New mothers suffer nerves, guilt as maternity leave ends | The Wider Image | Reuters

by pregnancy journalist

Many new mothers worldwide express anxiety and guilt about leaving their babies to return to work, and some worry their nations’ maternity policies reflect societies that value productivity over raising children.

In a series of interviews for Reuters ahead of International Women’s Day on March 8, mothers from the United States to Uruguay to South Africa to Singapore told of their concerns about stopping work to give birth and look after their newborns.

. San Antonio, United States. Reuters/Callaghan O’Hare
Eschbach, 32, a psychology coordinator at South Texas Children’s home, and her daughter Olivia on her first day back at work.

An Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) report in 2016 found that among OECD countries, mothers are on average entitled to 18 weeks of paid maternity leave around childbirth.

But the range is vast. While some countries – such as Britain and Russia, offer many months or even several years of maternity leave, the United States is the only country to offer no statutory entitlement to paid leave on a national basis.

Blanca Eschbach, a new mother in San Antonio, Texas, returned to work this week after taking 10 weeks off to have her baby.

Eschbach said she’d like longer to be at home with her child – ideally 16 weeks – but her family can’t afford it.

. Rio De Janeiro, BRAZIL. Reuters/Pilar Olivares
Barcellos, her eight-month-old daughter Alice, and her husband Marcelo Valenca, 39, a teacher at a navy school, on the day Tatiana went back to work. The statutory leave for mothers who work in the public sector in Brazil is 120 to 180 days.

Tatiana Barcellos, 37, a civil servant for the Federal Prosecutor’s Office in Brazil, also told Reuters she was “anxious and worried” about going back to work, and concerned that “my absence causes stress to my baby”.

. Purmerend, Netherlands. Reuters/Eva Plevier
Sol, her boyfriend and their 22-week-old baby Lena Amelie on the first day Sol went back to work. The statutory maternity leave in the Netherlands is between 10 to 12 weeks.

In the Netherlands, Lucie Sol, a 32-year-old social worker and mother to baby Lena Amelie, said returning to work “comes with a lot of guilt”.

Sol took an extra three months off, extending her leave to 27 weeks in total. Her boyfriend Rudie Jonkmans, got two days of official paternity leave and added three extra weeks of holiday time to be with his family. Paternity leave in the Netherlands has since been extended to a maximum of five days.

. Minsk, BELARUS. Reuters/Vasily Fedosenko
Rutsevich, her husband Pyotr, 28, a programmer, and their three-year-old son Daniil.

In Belarus, however, things are a little different for 28-year-old Alesia Rutsevich, who is returning to work as an ophthalmologist after having her son three years ago.

Under statutory maternity leave in Belarus mothers are paid their average monthly income for 70 days before birth and 56 days afterwards. Childcare leave can be taken for up to three years after the birth by any working relative or child’s guardian. Recipients are paid a fixed sum according to the number of children in the family.

Rutsevich says she feels happy to have had significant time with her baby, and says her country’s policy is good.

“The duration of the childcare leave is quite optimal,” she said. “I believe that by three years the child is growing up, and his health is improving, and his behaviour.”

. Cape Town, South Africa. Reuters/Sumaya Hisham
Ferzanah, her husband Hassan, 37, and their baby Salma, four and a half months old, on the morning of Ferzanah’s first day back to work. South African labour law allows mothers to take four months of consecutive maternity leave although employers are not obliged to pay employees during this time.

Ferzanah Essack, a 36-year-old mother and software developer in South Africa, says the law there allows for four months maternity leave – although employers are not obliged to pay employees during this time – and 10 days paternity leave.

Essack says she is “very nervous” about going back to work, but her baby, Salma, will be looked after by her mother and mother-in-law for free.

“We pay (for childcare) in love and kisses,” she said. “With lots of love, because it’s the grannies.”

Ana Huanca, 34, her six-week-old baby Luciana, her elder daughter Anabel, 5, and husband Luis Quaquira, 44. In Bolivia, mothers are entitled to 15 days of maternity leave before they give birth and 45 days after they've given birth. Fathers are entitled to three days. However, Ana and Luis are among the majority of Bolivian workers who have no regular jobs which would entitle them to benefits like maternity leave. Huanca returned to work two weeks after giving birth and she take cares of the baby herself as she works.
. La Paz, BOLIVIA. Reuters/David Mercado

Ana Huanca, 34, her six-week-old baby Luciana, her elder daughter Anabel, 5, and husband Luis Quaquira, 44. In Bolivia, mothers are entitled to 15 days of maternity leave before they give birth and 45 days after they’ve given birth. Fathers are entitled to three days. However, Ana and Luis are among the majority of Bolivian workers who have no regular jobs which would entitle them to benefits like maternity leave. Huanca returned to work two weeks after giving birth and she take cares of the baby herself as she works.

Peiru Ng, 32, a public relations account director, her husband Kenny Lee, 33, their daughter Faith, two and a half years old, and 12-week-old son Scott. Singaporean mothers are by and large entitled to 16 weeks of paid maternity leave while fathers are allowed two weeks of leave. Peiru chose to end her maternity leave after 12 weeks because of a busy period at work. "Having my work is like having me time. I feel that work makes me a better mum," she said.
. Singapore, SINGAPORE. Reuters/Feline Lim

Peiru Ng, 32, a public relations account director, her husband Kenny Lee, 33, their daughter Faith, two and a half years old, and 12-week-old son Scott. Singaporean mothers are by and large entitled to 16 weeks of paid maternity leave while fathers are allowed two weeks of leave. Peiru chose to end her maternity leave after 12 weeks because of a busy period at work. “Having my work is like having me time. I feel that work makes me a better mum,” she said.

Jenny Shrestha, 34, who works as a supervisor at Prime Commercial Bank LTD, her three-month-old son Aayan Shrestha, her husband Ashish Shrestha, 35, and her seven-year-old son Aayush. Jenny was on a maternity leave for two months and Ashish for ten days. The statutory maternity leave in Nepal is 98 days. "I fell very sad because I'm very attached to my child and it's very hard to leave him," she said.
. Kathmandu, Nepal. Reuters/Navesh Chitrakar

Jenny Shrestha, 34, who works as a supervisor at Prime Commercial Bank LTD, her three-month-old son Aayan Shrestha, her husband Ashish Shrestha, 35, and her seven-year-old son Aayush. Jenny was on a maternity leave for two months and Ashish for ten days. The statutory maternity leave in Nepal is 98 days. “I fell very sad because I’m very attached to my child and it’s very hard to leave him,” she said.

Itziar Rufo Lopez, 42, who works in the communication department of a business foundation, her husband Manuel Blazquez, 41, and their son Asier, five and a half months old. Statutory maternity leave in Spain is 16 weeks. Rufo added her vacation and breastfeeding times to her maternity leave. "I think we go back to work just when we begin to really enjoy our babies," she said. As of March 6, paid paternity leave in Spain has been extended from five to eight weeks.
. Madrid, SPAIN. Reuters/Susana Vera

Itziar Rufo Lopez, 42, who works in the communication department of a business foundation, her husband Manuel Blazquez, 41, and their son Asier, five and a half months old. Statutory maternity leave in Spain is 16 weeks. Rufo added her vacation and breastfeeding times to her maternity leave. “I think we go back to work just when we begin to really enjoy our babies,” she said. As of March 6, paid paternity leave in Spain has been extended from five to eight weeks.

Natalia Segredo, an attorney working for a legal firm, her husband Mathias Moscardi and their three-month-old baby Alfonsina. Natalia returned to work after 98 days of paid maternity leave. "Going back to work generates insecurity and anguish. Anguish for not knowing how my daughter will react to my absence; insecurity for thinking that I can stop producing milk, that the baby can refuse to take a bottle or otherwise refuse to breastfeed if she gets used to the bottle. Fear that being so small, she may feel that I am leaving her aside and a deep feeling that I am abandoning it," Natalia said.
. Montevideo, Uruguay. Reuers/Andres Stapff

Natalia Segredo, an attorney working for a legal firm, her husband Mathias Moscardi and their three-month-old baby Alfonsina. Natalia returned to work after 98 days of paid maternity leave. “Going back to work generates insecurity and anguish. Anguish for not knowing how my daughter will react to my absence; insecurity for thinking that I can stop producing milk, that the baby can refuse to take a bottle or otherwise refuse to breastfeed if she gets used to the bottle. Fear that being so small, she may feel that I am leaving her aside and a deep feeling that I am abandoning it,” Natalia said.

Gabriela Rodriguez, 32, her husband Cesar Dacchille, 46, and their six-month-old son Gianluca. Statutory maternity leave in Venezuela is six weeks before giving birth and 20 weeks afterwards. Paternity leave is two weeks. "There are two difficulties. One is physiological and the other is psychological. The psychological one feels like I'm abandoning (him), because he has depended on me for the last six months.. It's difficult. But you get used to it," Gabriela said.
. Caracas, VENEZUELA. Reuters/Carlos Barria

Gabriela Rodriguez, 32, her husband Cesar Dacchille, 46, and their six-month-old son Gianluca. Statutory maternity leave in Venezuela is six weeks before giving birth and 20 weeks afterwards. Paternity leave is two weeks. “There are two difficulties. One is physiological and the other is psychological. The psychological one feels like I’m abandoning (him), because he has depended on me for the last six months.. It’s difficult. But you get used to it,” Gabriela said.

Natalia Bulgakova, 31, a lawyer at a consulting company, her husband Anatoly, an economic analyst, and their seven-month-old son Gleb. Natalia has been on maternity leave for nine months. "It's pleasant that you'll go back to doing what you were doing before the maternity leave, going back to the previous rhythm of life. But at the end of the day, of course, the child gives you far more positive emotions," she said. Statutory maternity leave in Russia can be as long as three years. It can be claimed by any relative - a mother, father, grandmother, grandfather or child's guardian.
. Moscow, RUSSIA. Reuters/Maxim Shemetov

Natalia Bulgakova, 31, a lawyer at a consulting company, her husband Anatoly, an economic analyst, and their seven-month-old son Gleb. Natalia has been on maternity leave for nine months. “It’s pleasant that you’ll go back to doing what you were doing before the maternity leave, going back to the previous rhythm of life. But at the end of the day, of course, the child gives you far more positive emotions,” she said. Statutory maternity leave in Russia can be as long as three years. It can be claimed by any relative – a mother, father, grandmother, grandfather or child’s guardian.

Marlena Mucha, 31, her husband Wojciech Flakiewicz, 39, and sons Borys, 4, and one-year-old Julek. Marlena took 52 weeks of paid maternity leave. In Poland, a woman can take to 52 weeks of paid leave after the birth of a child, and be paid around 80 percent of her salary. "For the first month I will work only 4-5 hours daily. This way the process of leaving my son, will be more gradual. So I will have some time to get used to it. I believe it is harder for me than for him," Marlena said.
. Warsaw, POLAND. Reuters/Kacper Pempel

Marlena Mucha, 31, her husband Wojciech Flakiewicz, 39, and sons Borys, 4, and one-year-old Julek. Marlena took 52 weeks of paid maternity leave. In Poland, a woman can take to 52 weeks of paid leave after the birth of a child, and be paid around 80 percent of her salary. “For the first month I will work only 4-5 hours daily. This way the process of leaving my son, will be more gradual. So I will have some time to get used to it. I believe it is harder for me than for him,” Marlena said.

Evelin Naranjo, 31, a teacher holds her one-year old daughter Victoria. Statutory maternity leave in Cuba is one year and it can be taken by either mother or father. Evelin was off for 52 weeks. "It's a huge effort for me not to be able to see my daughter due to my work, but I do it for her own good," she said.
. Las Tunas, CUBA. Reuters/Fernando Medina

Evelin Naranjo, 31, a teacher holds her one-year old daughter Victoria. Statutory maternity leave in Cuba is one year and it can be taken by either mother or father. Evelin was off for 52 weeks. “It’s a huge effort for me not to be able to see my daughter due to my work, but I do it for her own good,” she said.

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