When I moved to the US, I had no clue about maternity leave or how to raise a kid in either Sweden or USA. But I did know that when people in Sweden were pregnant, they seemed very excited about their long maternity leave (2 year leave where 18 months is paid at 80 % of your salary), since I had a few co-workers back 10 years ago who left for their maternity leave a month before they were due so they could relax the last few days at home. It always seemed so relaxing to me. Now as a mom we all know that maternity leave is NO vacation, no matter how long it is. It’s basically a full time job taking care of an infant. But the good thing is as hard as it is, you don’t have to worry about childcare so early on or quit your job and have the opportunity to take care of your baby.
Not everyone takes all of their maternity leave at once. From what I have seen and heard, some moms take 1 year and some take 18 months and some divide theirs with the dad the last 6 months. I may have the details wrong, so my mama friends back home, please correct me if I am wrong.
But I did grow up watching stroller moms taking over every cute café around the city, breastfeeding or bottle feeding and hanging out with other moms. All the parks are filled with stroller walking moms and dads. It’s very common to see dads walking together with an infant in strollers or baby carriers. Something I don’t see much in the US, and that’s not to blame the dad, most dads don’t have good or any paternity leave, whereas in Sweden a lot of dads take off for 6 months.
When I first found out that maternity leave in the US is 6-8 weeks (depending on if you have a vaginal birth or a C-section) and up to 3 -4 months, I was pretty shocked. The weeks after 6-8 weeks, you can apply for more unpaid leave (FMLA) and some companies like mine, I can also take out my sick days (that I have saved). So this year I am hoping to be able to take up to 4 months off. I cannot speak for every company in the US, because I have a friend that worked at Bloomberg and she got 6 months paid off (not as common) and then I have friends that worked for big companies and only had 8 weeks off. It all depends on where you work and that company maternity policy and also your manager.
I can only speak from my own experience and the working moms around me, the bottom line is, it’s not easy being a working mom in the US. Childcare is very expensive and growing up in Sweden I could never have imagined that I would have dropped off a 3.5 month old baby at a daycare. It is also difficult for a lot of moms that can’t afford childcare, because in the end you might be paying more for daycare compared to how much your monthly income is. We paid about $2200 for the school that Milan started at (obviously you can pay less) but I really liked this daycare and did not like other daycares we had tried putting him in. Also distance was a factor, I wanted a reasonable distance so it would be convenient for us both to pick and drop him off. Please remember, this is only my own experience. Every family has their own opinion on what they prefer with childcare and what’s important to them. I have handful friends with grandparents that take care of their kids, so they might have a different experience than I had.
I did not want to quit my job, and the reason was that I had worked very hard to finally settle in the US and it was such a process of even getting a good job that I liked. But having that said I was not thrilled to have to consider childcare at 4 months already. We thought about nanny too but in the end decided that daycare would be the best choice for us and our family.
One thing that makes me sad is that I did not enjoy my 3.5 months maternity leave, because Milan was a very whiny kid until he has 2 months old (maybe colic) and then as soon as I started to enjoy it, it was kind of over. I am hoping to have a different approach this time since I have a little more experience and be more present and not freak out every time my child starts crying.
My best friend back in Sweden had her baby two weeks after me and it was such a blessing to be able to go through this whole experience with her. But it was also interesting to see her journey vs mine, because they were so different in many ways. After 4 months I was back at work and her journey to stay home had just started. I used to hear about her long daily walks with her baby and I always felt like it was a struggle for me the first few months as working mom. I won’t lie, going back to work that soon after having a baby is not all bad. I was able to get back to routines very fast, I had time to work out after drop offs and was able to eat lunch in peace and didn’t have to think about nap schedules. But my heart was always wondering what he was doing, was he OK? Where they treating him well? Was he doing to forget me as a mommy? What if he didn’t bond with me anymore? What if he starts to think that the daycare teachers were his mommy?
I know I know, very silly thoughts, but that’s exactly how I used to think and now 2.5 years after I know much better and I know that they don’t forget who their mommies are. They don’t actually remember anything from that age. Most likely he won’t even remember these years where he is at right now either, but I will. I remember the pain of dropping him off to someone else, not feeling like I was the mom I wanted to be. I had always wanted to be a mom and experience those first few years. Maybe I should have quit my job and raised him by myself? It was an endless battle of thoughts in my head, especially when he started to get sick from daycare the first year (mom guilt is real).
Once Milan turned one, I feel like I calmed down and Milan also started to become a human who could interact more. I started to see how much fun he had at school, how much he learned and I felt less guilty about it. I don’t know how the moms here feel about it all, but I think it was extra hard for me personally cause I just had imagined my life as a mom differently growing up.
I do think about how my life would have been if I had lived in Sweden and become a mom there. Go for those long walks every day and coffee breaks with my friends and spend that endless time with my son. But one thing I have learned as a mom is that, motherhood is what you make of it. I know a lot of moms, that are happy to get back to work at 3 months because they say staying home is not for them. I don’t know what kind of mom I am, because I adjusted going back to work pretty fast. You just got used to it and I had also never experienced being home with a baby for 18 months so I had nothing to compare with.
I learned that the time you have with your babies, make it all count. I know that moms back home will never be able to relate to going back to work at 4 months and they don’t hopefully ever have to. Somehow I manage, you survive and you make the best out of it. I don’t have any regret of the decisions we made and now that I have seen him go through it all we know that he is a happy little boy. It was probably much harder for me than for him.
Now that baby 2 is about to arrive this summer, we are trying to figure out the puzzle of round 2. Daycare, nanny or Au pair? Financially its a new challenge too. Whatever we end up going with, it’s going to be an adjustment that we will figure out eventually and my goal is just to focus on the time I have with my babies and stay as positive as I can. “What if” or ”what if I had that” thoughts won’t do much good.
The puzzle is there weather you live in Sweden or America, the challenges are all there. In the end me and my friend would share were the same mom topics everyday, poop, sleepless nights, exhaustion, our love for our kid, our partners (how annoying they can be) and other baby stuff.
I do hope that one day, even if it never benefits me personally, that maternity policy gets better here in the US for everyone and not some specific companies. Ideally I would say 6 months paid time off should be a policy for every company (for those who wants it). One day!