17 Americans Describe Their Infuriating and Heartbreaking Parental Leave Experiences

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If you live in America and work at a company with at least 50 employees, your employer is required to give you 12 weeks paid maternity leave. Some states require parental leave regardless of the number of employees, but either way, the amount of paid time off new parents receive in the United States doesn’t compare to many other countries in the world.

Many new parents aren’t ready to go back to work after only a few weeks spent bonding with their new baby. Sometimes this causes a lot of emotions, regret, and frustration.

BuzzFeed asked their community to share their own personal experiences with parental leave. Scroll down to hear 17 of their responses.

  1. Are you sure you need that much time off?

    sunset_apothecary wrote:

    I was given 12 weeks but begged by my manager at the time to come back sooner. Even until I left she kept asking if I was “sure” I was going to need all 12 weeks. Even over maternity leave she made me check emails and do work, then acted flabbergasted in front of our boss when I brought it up. I quit a month after I went back. The CFO told me I could file for unemployment no problem, and lo and behold, I found I didn’t get unemployment because they said I “could’ve taken more time off.” I still get angry about it every now and then because it was SUCH BS.

  2. Basically Zero Maternity Leave

    lsant712 shared:

    My son was born on the Wednesday and I was back at work on Monday. I work for my family’s business and have been a single mom from the jump. Now my sons almost two and I work 6 days a week to keep up. God bless America right?

  3. Ironic Company Mission Statement

    kittenaerobics explained:

    Had 4 weeks of unpaid leave after getting denied for my short term disability, had to come back as early as my doctor would let me. I’d also like to point out my company-at-the-time’s mission statement is “for the betterment of women and children”. We had no maternity leave.

  4. Severance Was “A Blessing in Disguise”

    ak4d7 wrote:

    I went into labor a month early and was not prepared at all. My daughter was in the NICU and because I was still supposed to be at work for a few more weeks, my ex-boss asked me to continue working until I was able to get my maternity leave moved up. Leaving my daughter at the hospital damn near killed me, so I was there every moment I could be, which meant having to alternate between working from the hospital cafeteria and going to feed my daughter in the NICU. Then, when I was half way through my leave, I got a call that my position was being eliminated. In my state, you can’t sue someone for letting you go if they’re eliminating the position because technically they aren’t replacing you. It was a blessing in disguise; they offered me a good severance that allowed me to be at home with my daughter for a total of nine months. But had that not happened, I don’t know what I would’ve done. I don’t know how we’re expected to care for them and grow them for 40 weeks but leave them at 12.

  5. No Maternity Leave

    tracicardwell answered:

    I got zero maternity leave so I took my 2 weeks paid vacation, an additional 2 weeks unpaid, and was back at work 4 weeks after having an emergency c-section.

  6. A Middle School Teacher

    deartoxichoney shared:

    I was working as a middle school teacher at the time of my second pregnancy. I was told to go on bed rest about 5 months in due to health reasons. However, my boss told me all of my time off would be unpaid (as the school was small and not covered by FMLA). I literally forced myself to work up until I physically couldn’t anymore at about 7 months pregnant. I went back to work when my baby was less than 8 weeks old because I just couldn’t afford to go unpaid any longer. Two years later and I am still repaying debt obtained during that time just trying to keep bills paid and food on the table.

  7. No Paternity Leave

    agronk29 explained:

    I’m a stay at home mom, but my husband had to go into work the day after we came home from the hospital with our son. Outside of time in the hospital, he had 1.5 days off.

  8. Crying at Daycare Drop Off

    2beagles wrote:

    I worked until 9 days past my due date. Admittedly, I felt completely fine, but I still stayed as late as I could so I could maximize the short amount of time I would have with her. I had a rough birth- 4th degree tear. I treasured the 12 weeks I had with my baby. Just 12 weeks. I only got paid short-term disability, about $400/week. If I didn’t have resources and a husband still working, I couldn’t even have done that. My husband only had two weeks at home, and I needed him that whole time. Our parents helped after as I healed and recovered from blood-loss and started physical therapy. Then, I went back. My parents-in-law had her two days a week. Day care 3. I sobbed for a couple of hours after I dropped her off at daycare the first time. I cried for pretty much a year each time I had to leave her. She was exclusively breastfed. Although I was given 3 20 minute breaks to pump, that was INSTEAD of my lunch break. The law didn’t let me take my scheduled break and pumping breaks.

  9. Born During a Work Trip

    emilykwatkins9 answered:

    I had our preemie daughter at 29 weeks pregnant, while on a work trip. She was in the nicu for 63 days. After being discharged on Wednesday and driving home 2 states away, I had to be at work the following Monday. I had 4 days at home with her and then had to split my time between a preemie and my job

  10. Not Enough Time Off

    greek-yogurt added:

    I was teaching and was given 6 weeks off. You only get enough time to physically heal and it’s unpaid. I ended up taking an extra two weeks off with my vacation days because I couldn’t believe it was time to go back already. My paycheck was so small for so long because they deduct every day you’re gone. When I went back it was too much for me to give my job and my child the attention they both deserved. I ended up quitting the following year so that I could actually have quality time with my child.

  11. “Nobody Realized How Much I Did”

    rooster05 explained:

    When I was pregnant with my first daughter, I was working over 40 hours a week as the head of HR for a small, local company. In the few years that I had worked there, I was a great employee. I had saved up a few weeks worth of paid leave because my boss didn’t offer any type of paid maternity. I planned on taking the legally required 12 week unpaid FMLA and use all of my saved vacation so that I would still have money. My baby ended up coming 6 weeks early, on a Friday. That following Monday, I was still in the hospital and my daughter was in intensive care. My boss and coworkers called me ALL DAY for help with work stuff. My boss begged me to go back to help because nobody realized how much I did every day. 10 days after having a baby, I was back at work. My daughter was still in the NICU. I would go to work from around 7am-12pm, then go to the hospital to be with my daughter until midnight. This continued for 3 weeks.

  12. Back-Stabbing Co-Worker

    maemaeby shared:

    I had to use all my PTO before I could get partial pay for the rest of my 12 weeks. Mind you, my PTO cap was 100 hours (which in the US is considered “great” leave). And then had to put my baby in daycare where she of course got sick a few times during my first couple months back because she was being exposed to all these new germs. Any time I took a day off or worked from home to be with my sick baby, I had a coworker who would tell everyone how I “didn’t take my job seriously anymore” and that I was “lying to get more free time off”. The kicker was that she was a mom, too. And she begged to hold my baby anytime I brought her in during my leave.

  13. The Pandemic Actually Helped Out

    svasques91 added:

    My boss never worked out a plan as to what would happen when I had my daughter. She came a week early and I had to follow up with him to see what the deal was. I went back 6 weeks later because he sold the company and didn’t tell us. Luckily because of the pandemic I told him I need to work from home to watch my baby. The U.S really needs to catch up.

  14. Didn’t Qualify for Paid Leave

    Shauna Thomas shared:

    I was a single parent and could only afford to take 4 weeks off after the birth of my oldest son. I hated it. All I wanted was to spend time with my baby and bond with him but I had to go right back to the grind because I didn’t qualify for any paid leave at all.

  15. Credit Card Debt

    coffeelover wrote:

    I took 5.5 months off, but none of it was at my full salary, or even close- it was very hard to make ends meet, and I ended up racking up a bunch of credit card debt. My husband had to Uber on the weekends to help make up the extra money we needed to pay the hospital bills plus the new costs of having a new born. We live in NYC and we were lucky to get some pod parental leave, but it’s still not enough to cover everything. I returned to work after finding a new job, but I would have given anything to take more time off.

  16. “Insane” and “Overwhelming”

    koontzk87 explained:

    I was working for a health insurance company for less than a year so I got 6 weeks unpaid and with no insurance for some of my doctor visits due to them being in the ‘transistion period’ from contractor to employee. My 6 weeks turned into 4 weeks, my daughter was born Nov 9 and I was back to work Dec 6 due to them requiring me to be on for the preholiday rush. all of this was legal since I wasn’t technically supposed to get any time off. it was insane and completely overwhelming for me.

  17. No Paid Leave for Freelancers

    Pagaldesi shared:

    Currently have a 3 month old, and head back to work in two weeks. As a freelancer I do not have any paid time off and had to rely on NY Paid Family Leave for 12 weeks – it’s not nearly time, and I don’t feel prepared to go back to work even if it’s wfh. It takes months and months to get a hang of parenting and 3 months is such a crucial time I’m terrified of missing milestones – I wouldn’t go back to work unless I had to for financial reasons, plus being scared for my job