Eight months ago, my partner and I welcomed our first child during the second NSW lockdown. It was an exciting and nervous time.
I’d always thought starting a family would be a romantic journey, but for me it was rooted in spreadsheets. I spent hours scouring numbers, figuring out how long I could take away from the workplace.
Anticipating months without a wage
I knew I wanted to take as much time off from work as possible to care for our newborn, to heal physically and to establish our new family.
I wasn’t eligible for the government’s paid parental leave, and the company I worked for had no policy. Not just no paid parental leave, no policy… at all. To clarify, I don’t work for a small company. I work for an Aussie-owned food company employing more than 100 people across Australia and New Zealand.
It was down to me to take unpaid leave.
Right up until my leave started, I challenged my workplace for more to be done. I lobbied management to create a meaningful policy that was accessible and culturally supported across all teams.
Nothing landed in time for me, but I will keep beating the drum.
On the flip side, I was incredibly lucky that my partner was able to access paid parental leave through his work. He works for a company whose culture supports leave irrespective of gender. He received 18 weeks’ primary carers leave at full pay and took this from the day our daughter was born in September 2021.
Our experiences could not have been more opposite, but I was so grateful we could parent our child together for those first few months.
Navigating the newborn stage through lockdown
We got through those first few months together. We were amid lockdown and, with both of our families in the UK, I would have been riding solo from early on if my partner had only had the statutory two-week leave.
Quite frankly, I wouldn’t have coped. When our daughter was two weeks old, I was still recovering from the birth, and was too terrified to carry her up the stairs. I could barely lift the car seat. I was still crying in pain when I fed her. Functioning alone would have been impossible.
No one should have to do that. It is so important that there is a move to provide more shared leave to support fathers with caring responsibilities, and to ensure workplaces – and our society – fosters a culture where taking this leave is encouraged.
Managing the stigma of the ‘stay at home dad’
I vividly remember us attending a breastfeeding drop-in clinic in those early weeks. When we explained that my partner was taking time off work, the midwife asked him how he was going to spend his time. Our jaws nearly fell to the floor. Perhaps… parenting our child? Taking care of me?
We were keenly aware that our experience is not the norm and feel so grateful to have been able to spend those months together. But sharing those early, difficult days together as parents should be an option for more people.
Returning to work
As I plan to return to work, the spreadsheets are back again. When does it make sense to return? Will an employer without a parental leave policy support families?
I initially proposed to take nine months of unpaid leave, but I’m currently seven months in, and I’ve just extended it to thirteen months. There is so much to learn on the journey to becoming a mother so it feels right for me and our family.
It’s a financial stretch, and one I feel incredibly privileged to be able to make work. But this whole experience has also made me mad.
Bringing Australia out of the dark ages
I think it’s vital to encourage caring responsibilities between both parents and to ensure mothers find their way back to the workplace, if they wish. Anything less is holding us all back. Company and government policies and practices that support the whole family will help move us forward to a culture of better diversity, inclusion, and equality.
I have choices and I can now drive change now more than ever. After becoming a citizen in April, I can put my vote to work to tell the government what I, and so many Australians, want. And in my career I can ensure my values are reflected by the company that I work for.
If you would like to share your story please email Maddy at [email protected]