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International Women's Day
We would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge whilst this story goes out on International Women’s Day, and is focused around transitioning to motherhood, at Her and Earth we no way consider motherhood as a part of women’s identity. We also want to acknowledge that this may be upsetting to those of you who have been experiencing challenges with conceiving or for those who have sadly lost children. So please don’t read any further if pieces on motherhood are triggering for you.
We do feel it is important to be vocal about our experiences and share our stories, to learn from each other and express ourselves in an open and honest way. This ethos starts from within our organisation and we welcome and celebrate all our differences!
“She's a beautiful baby girl!” The midwife calls out as she delicately hands over my newborn to me wrapped perfectly in the immaculate hospital blanket. She asks, “aren’t you just so in love?".
That wasn't instantly the feeling that overwhelmed me in that moment; love… or even affection, attachment or happiness, what flooded me more recognisably was fear, anxiety and a huge feeling of complete hopelessness. And worse, the guilt of why these darker emotions seemed to reign over what I should have been feeling at that life-changing moment.
It took me a while to understand why these darker feelings were born at the time of my daughter’s birth. Both time, reflection and a lot of self-work has allowed me to unravel these emotions and what it really came down to was my obsession with following what was considered to be ‘normal’ and how I realised that in some instances what was considered to be ‘normal’ really shouldn't be! A huge part of those belief systems grew out of my understanding of the role of a modern day woman in the workplace.
“Erghhhh Erghhhh Erghhhh” the sound of my third breast pump moaning at me as I sit embarrassed and ashamed on the bathroom floor of work. Erghhhh what are you doing? Erghhhh why are you back here so early? The constant growl of the machine created both mental and physical pain in equal measure, as I tried to compose myself to go back out and put on my ‘client face’. After only 4 months off work I was still sore, my body was continuing to heal and aching to be at home. I remember days where I would pull into the car park of work and just sit and scream so loudly to myself, in a way that it would block out all the tears and all the rattling thoughts of resentment, anger and exhaustion. I would try to quickly compose myself and walk in, head to toe in my metaphoric uniform. Between countless client meetings I’d sit on the cold bathroom floor and count the ml of milk drip slowly into the bottle, whilst counting the seconds until someone might impatiently knock on the bathroom door wondering what that sound was or why I was taking so long! Tears continuously burning down my cheeks, I felt embarrassed, isolated and completely overwhelmed. I knew it didn’t feel right, but also in a strange way it felt like this was ‘normal’, I hadn’t been exposed to any other way and surely it was just my hormones getting the better of me?
As every parent knows, those newborn months are so precious and so important for the well-being and bond between parent and child. Whilst I understand parental leave may seem like a luxury to some, I feel passionately that it is something that should be considered in all workplaces, and thankfully it is starting to be acknowledged in Australia, with 3 in 5 employers now offering paid parental leave. In addition, those at the forefront of this movement are also offering gender-neutral parental leave which can be taken by any/either parent with no qualifying period. Whilst I understand my particular experience is unique, it is by no means uncommon and more often than not, I hear of women discussing the impact of financial implications not only affecting their flexibility in parenthood, but also the very decision to pursue a life with children at all.
Let’s take a step back and understand why it is so important to a parent to take adequate time away from work following a birth, surrogacy or adoption. Not only does parental leave improve maternal health, but it has also shown to improve infant physical and health and well-being. It also gives the mother the ability to come to terms with breastfeeding in a comfortable environment. Whilst going back to work is often a necessity for most families, it can often have a detrimental effect on the primary carer if done too soon. Parents are already sleep deprived, mentally and physically exhausted, so adding commuting time (in my case, a miserable 2 hours) and the endless work duties on top of this mental load, has a huge impact on well-being. Ultimately, the main purpose of parental leave is to allow for parents to balance their work and personal lives, whilst maintaining their position within the workforce. Around 70% of the time the primary carer position is a woman, and with leave in place we are attempting to ensure that women are not further disadvantaged from taking time out of work for family duties. However, more often than not this time away sets women back financially, both from an income and superannuation perspective, and goes against supporting women having equal economic and financial security.
Having done a transition to motherhood the hard way… unplanned, lack of support, back to work early, and no form of income, I am now a huge advocate of things that need to be done right and things that should no longer be accepted. The whole time I questioned whether I was doing it wrong… whether I had postnatal depression or anxiety (which I did struggle with), if I wasn’t bonding correctly, but I now realise it was all a product of social constructions, which make it so difficult for a woman to remain the primary carer and still uphold their identity in career, as she once knew. It is my firm belief that it is our responsibility as equal members of society to put the needs of our children and families first, by supporting the welfare of all parents and their newborns. Without the appropriate measures in place, we will see women unwillingly delaying having children or considering not having children altogether due to the financial implications. I stand with all the voices who support women’s rights in the workplace and support those around me going through these complications.
Many organisations argue that they don’t have the resources to be able to provide paid parental leave, or that governmental/statutory support is ‘best practice’. However, what is not considered is the effects that paid parental leave has on both parents and the businesses themselves:
- Transitioning back to work too early can negatively affect the parent and child, and ultimately affect the longevity of employment in the long run
- Paid parental leave ensures a more equal financial distribution among parents leading to the improvement of family work-life balance
- Introducing paid parental leave is often linked to employee retention and reducing the costs of recruitment
- More often that not, paid leave is one of the benefits/values that people acknowledge and find most attractive about an organisation (crucial in this competitive landscape)
- Putting the health and well-being of employee first creates a thriving culture, which leads to efficiency and overall happiness within the workplace
- Crucially, paid parental leave addresses issues around gender gap pay and contributes to this closing in.
Not a minute goes by when I look at my daughter today and not think she is the most beautiful creation. Her beaming eyes and soft affection is something so perfect to me, I can hardly believe she is mine. But that affection grew over time, it wasn’t there immediately; what came first was all the frantic worries of what I should be doing, what I should be saying and mostly ‘how long until I have to go back to work?’. Allowing families to have the time, space and financial security to be able to thrive in this time should always be considered in our push to become a more equal and fair world #breakthebias.