I don't really get jealous of others. While I get frustrated with myself for not being as good as others at something, it's rare that I feel actual jealousy. But I'm going to confess to something... I am so jealous of people who were able to have/have had/are on maternity leave. I'm even more jealous of those whose partners were also able to benefit from parental leave, or who were/are able to at least take paid time off. Every time I read about someone going back to work after 12 weeks, 6 months, a year, my stomach turns and I feel slightly defeated, alone. And then I turn it into a bit of "why the hell are they complaining, they were able to relax with their baby without worrying about money for X amount of time". (Stay with me, I know that this isn't exactly true, and I also know how some people spend precious time during their pregnancy fighting for their leave, cobbling together PTO and disability to get to 12 weeks – this is just how I rationalize my jealousy).
I took three months off with Luna, unpaid, and Cesar worked extra hours so we could make ends meet. That first month is still a blur to me, days and nights melted into one big, sleepless entity. I would wake at 6 or 7am after a night of maybe 20 minutes sleep (I'm seriously not exaggerating), and hang out with Luna in the living room... Cesar would be up around 9am, go off to work and I wouldn't see him til 2 or 3am, except for Wednesday's which was his only day off. Luna and I created our own schedule, I was completely in tune to every single one of her needs, reassessing my views of motherhood and how I was going to navigate it. Once I let go of the feeling that an utter failure magnet was stuck to my back, and accepted that Luna was not like any of my friends' children, life became a lot easier. But still, quality time with Cesar was middle of the night ice creams and a Wednesday that we would make last as long as possible, just us. The only day he took of work was the day I was induced, going back the next day on no sleep.
The second time around Cesar was working two jobs, and navigating life around a difficult pregnancy and many hospital visits was tough. But Aurora made it easy for us, she arrived fast, and when Cesar was home. He took the day off and went back to work the next. The hospital made all post partum parents watch a film before they were allowed to be discharged and told all fathers to bring the car seat the hospital and the car around to the ER entrance. I sat there, put my hand up and asked if someone would be able to help me to an Uber. Everyone stared at me, and I realized they were all judging. Who leaves the hospital by themselves? On a normal day I wouldn't have cared, but 24 hours post partum I felt like curling up and bawling. My nurse walked into my room and kindly asked what was wrong, and I mumbled something about being fat. I don't know why I lied; I just didn't think I could explain what was going through my mind. I then started stressing about Cesar signing the birth certificate papers because if you aren't married the father has to sign a proof of paternity in front of a witness. In the end Cesar managed to take the morning off and I did not leave alone with Aurora. But just the morning, he was back at work a few hours later. I started a month long project the next day, writing, writing, writing until late in the night, nursing both kids on my lap when they woke up. Aurora's first month was a blur, but a blur of work, of wondering where the next project would come from. When it ended I declined other projects, I was exhausted, Cesar and I barely saw each other, and we are both missing our kids grow, preoccupied with life worries.
This time around I was adamant Cesar would be able to take a week off and be with me, but it wasn't to be. A new apartment, rent to pay, bills, food, everything, and a second job that barely gave him the night off when I went into hospital (I honestly thought I was going to have to go over there and breathe through contractions on the floor of the restaurant). And again, he cuddled his newborn child, ran home to sleep a few hours and went back to work again. Luckily my mother was able to look after the girls for us, and when I got home the next day I just jumped into life as a mother of three, by myself. Proud that all of the children were bathed and asleep before 9pm. By a stroke of luck my main client's work slowed down considerably for the summer and I took it as a sign to slow down too, and this time remembered the rules of the fourth trimester. I didn't really slow down, I've been working on a lot of my own things, but I haven’t been looking for too much work. But that always means that Cesar just needs to work more. We just can't afford time off.
Honestly our kids aren't that expensive (yet). We buy everything from the thrift store or secondhand, we are good at grocery shopping on a budget. Since we are all vegetarian apart from Cesar we don't spend money on meat. We don't own a car and we walk or bike everywhere. But we aren't well off or rich, and as most people in this country, despite what people may think, we live paycheck to paycheck, used to hustling, working extra to make ends meet. Hourly wage jobs don't benefit from any kind of paid time off or health insurance or sick leave, so if something happens, or I have a doctor's appointment scheduled, and it can't be done on Cesar's days off (when one of his jobs actually respects his availability requests), then he has to take the day off. Its fine, we work around it. It just always annoys me that days off have to be relegated to things like doctors’ appointments rather than day trips and fun activities. Granted, I have several degrees and enough work experience under my belt that I could get an OK paying office job somewhere, and then have to pay a huge chunk of that on daycare. So I'd rather work around the kids, even though it can be super stressful at times. While I hope that I can maintain enough freelance work over the next few years to continue full time once the kids are at school, I will probably end up back in an office or a bar/restaurant for at least a few years until we have figured out how to open our own restaurant (dreams!).
I love our life. I love Cesar and I love our kids. While I miss living in NYC, California isn't so bad, and as long as we are altogether, everything is OK. I just wish that parental leave laws were on par with countries like the U.K., France, Sweden... I would gladly pay higher taxes for that (and universal healthcare), and I know Cesar would too. And when I feel those twinges of jealousy I think of all of those women who have to go back to work a week or two after they have given birth. And then my complaints don't feel so important anymore - at least I have always been able to deal with the mess that is postpartum life in the comfort of my own home. And I’m grateful that we do have a comfortable home and can pay the rent and the bills (now). I have just learnt that it’s OK to be a little sad that I didn’t have a dreamy maternity leave, and that I wasn’t able to spend time hanging out in bed with my brand new baby while Cesar took the toddlers off to fun places around the neighborhood. It’s OK to sometimes be a little jealous and admit to it. I also know that most people don’t have maternity leave in the US, so I’m definitely not alone in feeling this way!