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26 Parental Leave Stories That Prove America Is So Far Behind The Rest Of The World

"My son was born on a Wednesday and I was back at work on Monday. God bless America, right?"

Sadly, despite being one of the richest countries in the world, the United States’ parental leave policies leave a lot to be desired (especially in comparison to other countries).


We recently asked American parents of the BuzzFeed Community to share their experiences with parental leave, and the majority of their stories show why we really need to catch up to the rest of the world:

1. "I had to go without a vacation or any time off for more than two years in order to accrue the measly seven weeks I had. I couldn't afford to be without a pay check, so I went back the day after my PTO (paid time off) ran out. It was awful. My milk supply was still regulating, no one was sleeping through the night, and within a couple weeks, I was hit with serious postpartum depression. This country can afford the paid leave. We are literally the effing worst for not providing it."


2. "I hadn’t been at my job long enough to qualify for FMLA (Family and Medical Leave Act) so they didn’t have to keep my position open. They didn’t, which meant I was applying and interviewing for jobs while seven-to-eight months pregnant. I even went to an interview a few days after leaving the hospital (post C-section, mind you)."

"I started a new job three weeks after having my daughter. I hadn’t even been medically cleared. Luckily, my husband was able to take FMLA to be home at that time. It was awful and played havoc with my emotions, but it is what we had to do."


3. "I had to go back to work after four weeks because I couldn’t afford not to. I used up all my PTO for two of the weeks I stayed home and the other two were unpaid. Walking by the receptionist that first day back, she goes, 'Wait you're back? Didn’t you JUST have a baby?' I immediately burst into tears right in front of her. I then was basically crying the entire day from missing my baby so much and feeling incredibly guilty being away from him. It was the worst."


4. "I took five and half 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 newborn."


A woman looks tired as she holds a baby and works on her computer
Damircudic / Getty Images

5. "I had six weeks paid which was great because I knew so many people that didn’t even get that. I worked five minutes away from my house and was set up for success when it came to being a working mom. But the six weeks off flew by so quickly and my postpartum anxiety got the better of me to the point that I would scream at my mom who was watching my child just for driving with her without my permission. I was not okay enough to start working but I couldn’t recognize it."


6. "I had our preemie daughter at 29 weeks pregnant, while on a work trip. She was in the NICU (neonatal intensive care unit) for 63 days. After being discharged on Wednesday and driving home two states away, I had to be at work the following Monday. I had four days at home with her and then had to split my time between a preemie and my job."


7. "I had to return to work two weeks after losing my son at 25.5 weeks pregnant — I had given birth to an angel naturally and vaginally. While it was considered a vaginal birth, since I did not give birth to a living child, I was expected to return as soon as possible."

"I am a 911 dispatcher, and in my first month back I took four phone calls for SIDS deaths from moms or dads. I almost didn’t stick with my dream job because I didn’t have the time to grieve and then took several very traumatic and relatable calls."


8. "I gave birth on a Friday. By Monday morning, my husband’s boss wanted him back in the office. That was the end of his paternity leave."


A man cries in the car

9. "Had 12 weeks: six paid, six at 67% of my pay. Now I go back Monday to a place where I have to stay late to make up the time I use to pump breast milk to feed my baby."


10. "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 six weeks later because he sold the company and didn't tell us."

"Luckily, because of the pandemic I told him I needed to work from home to watch my baby. The U.S really needs to catch up."


11. "We adopted, which was very expensive, so our financial situation was already pretty bad. I took the standard 12 week leave, but because it was near the beginning of the year I didn't have a lot of PTO saved up (it expires every year), and I only qualified for six weeks of maternity pay, which is 50% of your salary. So I got paid 50% of my salary for six weeks and then nothing at all."

"I was actually fortunate to get anything at all, because prior to the year my son was born, the company's maternity pay policy did not cover adopted children. I remember the night before I was going back to work I rocked my son to sleep and just cried and cried because I didn't want to leave him."


12. "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 one and a half days off."


A mom holds her baby as she works on her computer
Yoshiyoshi Hirokawa / Getty Images

13. "I was working as a middle school teacher at the time of my second pregnancy. I was told to go on bed rest about five 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 seven months pregnant. I went back to work when my baby was less than eight 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."


14. "For the last two babies, my husband and I owned a cleaning business and we got zero time off. My husband had a huge job the day I was giving birth to my youngest and had to split time between the job and the hospital. There was no other option. I was back at work about 10 days after I had my last two kids. I'd wear them as I cleaned because either we worked, or we lost our jobs."


15. "I had a great experience. The company I was working at offered 12 weeks fully paid. The day my daughter was born, they changed the maternity leave policy from 12 weeks to 24 weeks fully paid."


16. "Thirty days. I could use up vacation and a little bit of disability but otherwise it was unpaid. My husband had just finished grad school and was actively looking for a job, so I had to go back. It was too soon emotionally. I sobbed the first day, every morning, every couple hours when I had to pump, etc."

"My girl wanted nothing to do with the bottle, so my husband would drive to my work during lunch so that I could breastfeed. We lived like this for three months and it was exhausting. I'm grateful that my job was understanding and let me have the time and privacy to pump or breastfeed...but I honestly felt like I got nothing done."


A mom holds her baby while working on a computer
Thanasis Zovoilis / Getty Images

17. "California teacher here. People assume that teachers get paid maternity leave (possibly because there are a lot of young women and mothers in the field) but we do NOT. We get zero days of paid leave. We get the federally mandated 12 weeks unpaid leave, but if we need financial support during that time we have to use our sick leave. This means that most of us can’t take the full 12 weeks off."

"I think a lot of women go into teaching with the hope that it will fit well into a parenting schedule (kids at school while you’re at work, summer and winter breaks) without realizing that we have very few options when it comes to maternity leave. Furthermore, if you get pregnant before getting tenured, there is a very real chance that you could lose your position. Teachers who are not tenured are on temporary contracts. When the school year ends, so does your job, unless the school 'invites' you back. Being pregnant does not improve your odds."


18. "My husband works for a major corporation and was given 12 weeks paternity leave, the option to transition back to work part time for an additional four weeks, and more than three weeks of vacation."


19. "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 were gone."


20. "My husband got one day of paternity leave. It happened to be his one day off that week. Then he went back to working 12-14 hour days."

"It was my first baby and I was completely alone. No friends or family helped, visited, or even called. It was extremely traumatic. I had stitches and was in a diaper, I had this newborn I had no idea what to do with, and I was completely alone. It was horrible and so unnecessary."


A mom holds her baby NOT on her computer, this one's on her phone
Jgi / Getty Images

21. "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)."

"Afterward I had to put my baby in daycare where she, of course, got sick a few times during my first couple months back. 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.'"


22. "I had a baby last January and took 10 weeks of maternity leave total. I returned to my job at the start of the pandemic (I’m a nurse). Thankfully New York state has paid family leave but it’s definitely not enough for most families."


23. "I had 15 weeks, so I was lucky. Then I went back to work while my husband took leave from school to be with the baby. He was her primary caregiver for the next six months. It was the best choice for all—we didn’t have to put her in daycare, and my husband still says one of the best gifts he’s ever gotten was six months with his daughter like that."

"But it was hard for me to see them bond like glue during that time — she was strictly a daddy’s girl for a year after he went back to his program. And he’d send me pictures of her 'firsts,' and I was super jealous. But I was the one with the full time job and there just really was no choice."


24. "I had a very positive experience so kudos to my employer (Bank of America). They currently offer 16 weeks of PAID leave plus the option to take an additional 10 weeks of unpaid leave. My first two pregnancies I took the 16 weeks then with the third/last baby we saved up like crazy and I took all 26 weeks off."

"I feel awful every time I talk to other parents and learn other companies do so poorly. Support your employees and their families and they will remain loyal to you!"


A mom at a work desk looks to her baby in a pac n play
Reggie Casagrande / Getty Images

25. "I was a single parent and could only afford to take four 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."


26. "My son was born on a 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 son is almost two and I work six days a week to keep up. God bless America, right?"


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Submissions have been edited for length and clarity.