by Elaine Sanchez Wilson
Three weeks after I gave birth to my son, I was healing, a dull soreness lingering, my post-partum body less resilient than it had been two children ago.
Three weeks after I gave birth to my son, the nights were long and sleepless, as were the days, so that the two blended together as one perpetual fog.
And three weeks after I gave birth to my son, I returned to work.
Like 75% of companies in the United States, my then-employer did not provide paid parental leave. In the absence of federal and state paid leave, and with a spouse on a post-doc’s modest salary, I had no choice but to use my remaining vacation and sick time as a makeshift maternity leave and get back to work as soon as possible to help support my family.
I had the privilege of having a remote job as an editor, with the flexibility to work around my son’s feedings – and this was before the era of Zoom, when my uniform of milk- and spit-up-stained sweats would be a non-issue.
But it was still hard. I’d have to stay out of my son’s sight so that he wouldn’t cry, and when he did cry, I’d have to use my willpower to stay put and allow his nanny to tend to him. I pumped as I worked, as often as every two hours in the early months. I’d feel intense guilt over precious time lost with my newborn. Even now—especially now—years later, I wish I’d have gotten that time back with each of my children, with none of whom I’ve ever experienced a real maternity leave.
Relief for working parents is long overdue in this country. It’s a need that the global pandemic and its abrupt daycare shutdowns and sudden school quarantines have only intensified. It’s a major contributing factor to why women in particular are leaving the workforce in droves. And as we professional adults are working through a national mental health crisis, so too are our children. While our elected officials hedge on meaningful legislation to address these problems, it is imperative for employers to step up to support their workers.
Even now—especially now—years later, I wish I’d have gotten that time back with each of my children, with none of whom I’ve ever experienced a real maternity leave.
It is with this sentiment that I’m proud to kick off SEARAC’s Workplace Wellness blog series. Over the next month, you’ll hear from my colleagues about our organization’s decision to intentionally prioritize employee health and wellness. You’ll learn how the shifts in how we work – from moving to a four-day work week, to offering a 12-week paid family and medical leave for all employees, to reinforcing a “no-sending-or-answering-emails-afterhours” culture –have impacted our lives in major ways. By sharing our learnings, it’s our hope to build a movement for holistic employee health and wellness, so that we can continue to be movement builders for and alongside our communities.
For me, SEARAC’s reimagining of our work week has been nothing short of transformative. As a mom of three young children with three competing schedules of sports, activities, parties, and playdates, it has been almost a decade since my weekends were restful. Now, with SEARAC’s offices closed every Friday, I’m able to experience a day of restoration. It can entail an extra long walk outside with my two dogs, a ride on my bike, a session with my therapist, writing or reading for leisure, or even singing at the top of my lungs in an empty house. Often, I’ll sit in silence, an elusive peace hard to come by any other day of the week.
Because of this weekly reset, I’m a better worker. I can think more clearly, more critically, and more creatively. I have the stamina to oversee SEARAC’s communications and development strategies with more focus, and when my job requires rapid response, I am no longer operating from a place of deficit.
So while it’s true that I’ll never get time back with my newborns, I’m appreciative of the time I have now to be a much healthier version of myself in mind, body, and soul that I can share with my family and with the communities I’m passionate about serving.
We invite you to join us in this movement for change.
Elaine Sanchez Wilson is SEARAC’s Director of Communications and Development and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more blogs in our #WorkplaceWellness series, see: