Lori Mihalich-Levin
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So, your company doesn’t offer a single day of paid parental leave? I am so sorry, mama. I feel for you and for the millions of other women in this country who aren’t given the time they need to stay home and recover properly from childbirth without fearing the loss of their jobs. You probably already know that this country stands out as one of the few in the world not to require paid leave.

When I took leave both times, I had exactly one week of paid maternity leave (which left me asking rhetorically – why bother offering anything?!). For my first leave, I was able to use a good deal of paid sick leave and vacation days I had accrued. 

But of course baby #1 – and his mom! – both got sick a fair amount during his early months in daycare. So by the time I had baby #2 about 26 months later, I had no sick leave left to “spend” on maternity leave.  

Before I left the company where I took both of my maternity leaves, things had fortunately started to change for the better. Certain members of leadership really pushed to increase the amount of paid leave available to employees. By the time I left, all new parents were entitled to four weeks of paid leave. Not amazing, but much better than one week. 

All this to say, I hear you. I’ve been there, and it’s so incredibly frustrating. You might also wish there were something you could do about the problem, right? Here are 5 action steps for you, if you’re in this tough spot:

1. Feel What You Feel

It’s hard to be clear-headed in an approach to action if you haven’t taken the time to grieve what you don’t have. Think about what feelings are coming up for you – anger? fear? jealousy? resentment? – and take the time to feel them deeply.  

Journal about this.  Share your frustrations with friends or colleagues. And breathe. You WILL get through this time, and there will be much beauty in the new life you are creating, despite the frustration.

2. Be Pragmatic

If you’re facing an unpaid leave, do your best to plan ahead. With my first baby, I had saved up enough sick and vacation days to extend my leave significantly. But with baby #2 only two years later, I had no such reserve of days to apply to my leave. 

Knowing we wanted to have another baby, my husband and I started a savings account early on to fund my leave. We made automatic withdrawals from our paychecks each month to help us save. We then “paid” ourselves out of that fund while I was out.

3. Take a Stand About the Issue at Work

 Other colleagues and I began by raising the issue on employee satisfaction surveys that we were asked to complete every year. Volunteer to help put together a feedback group on the subject. Offer evidence to your employer that paid leave supports retention and a healthier workforce.

4. Consider Starting a Parent Professionals Group at Your Office

I know, I know – you have no time, you’re exhausted, and you’re about to bring a new human into the world. But if you don’t have one already, I would strongly urge you to consider forming a parent professionals group at your office. It doesn’t have to be fancy or time-consuming, I promise.

 And having a group both raises the profile of working parent issues and can help you mobilize in your efforts to speak with a louder, consistent voice. If you’re interested in creating such a working parent posse.

5. Get Active on the Issue of Paid Leave Outside Your Workplace

Again, I know you don’t have time. But now more than ever, making your voice heard in the political system matters.  Because of concerted efforts and leadership on this issue, we’ve witnessed advances not only in the private sector but also in cities and states across the country (e.g., New York, San Francisco) making moves toward paid parental leave. 

Call your members of Congress at the state and federal levels to let them know this issue matters to you. Get involved with the National Partnership for Women and Families, or A Better Balance, or Moms Rising.

Progress on this issue has been extremely slow, I know.  But one day, with all our efforts and contributions, I am confident paid leave will be a reality and not a pipedream.

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Lori K. Mihalich-Levin, JD, is the founder of Mindful Return, author of Back to Work After Baby: How to Plan and Navigate a Mindful Return from Maternity Leave, and creator of the Mindful Return E-Course. A partner in the health care practice of a global law firm, she also is mama to two beautiful red-headed boys. Lori holds a law degree from the Georgetown University Law Center and completed her undergraduate studies at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs.