child, which is a sort of a separate component than you transitioning as an individual back to work.
Arianna: Right ! It’s like a whole big thing in and of itself.
Adriana: Yeah, so that can help split the two things. Do you have any tips for people who have to unfortunately go back almost immediately, that don’t have sort of three weeks to prepare or to do a gradual reentry?
Arianna: I would schedule, during your last few weeks of pregnancy, the doctors visits or visits to other professionals or even home visits if you have professionals in your life who are doing that, to schedule those ahead of time so that you don’t have to be kind of figuring out if— knock on wood— if you have any health issues, including mental health issues that come up for you postpartum, you really have those linkages, those phone numbers, those appointments even set up. So, typically, in the U.S., you have kind of your six week postpartum checkup, And so we also… we see a gap there. So especially if you’re going back to work at, let’s say the three week mark, make sure you have a visit before you go back. Don’t let that be something that’s left lingering until you’re, you know, back full force in the work mode. And we tend to put our own health on the back burner.
Adriana: Yeah. I wanna talk about the emotional component of going back to work. Because sometimes that can be harder than you thought. Talk to me about your experience with this part of that transition.
Arianna: Sure. And I think I’ll split it into, kind of, two different sub themes, because there’s the emotional piece around the logistics of going back to work… “How do I work out my pumping schedule?” if you’re pumping. “How do I get my child ready for daycare? How do I learn how to, you know, navigate and communicate with a childcare provider?” and that can be pretty anxiety provoking. So, the emotional turmoil of it all, I would really recommend approaching it with a kind of an attitude of compassion towards yourself.
These are decisions that you’ve never had to make before. And if you’re feeling like, “Oh my God, I’m overwhelmed and I’m stressed out and I’m feeling a little anxious about making these decisions!”— and you might not normally be someone who gets stressed out over decisions— take it easy on yourself, be compassionate. Think about: How would you speak to a friend who was going through this? As opposed to jumping to any negative self-talk about it.
And especially when you are heading back to the workplace, a place where you’re expected to be competent and professional and kind of a go-getter and check things off the list and do them right, having these things that you have to check off the list that you are not prepared for can be a little nerve-wracking. So just like we talked about before, having the professionals who you can reach out to having the social support that you can reach out to, colleagues at work who have made that transition before. If you’re in a large workplace, chances are someone else has taken maternity leave before you have.
So don’t be afraid to reach out, and ask those questions. Sit down, use your lunch break time to talk to other moms who have gone through that at your workplace and if at any point you are feeling, you’re really feeling like you’re drowning in your overwhelm, […] break down the shame about reaching out to a mental health professional, because it does not mean you have a mental health problem to feel overwhelmed and scared and anxious. I would say you’re right on the normal emotional scale/spectrum with that, but having someone to talk through those issues can right away bring down some of that anxiety.
Adriana: Yeah. And it is a totally overwhelming time of life!
Arianna: Yes. There’s one other thing that I’d love to touch on while we’re on the emotional conversation, and that’s the kind of the emotions that get wrapped up or that get brought out in “What this means for my identity.” And it’s kind of what I call “the social aspect.” So “What does it mean for me to adopt this new identity?” If I, you know, had a really strong professional identity before and in those weeks first born, you know, newborn/postpartum, I adopted this really strong motherhood identity, what does it mean to merge those two? And there’s lots of different ways you might be feeling about that new identity. “Do I merge them? Are they compatible?” And the emotions that come along with that.
Adriana: Yeah, so tell me more about that! Because I find that is a huge, such a hard thing to do, to figure out who you are now. You know, what are the new aspects of yourself, and how they joined together with the old aspects that maybe you had really well-defined and cemented, and then this new component is laid over it that can even challenge some of that identity that you… or definitions that you had for yourself. So can… Talk to me more about that.
Arianna: Sure. And, this is… I mean, I will go into a little more personal and see if some folks might resonate with this. So let’s say you’re one of those people that has a really strong professional identity and you are happy to go to work. You love your job, and you take a lot of identity building and pride in what you do. And then all of a sudden you have this other thing, this beautiful thing that’s totally new, but you don’t feel like you’re competent at it for the first few weeks at least. I literally, from one day to another, became a mother, but I need to honor that transition and I need to give myself that learning time and that learning curve that comes with anything new.
And so, in adopting that new identity […] it goes along with the sense of curiosity, taking the time to enjoy the learning process when it’s maybe not so enjoyable. [Laughs.] And then in adding that layer onto the professional identity, what does it mean to now have to balance those?
[…] Kind of the workplace rhetoric is, like, “Okay, you’re on ‘work mode’ at work, and you’re on ‘parent mode’ at parent time.” And a lot of times, we weave them together. You know, we can’t stop thinking about our kid, or we can’t stop, you know, if something comes up with childcare, we need to handle that during the workplace time. So knowing that those two don’t have to exist separately, but you also don’t have to figure out right away what it means crafting that identity and figuring it out is also part of the process and that transition time.
Adriana: I love that. I love the idea of “crafting your identity,” because it can be really hard, especially if you feel really competent in your workplace, then suddenly feeling very incompetent in something that’s “supposed to be” natural and come… you know, but just automatically happen. I remember when my daughter was born, I had never changed a diaper, which is ridiculous to say, but it was the truth. And then not being able to just take a step back and think, “You know what? There’s no way you should be super competent in this ‘cause you have not done this before! You’ve never changed a diaper.”
Sure, you’ll learn it and you’ll figure it out. But don’t put that guilt on yourself for that level of rigor and stress and because then you start spiraling down with feelings of guilt and of failure. That mind, just that “self-criticizing monster,” as I like to call it, just comes up and it can tear you down.
Arianna: Yeah. Yeah, and it’s… I mean, as you were just saying, it’s every day you’re learning something, things you had never done before. And it takes patience with yourself, as much as it takes patience with everyone else.
Adriana: Yeah, and I think that’s something that everyone else, because of our cultural beliefs, there isn’t that much patience for the new parent.
Arianna: Right?! There might be a kind of in-writing or, you know, everyone’s like, “Oh yeah, great. Well you’ll […] transition back in.” Or “Things will be covered while you’re gone,” and sometimes it’s like you might get emergency phone calls from workplace people not knowing what to do in your absence. Or there might not be in practice that warm, flexible attitude that was communicated to you. So also that’s where you put the advocacy hat on a little bit and during pregnancy, thinking about what kind of workplace culture exists where you are.
And thinking about “Do I want to help shift that at all?” or “Is this culture something that’s going to be right for me to come back into?” And if it’s not feeling that supportive right now, how can I talk to my coworkers, talk to my employer, to make it a little more receptive to what I know my needs will be.
Adriana: Mhm. Yeah, because that can be really a huge shock too. And again, those… You’re very vulnerable during pregnancy and postpartum. It is a thing. I mean, your brainwaves change. It is physically in your physical body. There is a vulnerability that comes with it, because it does make you more in tune with your body and have higher intuition when you’re birthing. So those things are real, but then it makes it harder to sort of stand up for yourself and advocate, I find.
Arianna: Yeah, it’s… I mean, if your experience is anything like mine or my experience is anything like yours and the folks out there listening, if your experiences are anything like this, it’s… the self-doubt is kind of all-pervasive, just because there’s so much newness at one time and that element of vulnerability that you just mentioned, for sure.
Adriana: Yeah, I know it’s like a big overwhelming, kind of, daunting task that people need to face as part of their realities. But I would encourage people to, like, really tackle it as soon as possible. And also you’ve heard us say over and over again how important it is for all of us as a nation to have better support for our postpartum families and have better paid leave basically, or have paid leave. So, since research shows that universal paid leave is beneficial for everybody: What are some of the current initiatives that people can support to help move that needle forward?
Arianna: So over, really over the past few decades, there has been a concerted effort of, like, unrelenting, movement building around this issue. And so one way that you can help get involved in that is to write or email your congressperson to express your support as a constituent. And I think that’s something that’s always helpful for me to remind myself is they work for us. The politicians are supposed to work for the people.
So, if there are things that we know are important for the wellbeing of our families, our communities, then writing that person to let them know “As your constituent, please do your job of advocating for my needs and for the needs of my community.” I think we can’t underestimate that.
And these days there… It’s really easy. There’s, like, a pre-written email form where you basically type in your zip code and it’ll auto-populate with your representative. If you are in a state where there currently isn’t a state level policy, then there is probably state-level efforts going on, and that often takes place in the form of a committee that’s overseen by either governor or someone in the governor’s staff.
And so you can look into ways… You can, like, literally Google “[your state]”+”paid leave committee” and a lot of times it’ll pop up right away. I know in California, that committee was very active in getting our state level program up and running for small business folks. An organization called the Main Street Alliance has done a great job of advocating for, for small business owners, and actually businesses large and small have been getting involved in the paid leave fight, if you will, by simply adding, again, adding your company name, adding your company support to that push for the passing of a federal policy.
Adriana: Ariana, thank you so much for sharing all your wisdom, all your information, and for all the work you do!
Arianna: Thank you! It’s always an honor to talk with you. And as a Birthful listener, I’m so glad that I get to contribute to the conversation that we all learn so much from every week.
That was researcher and consultant Arianna Taboada, who is also the owner of The Expecting Entrepreneur, a strategic advisory firm focused on parental leave planning for founders. Since 2015, she’s worked to disrupt the dominant narrative that growing a family is incompatible with growing a company, and also has been providing practical tools to ensure that founders, babies, and businesses all thrive during the perinatal period. I find that her book, The Expecting Entrepreneur: A Guide to Planning Parental Leave for Service-Based Business Owners, to be a fantastically practical resource for both entrepreneurs and non-entrepreneurs alike. Learn more at theexpectingentrepreneur.com or find Arianna on Instagram @ariannataboada
I hope that your main takeaway from our conversation is just how imperative it is for your emotional, mental, and physical stability, that you push for what you deserve when planning for parental leave and your return to work. So set aside some time, break it down into small chunks, and just start with the first task. To help you with that, you can find a state-by-state overview of paid family and medical leave laws in the U.S. on the website abetterbalance.org, which is the link that Arianna referred to during our conversation.
You can connect with Birthful on Instagram @birthfulpodcast
In fact, if you are not driving, you know the drill. We would love it if you’d take a screenshot of this episode right now and post it to Instagram to your stories sharing your biggest takeaway from the episode. Or if you had an “Aha!” moment on how you can better plan your parental leave. Make sure to tag @birthfulpodcast so we can see it and amplify it.
You can find the in-depth show notes and transcript of this episode at birthful.com, where you can also learn more about my birth and postpartum preparation classes and download your free postpartum preparation plan.
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Birthful is created and produced by me, Adriana Lozada, with production assistance from Aysia Platte. This episode was produced in part by LWC Studios: Paulina Velasco, Jen Chien, Cedric Wilson, and Kojin Tashiro.
Thank you so much for listening to and sharing Birthful. Be sure to follow us on Goodpods, Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Amazon Music, and everywhere you listen.
Come back for more ways to inform your intuition.
Lozada, Adriana, host. “What You Need To Plan Your Parental Leave.” Birthful, LWC Studios, June 7, 2023. Birthful.com.
About Arianna Taboada
Arianna Taboada, MSW, MSPH (she/her/ella) is the founder of The Expecting Entrepreneur®, a consulting firm that helps entrepreneurs design parental leave plans that meet their business model and personal needs.
Arianna speaks and writes about parental leave and respectful maternity care as an issue of social justice, human rights, and economic equity. Her work has been published in peer-reviewed journals such as the International Journal of Health Equity, Advances in Social Work, and Ethnicity & Health. She is a co-author of Degrees of Difference: Reflections of Women of Color on Graduate School, published by The University of Illinois Press in 2020, and The Expecting Entrepreneur® is her first solo-authored book.
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