LGBT

Here's What Parental Leave Is Like For LGBT Families

"I had people at work even tell me I didn't deserve to be tired because I wasn't his 'real' mom."

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Taking leave from work to welcome a new child isn't easy for a lot of parents — and LGBT families often have to navigate policies that were designed with cisgender, straight couples in mind.

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The US is one of a handful of nations that doesn't mandate any paid parental leave. When employers do provide paid time, it's frequently funded through short-term disability policies that only cover parents who give birth. Adoptive parents of any gender often get less time to bond with their new additions.

Under a federal law called the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), employers over a certain size have to provide 12 weeks of unpaid job-protected leave, though not all employees are eligible. The law states that someone who acts "in loco parentis" — i.e. takes on the responsibilities of parenting — is eligible for leave, even if they don't have a biological or legal relationship with the child.

Here's what LGBT parents in the BuzzFeed Community had to share about their experiences taking leave to care for a new child.

1. "We are so, so fortunate to work for large companies that recognize both of us as parents and give us both leave."

Provided to BuzzFeed

We have a son who will be 2 in August and I am currently pregnant with our second child. Both were conceived with anonymous donors through intrauterine insemination (IUI) with the help of a reproductive endocrinologist.

I had a C-section with my son, so I got eight weeks of paid maternity leave and two weeks of paid parental leave. It will be the same with baby #2. My wife got two weeks of parental leave through her company and will get the same with baby #2. However, her company now offers unlimited paid vacation time so she may take more time off. We're obviously very lucky to have such generous options.

We all know leave in the US is abysmal. That being said, my 10 weeks for a C-section delivery and my wife's two weeks for non birth parent leave are quite generous. I know I should be grateful and I am. But taking a 10-week-old infant to daycare for eight-plus hours a day is so hard, not to mention still trying to get over major surgery. I wish my wife could have been there for more than two weeks, and I know she did too.

We are so, so fortunate to work for large companies that recognize both of us as parents and give us both leave. I can't even begin to imagine what it would be like to not have maternity leave available.

—Jamie, 31, lesbian, works in business sales, US (Florida)

2. "Our daughter was our little miracle. It's just ridiculous that one of her mothers got so much time with her and the other so little."

My wife and I used a sperm donor, and we have a 7-month-old daughter. After giving birth I had six weeks of paid maternity leave, then another six weeks of unpaid leave. We then decided that it would be cheaper for me to stay home than to pay for child care.

My wife was not able to get paid leave through her job, despite working with the company for almost three years. She took one week of unpaid leave beginning the day before I had to be induced. It was very hard for me to care for a newborn baby by myself when she went back to work. It was completely unfair that she didn't get any paid maternity leave when it was her child too.

After trying for so long to conceive, our daughter was our little miracle. It's just ridiculous that one of her mothers got so much time with her and the other so little before returning to work.

—Alice, 25, bisexual, works in banking, US (Maine)

3. "I had people at work even tell me I didn't deserve to be tired because I wasn't his 'real' mom."

Provided to BuzzFeed

My wife and I used an anonymous sperm donor and my wife was inseminated. We have a beautiful baby boy who is a year and a half old.

My son was born on a Wednesday and I returned to work the following Wednesday. It was one of the most difficult things I have ever experienced. My wife was on unpaid leave and I had to work to make sure that we had income for the month that she took off.

I struggled immensely with not having leave. Not only was I exhausted from the sleepless nights, I felt like I was missing out on crucial bonding time. My wife gave birth to our son using her eggs, so I have no genetic relationship to him, and I struggled with feeling like people didn't see me as his "true mom." I had people at work even tell me I didn't deserve to be tired because I wasn't his "real" mom.

I remember coming home from work one day, exhausted, and just holding my baby in my arms sobbing and saying, "He's my baby." Now I work a job where I have summers off, and while I'm excited that I get to spend this time with him, it highlights how much I missed out on not being able to bond with him during those first few weeks. Genetics don't mean shit. Biological or not, every parent deserves time off to bond with their kiddos.

—Trae, queer/genderqueer, therapist, US (Pennsylvania)

4. "My employer is a large international company with an LGBT support group and a generous adoption policy. But they were completely thrown by a gay man asking for leave."

We started our family through surrogacy and have a 6-month-old daughter. I took 18 weeks paid adoption leave. It was so important for bonding with my daughter and supporting my partner. I can't imagine how we would have coped otherwise.

My employer is a large international company with an LGBT support group and a generous adoption policy. But they were completely thrown by a gay man asking for leave and were very reluctant to grant it, despite having a policy. I had to threaten legal action.

—Anonymous, gay, works in finance, UK (London)

5. "My premature daughter spent her first month in the NICU. It was upsetting that I had to spend so many hours in the hospital alone while my wife worked every evening."

I have an 11-month-old daughter, conceived the natural way with a trans woman. (Three years on hormones did not affect her fertility.)

I worked in retail while I was pregnant, and my wife works in a restaurant. My job only offered six weeks of leave, so I resigned. My wife wasn't offered anything. She had to call off the day after I gave birth, and it was unpaid.

My premature daughter spent her first month in the NICU. It was upsetting that I had to spend so many hours in the hospital alone while my wife worked every evening. We needed the money, though, and her job didn't care that her family needed her. I resigned right before having my baby because my job didn't understand. I had severe preeclampsia and had my daughter two months early, yet my bosses didn't seem to believe how much pain I was in and still wanted me to work full-time on my feet. I definitely wasn't going to go back.

—Artemis, 24, cis female/queer, US (Buffalo, New York)

6. "It was painful to leave my wife, who was recovering from a C-section, and my new tiny person after seven days."

Provided to BuzzFeed

My wife underwent IUI with her eggs and a selected donor, and we have a 2-year-old daughter.

My wife had to use FMLA, and short-term disability was her income for 12 weeks. I was given one week of "paternity leave" and couldn't afford to take more.

It crushed me. It was painful to leave my wife, who was recovering from a C-section, and my new tiny person after seven days. I coped by staying very busy at work and leaned into support from family members who came to help out.

I wish we had a better parental leave system in this country. It's insane that you should be taken away from your new child because you can't afford to stay out.

—Sam, 29, lesbian, teacher, US

7. "My wife was not eligible to take any paid parental leave until she adopted our son (financially impossible for us at the time)."

We have five kids, with the first four (ages 11, 9, 8, and 7) coming with us from previous marriages. We had our last child together, who is now 3.

I carried our last baby. My wife was not eligible to take any paid parental leave until she adopted our son (financially impossible for us at the time), and all we could afford was for her to take three weeks of unpaid leave. She had to work extra hours during my pregnancy so we could save enough to be able to afford this.

It negatively affected my wife's bonding with our son, and it caused issues in our marriage. As the at-home parent, I had an extremely hard time being alone with five young children while recovering from giving birth.

Even in a country as liberal and progressive as Canada, there is still much to be done in terms of recognizing the rights of same-sex families. My wife needs to adopt her own child in order to be legally recognized as his parent and to have the same rights to him. It's humiliating, frustrating, and unfair when we are just as valid a family.

—Andi, lesbian, works in education, Canada (British Columbia)

8. "I don't feel our story is that different from heterosexual couples'."

Courtesy of the family

We have a 3-year-old son through open adoption. My husband and I are lucky to both have jobs and live in a place where we have rights to paternity leave.

As a federal government employee, Mike was eligible for six to eight weeks of leave. My boss was supportive, but also explained that since I had been with the organization for less than a year, they were not required to provide any paternity leave. But they were willing to work out an agreement using my personal leave and telework to be able to support my family as best as possible.

I don't feel our story is that different from heterosexual couples'. We're lucky that both men and women employed by the federal government receive parental leave, although men do not have the option to use short-term disability to extend the time. If I had been at my job for a year, my previous employer would have had to provide me with paternity leave. We're lucky Mike had been frugal with his time off in the years leading up to our adoption. But not all people gain enough PTO to be able to do what Mike and I did to supplement the leave provided.

—"DJ" Johnson, 39, gay, nonprofit vice president and Mike Stirratt, 47, gay, federal government program officer, US (Washington, DC)

9. "As we all went back to our 9-to-5 schedules, it became very clear just how hard it is to balance all of the appointments and visits a young kiddo needs."

We have one kiddo who we adopted when she was 5. She's 6 (and a half, she'd want us to say) now. I took a month off with partial pay when she joined our family. My partner took six weeks of full pay and could have taken six more unpaid.

Leave was important for both of us to help kiddo settle in. Going back to school and work was also VERY important for us. We were feeling a bit cooped up. But as we all went back to our 9-to-5 schedules, it became very clear just how hard it is to balance all of the appointments and visits a young kiddo needs, especially one new to a family. Figuring out those logistics on top of two full-time jobs was exhausting.

Additionally, we could not find good after-school care for many weeks, forcing kiddo into a program that wasn't a great fit at all. Having more flexible paid time off would have been quite a boon during that difficult time.

—Heron Greenesmith, 34, bisexual/queer, attorney and policy analyst, US (Massachusetts)

10. "In Germany it doesn't matter if you are LGBTQ or not when it comes to parental leave."

My wife had our son using donor sperm. He's 3. We took the first two months after birth together (both paid). Then my wife took 10 more months (paid) and I took 12 months after that (six of which were unpaid). It was amazing. Having 24 months of leave is great and I am thankful Germany makes this possible.

Here it doesn't matter if you are LGBTQ or not when it comes to parental leave. We even got more money than usual because our son was born prematurely.

Getting IVF treatment is difficult, though. In the end, we went to court to get our health insurance to pay for the treatment (because my wife has infertility problems), which they ended up doing. Initially, the insurance company had refused to do so on the basis that we were in a lesbian relationship, though IVF is routinely covered by German health care if medically necessary.

—Fran, 33, queer, high school teacher, Germany (Baden-Württemberg)

11. "My wife had the baby, but I took three months of unpaid maternity leave with no issues."

Provided to BuzzFeed

After nine years together, we used IUI and have one child who is 6 months old.

My wife had the baby, but I took three months of unpaid maternity leave with no issues. It would have been paid if I were a salaried employee. My wife only got six weeks of unpaid leave, unfortunately. I work for a bigger company while she works for a smaller family-owned company.

It could have been better and it could have been worse, but the time we both got to spend together with our son was amazing! We looked on the bright side of everything. Even though my wife couldn't take the full 12 weeks with me, we appreciated the first six that we all got to spend together. I did feel bad, though, that she physically had the baby and I got to take off more time.

—Courtney, 28, lesbian, works in human resources, US

12. "Only a few coworkers knew I am a lesbian, so when I announced the pregnancy it was news to my manager and the owner of the company."

My wife and I did at-home insemination. It took on the first try and we ended up with twins. They are 8 months old, a boy and a girl.

Only a few coworkers knew I am a lesbian, so when I announced the pregnancy it was news to my manager and the owner of the company. I could tell there was a change, and part of me feared it was because I'm gay. A few weeks later when I came in for work my manager pulled me aside and said they were letting me go because I was no longer the right fit. I felt hated for being gay, and I honestly feel that's why they let me go.

Our twins ended up coming early, and I didn't have a new job yet. I guess it was a blessing being let go. I was there every step of the way, from their arrival to their time in the NICU. My wife (who gave birth) did have to return to work before the twins were released. We had no choice because she had to use her PTO for the two weeks she took off, and once that ran out it was back to work she went.

Paid parental leave should be offered to all new parents. Getting to bond with your new little ones is so important, and families shouldn't be robbed of that.

—Nichole, 36, lesbian, dog walker, US (Washington)

13. "It would have been a nightmare if we didn't have any vacation hours saved up."

Provided to BuzzFeed

We chose a few donors we liked, and there were audio interviews attached to their profiles. My wife felt a connection to the donor we finally chose. On the first try she got pregnant! We have a beautiful 18-month-old daughter.

I was able to take a week of unpaid leave. I relied on my vacation pay to cover that cost. My wife took standard maternity leave (two months), all of which was unpaid, so she used up all of her vacation hours. We were able to adjust our schedules to avoid having to pay for child care.

It would have been so much better if my wife could have taken more time off to stay with the baby. She works 10- to 12-hour days, and being away from a newborn baby for that long is pretty hard.

Not all companies are as progressive as mine was in allowing parental leave to the non-birth mother. I was lucky for that. But it would have been a nightmare if we didn't have any vacation hours saved up.

—Renee, 37, lesbian, technician, US (Oregon)

14. "Trying to get parental leave is hard, and it's even harder when you are a queer parent."

We have four kids total. We used a sperm donor for our first two (Veronica, 15, and Spencer, 11) and adopted our third and fourth kids (Danny and Hallie, 7-year-old twins).

My wife Annelise took maternity leave for our first baby, and I took 12 weeks of paid leave and six weeks of unpaid leave. I was able to take maternity leave with our second, and my wife took four weeks paid and two weeks unpaid leave. She was able to take more time with Veronica since she carried her, and I was able to take more time with Spencer since I carried him.

Not being able to take leave affected my relationship with my kids. Veronica is much closer to Annelise than to me, while Spencer favors me over Annelise.

With our twins, Annelise took three weeks unpaid. I took two weeks paid and two weeks unpaid. Our twins love us both equally, but I wish we were able to take more time off from work. We adopted them when they were 5.

Trying to get parental leave is hard, and it's even harder when you are a queer parent. Take as much time off as you can. Every moment I get with my kids I treasure.

—Victoria, 39, and Annelise, 37, both lesbian, nurse practitioner and high school journalism teacher, Canada (Alberta)

Submissions have been edited for length and clarity.

You can read more stories from two-dad families here.

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Susie Armitage is the Global Managing Editor and is based in New York.

Contact Susie Armitage at susie.armitage@buzzfeed.com.

Sarah Karlan is the Deputy LGBT Editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.

Contact Sarah Karlan at sarah.karlan@buzzfeed.com.

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