I left my laptop open on my desk at work and called the elevator to take me downstairs to my car. Thirty-one weeks pregnant, I’d had plenty of experience with routine OB appointments and knew I’d be back at the office shortly to finish up before heading home for the night.
“So how long have you been having these contractions?” The doctor asked me.
“Contractions? You mean the Braxton Hicks? They come and go, I guess. I don’t really pay much attention.”
“No. Those aren’t Braxton Hicks,” she said sternly. “You’re well over 2 cm dilated.”
I didn’t make it back to the office that day. Instead, I was strapped onto a bed, rolled into an ambulance and driven straight to a hospital 20 miles away that was well known for its preterm labor care and level 3 NICU. The experience was surreal. And frightening when I realized that at thirty-one weeks, the baby’s lungs were not fully developed. In my new hospital room, the nurse put bands around my belly, hooked me up to all kinds of monitors and gave me intravenous magnesium and terbutaline to calm the contractions. And there I stayed for 4 weeks — often working on the laptop that my husband had managed to retrieve for me — while the baby grew.
At 35 weeks to the day, our first child — a daughter — was born amidst a team of personnel on full alert, scurrying frantically under the high risk birthing room’s siren and flashing lights. Five weeks early and weighing in under 4 lbs, she was immediately whisked away for testing and then to the NICU, where she stayed for 11 days until she was back to her original weight and stable enough to come home. My extended hospital incubation and birthing experience were undoubtedly traumatic for both me and the baby. But as far as preterm labor goes, mine was a success story.
Strict bedrest plus the birth had left my muscles feeling like jello, and our tiny, colicky newborn rarely slept, instead wanting to nurse constantly. When my maternity leave ended just 10 weeks later, I was absolutely exhausted. I first asked for additional time off, which was flat out refused. But my subsequent request for a part time arrangement was miraculously approved.
It seems I wasn’t alone in my desire for extra time off and part time work within the first year of motherhood. In fact, Liftery’s survey of moms revealed that 84% would have wanted at least 3 extra months of leave, even if unpaid. And 69% desired flexible part time work during their break from full-time employment. It’s important to note, however, that these numbers indicate what these women wanted and not what they ultimately chose.
A LinkedIn and Censuswide poll of 3000 working parents found that almost half of working moms took an extended break after the birth of their children. That’s substantially fewer than the 84% who wanted to do so. And per the US Department of Labor, about 23% of working moms with children under 3 work part time — a far cry from the 69% of women who want part time opportunities.
These discrepancies could be due to any number of factors. A woman may need the extra income or healthcare benefits that often accompany a full time role. And when childcare can cost as much as a part time salary, working reduced hours may not seem to be worth the effort. Women pondering part time work or an extended break may also fear career repercussions — and with reason. Besides the sad truth that benefit-carrying part time positions in line with a mom’s previous career path are extremely difficult to find, women who take as little as one year off see their annual earnings diminish by 39%.
These are things that Liftery is working to change.
As for me, I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to work at that company for another year. Being in the office only three days a week gave me more balance, a little less stress, less time pumping milk in the women’s restroom, more time with my daughter, and — since my responsibilities changed along with my employment status — a slightly different skill set. For this new mom whose baby still wore preemie clothes at 4 months old, a part time job was just what the doctor ordered.