Photography by Alyssa Schukar, Beth Garrabrant, Bethany Mollenkof, Brittany Greeson, Eduardo Rodriguez, Emily Geraghty, Kristina Barker, Rachel Woolf Story by Natasha Pearlman & Ruhama Wolle Art Direction: Alexandra Folino Visuals: Lauren Brown Web Development: Alexander Ratner
The US is one of only six countries in the world without national paid family or maternity leave, with a quarter of women returning to work two weeks after giving birth. Last year a bid to fund just four weeks of paid leave failed. To show the true impact of that first month, Glamour followed eight women through 28 days postpartum. Some had access to paid leave, others did not. Read their stories, and join us to demand the government #passpaidleave.
Our daughter came out first, and she was screaming and very pink, all the good things. When our son came out, he was pretty not pink and pretty not screaming.
My labor was so long, I was so close to quitting. I was like, “Just get this baby out of me.” I’m at home alone now. My husband had to go to work. I can’t believe that I have a person I need to take care of, but I feel fine.
I had PTSD from the birth of my first son, Landon. It delayed me wanting to really connect with him. This time I had a really good, fast labor, and I was immediately obsessed with Arlo.
Everything was going so well, and all of a sudden I felt something really crazy, in my pants. I went into the bathroom and a blood clot the size of a lemon came out.
In the hospital we had to worry about filing all this stuff for my state parental leave. So we’re printing and scanning, but my DC state paid-leave claim was rejected. It’s saying I’m ineligible. I think I was accidentally registered as working in Virginia. But I work for a DC company and live just across the border in Virginia. I’m exhausted, and I can’t figure this out right now. And I missed the call from the guy today, and ugh—I just want this to be settled so I don’t have to worry about it.
Riley was born on Thursday. She’s perfect! We got home last night from the hospital. It’s hard to even remember who was in the room when I gave birth. For me, at least, it was a private moment. Just me and her.
This was the worst and most traumatic birth out of all four. All three of my other births combined don’t compare to this. I pushed for over two hours. They had to use the vacuum on his head. I heard it. Oh, my gosh. It was so terrible. I got a third-degree tear.
My biggest anxiety is just the transition with my son. I keep telling myself that people have multiple children all the time, and it’s going to be okay. I can’t quite fathom how that’s going to all fit together until we’re together.
The hardest part right now is money. I’ve never not worked, but I took severance from my job a month back, and the money is coming to depletion. I’ve worked really hard to buy a house of my own—for myself, but also for my kids. I don’t want to risk that. And I don’t mean to cry. Maybe because I’m saying it out loud? After this month or two, I’m probably just going to start back working.
I breastfed for 36 hours in the hospital. And then as soon as we got home, I was like, “Cool. So who else can feed my kid?” Why would I not do formula? But then of course, there’s a formula shortage right now. Which is terrifying. But I know for me, I’m going to be a better mom if I’m not trying to stress about breastfeeding.
My anxiety is spiking high today. Being exhausted, and not having slept well. I’m at the brink of tears constantly. There’s nothing actually wrong and everything’s okay; it’s just the unsettling anxious feeling is there.
It took me a long time to decide to have a baby on my own. Finding the “right” partner just didn’t happen, but I wanted a family. However, I’m a neonatal intensive care nurse with long hours and not high pay. The only way I could make this work was with family help. My mom, brilliantly, is going to be my daycare when I go back to work. I’d like 12 weeks off, but I only have a little bit of PTO and six weeks of disability.
It’s been a journey being a NICU parent, which is not what we wanted and not what we tried to manifest for ourselves, but it’s what we’re doing. It’s meant lots of Uber Eats and DoorDash and lots of showering in random places and trying to decide, “Oh, do we go home tonight? Does one person go home? Do we get a hotel? Do we go to a friend’s house?”
I’m starting work again today, baking donuts for the café we supply. There’s no option really. I have to work. I can’t stop completely. We need the money. But I feel good. I’m just getting used to waking up with her. For let’s say a week, I’m very at peace.
Work sent a dinner last night. It’s lovely to have that support. Because I have paid leave for a year and am planning to take eight months, they haven’t reached out about work. They’re great about it. If I was returning in six weeks, they’d probably be keeping me more in the loop.
Riley is easy. It’s like I’m working from home! But for me, physically, it’s been very painful. During the birth I tore in three places, two near my vagina and one perineal, and some of my stitches ripped this weekend, so I had to go to the doctor to get that addressed.
We’re so happy to be home. But we’re mourning the fact we didn’t have the expected coming-home experience. There was no being wheeled out with a baby in your arms. And people being like, “Oh, congratulations!” There was one moment in the NICU where we just stood over them and sobbed because it sucked. They were hooked up to all of the leads to monitor their vital signs, so you can’t move out of a six-foot radius. And all we wanted was to take our babies for a walk.
I want to take six months’ leave; that’s my plan. It’s all unpaid. I’m a pediatric dentist, a self contractor, so I didn’t qualify for leave where I worked, and I’m lucky that my husband and I earn well enough for me to take the time I want off. It’s going to be a little bit more difficult, but even if we have to budget, I’m fine living with the bare minimum. I know how to not go above my means if need be.
I am starting up my own business, but I think I thought that I was superwoman or something. I’m not far enough along, and I’m exhausted. Now I’m like, “I need a new job.” So it can be both mine and my boyfriend’s income. So we’re not struggling.
We’re working four nights a week. We start around midnight, and it’s an eight-hour process. We make 20 donuts a day for a Brooklyn café, and once a week I bake 40 donuts for a local Harlem moms group. I make $400 a week for donuts for the cafe and $300 to $400 a week from the moms group. Do I wish I had paid leave? Life is fair; it’s also unfair. I went into pregnancy knowing that I would have to take care of that myself. So it’s not a surprise. But hopefully something will change.
You want to get real personal? I am still bleeding. My butt hurts. I think I have hemorrhoids. I know other people go through this, but not many people talk about it. Not my family, none of my friends. Ugh, I just hate it.
It’s a little nerve-racking right now as the money I’m getting from disability doesn’t even cover half my monthly mortgage payment. The 60% payments are based off my base salary, so it’s a significant drop in income. I had money saved up just in case, and I’ll have to go through it because I am not willing to give up days with my baby. I want to take 12 weeks, but I don’t know if the money I’ve saved is going to cover the whole time. It’s only my salary. It’s a huge stress.
I’ve been sleeping on the couch since Draugr was born, with the baby next to me. I know, I’m terrible! But it’s just easier with feeding and pumping, and I don’t wake my boyfriend up, so he’s fresh to look after all four kids in the morning. Anyway, I’m so tired I could sleep anywhere!
I’ve been out on my own, and on walks with Porter and Harvey. Everyone’s like, “Oh, why are you out right now? You just had a baby.” And I’m like, “I have to be out in the sun, and I have to be walking and moving my body. Otherwise I’ll go a little bit stir-crazy.”
My husband’s semi going back to work today. So this week our nanny is coming in the mornings to help with Landon, our eldest. She’s here right now. We definitely wouldn’t be able to afford this if I wasn’t being paid my full pay. Because we’ve had so much help, I feel I’m healing faster too.
My boyfriend, Dazz, and my daughter are helping so much. It’s great. Last night Dazz stayed up with the baby. But I still wake up. I trust him and everything. It’s just that mommy thing!
My salary is our main income. David is a bare-knuckle fighter and ran a gym, but the owner of the building recently died and the lease came to an end. So we’re just figuring out our finances. But I get 12 weeks of paid maternity leave (six weeks of disability, and six weeks at 100%), so that helps a lot.
I’m pumping so many times a day. The most I’ve done is eight. I try to aim for six, but I’ve started to try to tell myself that it’s okay if I hit four or five. Because it’s every five seconds of cleaning parts and reassembling. Then I’m like, “Okay, the clock begins again.” Each time I pump, it’s 30 minutes—that’s three hours of my day. Then putting milk away and then feeding, which can take an hour!
I didn’t sleep well for four days, and at one point I was so tired I felt like I was going to faint. So I just put a pillow on the living room floor, and I laid there and slept.
There is no way I could go back to work yet, mentally or physically. I still have to do twice-a-day wound care for my C-section incision.
When I’m working, my hours are long, and I only see my eldest two hours a day, max. Now that I’m on leave, I see how much he loves us being here. I’m so thankful for these eight months. Being pregnant for nine months is tough. And then if you’re going back to work within six weeks, mentally you just don’t want to be there. But by the time I’ll be going back, I’ll be so ready and excited to dive in.
I’m so lucky. Riley’s such an easy baby. She’s sleeping up to seven hours at night, which is just crazy. But physically I’m kind of a mess. I’ve burst several stitches, and there was a potential infection. In order to take away some of the pressure, they released some stitches, but now I have open wounds. If I was trying to work 12-hour shifts, I’d be in so much pain and definitely get another infection. I can’t stay on my feet for very long during the day. I worry about this a lot, especially if I have to go back to work in a month.
Imisi has her traditional Nigerian naming ceremony in two weeks, which I’m going have to prepare myself for. I don’t think I’m going to let anyone hold her. This “28 days post postpartum” is interesting because it looks different for everyone. The “no sleep” looks the same. The “getting to know baby” looks the same, but we forget that, like, there’s specific cultural things that we have to, that we feel obligated to do.
There’s no way I could work right now. My brain is total mush. If I wasn’t getting some money from work, I’d just have to take unpaid leave and get in the financial hole of it. I can barely string together sentences. We’re probably getting four hours of sleep a night.
In terms of feeding, it’s kind of an all-hands-on-deck buffet. We use nursing as a warm-up for the bottle. And especially with our daughter, Erin has to be there stroking her cheek and moving her arm to get her going for it. We’re awake a lot. Maybe we sleep three to four hours a day.
I didn’t have any paid leave when I had my daughter. I was working at a jewelry store and had $500, or something like that, in Paid Time Off to cash out. I don’t really want to start working yet, because of the baby being so small. But I’m doing hair to make extra money, and I like it a lot.
She just wants to be on the boob. It’s challenging, because I want to take a shower, but I can’t because she just cries and cries. We’re going to start the supper club when Yohualli is eight weeks. I have reservations already, so we’re just trying to figure out how we’re going to work while the baby’s here with us.
I landed on the other side of this experience in a completely different body! I have a different set of breasts. My skin has changed. My hair is thinner. Thank God I don’t have a partner to think about. My vagina is not even close to being healed, I still bleed, and the six-week mark is two weeks away, and that’s when women are often expected to come home and have sex after their six-week checkup because they’re given the go-ahead. I can’t imagine having someone chomping at my shoulder waiting for the option. I feel lucky to do this alone.
These 28 days have just gone by so fast. I’m still bleeding, annoyingly. And because this time around I’m a lot more mentally okay, I’m just feeling so much more impatient for my body to bounce back. I can’t wear any of my maternity clothes, and I can’t wear any of my normal clothes. So I’m just in the same one pair of shorts that fit me. That’s the other thing: If I was going back to work, I would have no clothes. I guess I would just be on Zoom wearing a shirt and no pants!
Imisi is thriving. Because I had such a tough delivery, I expected these first few weeks to be a struggle. But she’s such a good baby. Yes, I wake up in the middle of the night to feed her every three hours, but she’s so chill. It’s making it easier for me to be okay with going back to work.