When Jennifer Stephens of Corpus Christi, Texas, was pregnant with her son last year, she dreamed of taking time off to enjoy being a mom. But her husband Michael lost his job a few years back and had been unable to find a new position before their baby’s birth. Stephens’ plan to stay at home with her new son took a detour. Instead of taking some extended time off, Stephens says she returned to work six weeks after giving birth.
“I’m the sole bread winner for my family and without my job we would be living out of our car,” says Stephens, who is a biologist for the state. “I was not ready to return to work. The stress of everything affected me more than I like to admit. Physically I was okay, but emotionally I was a wreck. Everything from my milk supply to my mental psyche was impacted.”
Heather Connor of Lexington, S.C., can relate. Connor’s husband has struggled to find a job since graduating with his master’s degree in August 2008. Connor returned to her post as an assistant department manager of a large book reseller six weeks after giving birth.
“I want to be home because I feel that I am missing out on the mothering of my precious little girl,” says Connor. “But our income depends on my job right now.”
Kelly Wels, the founder of KellysCloset.com, an online cloth diapering boutique, says that returning to work quickly can take its toll on new moms. “Going back to work after having a baby is a physically and emotionally draining process for many women. When women return to work so soon after the birth of a baby, their milk supply may be affected and sometimes they have to partly sacrifice attachment parenting initiatives like cloth diapering and ‘baby wearing’ — the practice of carrying baby in a sling for a good portion of the day and evening.”
Making it work
Candice Broom of Birmingham, Ala. also found herself at the center of today’s unemployment storm. She says that when she was pregnant with her second baby, she and her husband both lost their teaching positions less than one month before their new baby’s arrival.
“We were scrambling to find work — any work — so that we could have an income,” she says. “I wanted to find something that I could do with my baby close by so I ended up getting a job at a daycare center. I worked a few days a week in the last trimester of my pregnancy and then brought the baby with me starting when he was two weeks old.”
Because Broom was able to bring her baby to work, she says she was able to continue breastfeeding, cloth diapering and baby wearing, which she says enabled her to remain close to her baby despite the stress of going back to work.
Know your rights
While the job market is tight, many moms have to return to work quickly after having a baby because they fear losing their health benefits.
Andrea Lee of Lincoln, Neb. says she went back to work just two weeks after having her baby. Her husband’s job didn’t offer insurance and she says her employer, a small nonprofit organization, wouldn’t give her more than two weeks off. She adds that small companies with less than 50 employees aren’t protected by the Family Medical Leave Act. If Lee didn’t return to work after her two weeks vacation, she would have lost her job and her family’s health insurance plan.
“The job market around my hometown is abysmal. My husband and I both have bachelor’s degrees with high GPAs and good references and we can’t find any better jobs,” she says.
Wels says that unfortunately Lee’s struggle is like so many other new moms’ struggles these days with a difficult economy and tight job market. “It’s important for women to know their legal rights, although, in Andrea’s case, the time off a new mom needs is different than that what she is legally allowed. In an ideal world, women would be able to take as much time off as they need to fully recover physically and to have time to bond with their babies emotionally without fear of losing their jobs or health benefits,” says Wels.
The upside to tough times
Broom says that while she and her family were under tremendous pressures, everything worked out in the end. After 14 months, Broom’s husband found a new teaching position with “great benefits.” Plus, she learned to be more frugal by using reusable cloth diapers and wipes, which she estimates has saved her family hundreds of dollars annually.
Plus, Broom says she started combing the newspaper for sales and coupons, has learned to cook simple meals with few ingredients, became a frequent yard sale shopper, and has even won some online blog contests.
Connor says that knowing her husband is home with their baby isn’t so bad because he’s a “wonderful dad.” Plus, her husband has learned to cloth diaper their baby, which she says has saved her family a bundle during these tight financial times.
“Every little bit counts,” she says.
– By: Jenny L.