The extension to maternity leave is not idealistic, it is essential
The extension to maternity leave is not idealistic, it is essential.
I wasn’t going to enter into the debate about the extended maternity leave. I’ve had enough to focus on in the first few months of my baby’s life during this pandemic.
I also pride myself on seeing the positives in most scenarios, so I was just happy to have brought a healthy baby into the world. However, when the decision to extend the maternity leave was denied by a majority vote, which included negative votes from TDs who publicly backed the extension but made a u-turn on voting day and others who needed to be woken up to cast their vote on another amendment the same day, that is just unacceptable.
It is infuriating that women from around the country fought hard to gain the government’s attention, only to fall at the final hurdle, because some TDs didn’t see the need to extend maternity leave.
It’s a pity the decision was made by people who cannot relate to the situation and have disregarded the pleas of thousands of women, who risk having to leave their jobs over a lack of child care for their new babies.
Aside from that obstacle, it’s also been a hugely stressful and uncertain time to welcome a baby. We know many people have made changes and sacrifices during lockdown, but throwing a new baby into the mix has added a dimension no one could ever imagine. The extension is essential for women, not only to transition back into the workforce, but also to avail of vital services they haven’t been able to access.
There were a number of challenges we faced as new mothers, during this pandemic, which were less than ideal, but we tried our best to navigate through them. It wasn’t ideal to have prenatal check ups cancelled with doctors for the last few weeks of pregnancy - you can only imagine the worries and concerns a first time mum would have.
It also wasn’t ideal to labour alone in the hospital with husbands, partners or birth partners not being able to visit and support new mothers before and after the birth of our babies.
Or being isolated from family at home with a newborn, meaning we had an exceptionally steep learning curve, with only Google searches on hand for assurance and a (somewhat) restful sleep at night.
Only being seen by the public health nurse the first week after our baby was born with no further visits due to lockdown. Leaving us to find inventive ways to weigh them at home to make sure they were on track.
Postnatal six week check ups being pushed back to the two month immunisation appointments was also not ideal, especially when you are counting the days to see someone to assure you everything is okay and to officially weigh your baby. Thankfully our doctor was always available to chat on the phone if we needed anything, but that can’t be said for all the other new mums and dads.
Grandparents seeing their new grandchild through a window for the first few months of their life - not ideal, but we did it for the safety and health of our baby, not to mention adhering to the rules outlined by the government during lockdown.
Going through baby-grows quicker than a sliced pan, with no shops open for last minute purchases - thank heavens for hand-me-downs. These were some of the challenges that weren’t ideal. We won’t get that time back or get to relive the experiences but there is still time, if it’s given, for new mothers to avail of some of the services that are essential.
It is essential that new mothers get the opportunity to access support groups that were cancelled due to lockdown, to troubleshoot any questions or worries. In particular, postnatal support for breastfeeding mothers, seeing as lactation consultant groups were put on hold.
Developmental groups are an essential service that have also been cancelled. It’s critical for mothers and their babies to attend these groups to be able to compare and discuss developmental stages to make sure there are no anomalies. Thankfully, our baby is strong and interacts with us but had she not been so alert, we’d have no way of knowing the early signs of any abnormalities.
Furthermore, introducing babies to classes such as baby massage, baby yoga or baby swimming, not only helps develop the baby but also strengthens the bond between mum and baby. None of which were available during lockdown.
Above all else, the critical factor and an essential reason for the extension is that creches won’t accept babies under 12 months, which may force a lot of women to leave their jobs and careers to stay at home.
I want to, and need to, return to work. Taking time out of work when my maternity leave finishes is simply not an option, let alone leaving the job that I love. What sickens me the most is that sleepy TDs, and those who previously showed support, were part of the majority vote, which determined the fate of this extension. I find it disgraceful and disappointing.
The government can and should do better. These new mums are not being greedy, or capitalising on an opportunity, they are simply looking for more time to gain access to essential services and plan for child care in these unprecedented circumstances.