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Here’s What No Paid Parental Leave in the U.S. Looks Like

The reality for new parents is brutal and, at times, inhumane.

RF Pregnant woman

Source: Getty Images

The failure this week — again — for the U.S. to adopt paid leave policies for parents has brought a flood of stories about the horrors of managing jobs after childbirth.

The cobbling together of vacation days to cover just a few weeks of leave. Trouble finding child-care centers that will take newborns. Moms still recovering from postpartum surgeries struggling to take care of kids while their partner had to work.

I’ve been reporting on the lack of paid family leave for years, and have heard dozens of these anecdotes. The one that sticks with me came from a Brooklyn defense attorney named Martha, who had a child in 2016. (Martha asked her last name not to be used for the story to protect her privacy.)

At the time, she was working at a small, private law firm that didn’t have an official maternity leave policy; it had never needed one because its attorneys had always been male. The firm’s partners offered her a two-week “vacation” after she gave birth. Martha argued them up to four.
Four weeks after giving birth, a woman’s body hasn’t healed yet. Doctors don’t even schedule the routine postpartum check-up until six weeks; any earlier and most women are still actively bleeding. Newborns that young need to eat every two hours, which meant Martha was sleeping in one-hour increments between feedings. Breastfeeding led to an abscess from a clogged milk duct.