To celebrate mother’s Day, Quartz staff gathered story ideas from your mothers and sought to answer them. This mom asks: How do Americans suffer going ago to work after maternity leave? Read an ext stories from the collection here.

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For women in nations that offer several mainly or months of paid maternity leave, it have the right to be unfathomable to think about returning to job-related only a week or also days after providing birth. But for many American women, the an daily reality.

The united state is the just rich nation in the civilization that doesn’t require companies to offer their employees payment maternity leave. Only 14% of united state civilian employees in 2016 had access to paid family leave in 2016, follow to the Pew research study Center. One in four US mothers return to job-related 10 work after offering birth. And also just end one-third the American mothers don’t return to work-related (pdf) after having actually a baby. (The financial losses of not having actually paid family members leave are significant.)

Quartz inquiry American women to define their suffer of going ago to work-related after giving birth. Part were happy to have flexible schedules and found fulfillment in going back to work; rather struggled v unreliable child care, unsupportive bosses, health and wellness problems, and anxiety. Here are their story (slightly edited for clarity and length).

Shannon, 52, talent developmentDuration of leave: 7 weeks to 3 months for three kids 

The hardest was returning after a four-year leave. I provided the time well v education, consulting, leading components in the community. Yet my resume to be a lead balloon. I ended up in a various profession via referral through a friend. It take it a couple of years to gain back. Ns felt handicapped yet wasn’t, however couldn’t shiver the stigma.

Claudia, 43, journalistFive months

“One benefit of being an older mom is that i am in a position financially to make the choice. Others space not for this reason fortunate.”

My ceo let me work-related from home and also start at three days a week, so ns was lucky compared to most American parents. However, ns was not all set to leave my son as soon as he was still so little and ended up quitting a couple of months later. One advantage of being an older mom is that ns am in a position financially to make that choice. Others space not for this reason fortunate, especially previously in your careers.

Amanda, 38, lawyerFive months

It was an overwhelming finding a good nanny who we trusted and felt comfortable leave our boy with—and that was tough to leaving him in who else’s hands all day long—but the was additionally somewhat that a relief come go ago to work. It turns out working permanent is in numerous ways much less complicated than taking care of a infant full-time! however I wish I had actually eased ago in a bit more.

I actually find it to be more an overwhelming now that my child is three and also has so much personality, so much to say, and also feelings about things. In retrospect, a little baby is reasonably easy to leaving in the morning and also come residence to in ~ night. I would certainly love come spend much more time with my three-year-old each day.

Sara, 32, digital communicationsTwelve weeks (four parental leave, two accrued paid time off, six unpaid)

I was incredibly lucky in that ns was the very first woman to be pregnant in ~ my company. I negotiated a ramp-up duration where I began at 24 hours a week, including one day from home, climate bumped up to 32 hours per week with two days native home. It allowed me to transition gently and set a reasonable expectation for my ability to meet my job function. The said, money was very tight from being on one income for so long and also then a part-time income. I absolutely missed the end on avenues because ns wasn’t conveniently able to travel for customer meetings.

Tia, 37, journalistThree months, broken up right into two six-week stints

My first pregnancy i went earlier after six weeks; i was depressed and this assisted me dig out that it, plus i was a contractor with no payment benefits. This time (my 3rd child), ns went ago after six weeks, go on to leaving again at three months, then ago again in ~ four and a half months. It was hectic yet I hate not being in ~ work. What i really dislike is just how I had three various layers of administration to navigate in order come utilize any type of paid leave. I had six mainly of payment bonding leave v San Francisco, 6 weeks of handicap through California, and also my agency covered the exact same six mainly of impairment at a reduced level—so they pitched in nothing fairly than advertise me increase to complete pay.

Melissa, 27, nurse practitionerFifteen weeks

“Sometimes i feel prefer my milk supply suffers as soon as I work an ext than at some point in a row and that can be yes, really stressful.”

I work-related three days during the week, and also every third weekend. Having actually the job off during the week through the infant really helps v the adjustment. Mine husband is likewise on paternity leave now, therefore I know my infant is in an excellent hands. It will certainly be harder in a month once he starts in ~ a home daycare. Periodically I feel prefer my milk supply suffers when I work more than one day in a row and that have the right to be really stressful.

Allison, 31, administrative assistantEight weeks, but expanded to nine

I was a restaurant manager then. It was horrible. Over there was evident guilt the leaving her kiddo therefore young. And the common issues: pumping and also postpartum depression. I would tell my boss that I required to go pump, and also he would certainly yell at me the it wasn’t a great time and he didn’t have actually to provide time because that me if it inconvenienced the this firm day-to-day. I really didn’t choose when I necessary to pump, her body speak you. Needless to say, ns dried increase quickly and also before i was ready.

We had worries finding affordable child care. We had actually one babysitter leaving my boy (six month at the time) in a running auto for hours. She’s lucky us didn’t press charges.

After returning to work, I would go work without see my son since I would leave because that the restaurant before he acquired up, then would acquire home after he had gone to bed. At some point I was compelled out, and also it was a great thing.

Nobody tells you how difficult it is to be a first-time mom, through hormones, v baby, and then v the government’s “policies,” and also then the stigma of culture and working mothers. It’s simply unbelievable, yet we do it. And also we carry out it through grace and also a BAMF Mommy attitude.


Senator Elizabeth Warren is an outspoken advocate for paid household leave.

Sophie, 33, database migration and also managementTen weeks

It to be hard. I had a functional schedule, and also daycare to be close by, so ns was still able come breastfeed the means I wanted to. But around two weeks after ns went earlier to work, mine daughter got sick. It started as a respiratory virus, and then turned into full-blown pneumonia, i m sorry left she struggling to breathe. She to be admitted come the hospital, and also I worked from she hospital room through my laptop, taking treatment of emails while nurses checked her oxygen levels and also dosed her through antibiotics. Ns planning on taking an ext unpaid leaving , so hopefully this baby will certainly be bigger before going into daycare, yet it weighs on me a lot.

Kathleen, 27, human resources coordinatorEleven weeks

I had a good experience. We love our son’s daycare, i m sorry is only four minutes from mine office. I would certainly nurse him on my lunch hour—this aided break up mine time far from him. Ns did miss out on out top top the office camaraderie since of lacking lunches and having to take pumping breaks, but now he is one year old, and I get an excellent adult conversation end lunch!

My employee is additionally extremely flexible v hours and also work from home which makes it much less stressful. We also have a medical professional that does health visits ~ above weekends and evenings so i haven’t had actually to miss work for that.

Jessica, 25, financeSix weeks

The very first thing that concerns mind was exactly how sad and overwhelmed i was. I even felt like a failure having actually to leaving my son so early. Ns had an unfavorable thoughts every work from learning I was failing at providing breast milk to no spending enough time bonding with my child. Ns wish ns had more time come bond and understand my new life together a mother.

Coty, 34, lawyer at a non-profitThree months

I had actually a really tough maternity leave—a premature infant who obtained sick a lot—and supposed to dread going ago to work since that is the primary societal narrative. Yet I have actually actually love it. As shortly as ns picked up my son from daycare the first time and saw the he to be okay, ns relaxed. I have been earlier in the office because that three and a half months now. Of food I miss out on my baby. But I gain to usage my brain and talk to adults and if I desire to go grab a sandwich for lunch, I deserve to do that without having actually to load a diaper bag.

“I have made an initiative to talk around how happy ns am to be back at work to friends and also coworkers in an initiative to dispel few of the ‘every mommy secretly wants to be at house with the baby’ stereotype.”

It has certainly made a big difference that I have an office of my own with privacy come pump, and also a supportive rectal that enables me to continue doing so. It’s a continuous juggling act, however being earlier at work has actually made me a far better parent. As soon as I am v my son, i am thankful to be through him and also not dreading the long expanse the day to fill. And when he is at daycare and also I’m at work, I know that he is safe and also learning. I have actually made an effort to talk about how happy ns am to be back at work-related to friends and coworkers in an initiative to dispel several of the “every mom secretly desires to be at house with the baby” stereotype.

Erin, 32, technologySixteen weeks

To it is in honest, that was quite positive. Mine company noted 16 main paid and also at the end of it i felt excited to go back to work. The change back was, as expected, one adjustment in ~ first, yet my team and family to be both donate which made a large difference. Ns due through baby number two in November and feel very optimistic around the process being simply as smooth.

Margo, 35, digital marketing specialistThree months

A complete nightmare. An actual waking nightmare. My daughter had feeding and weight worries that we were still trying to type out. (It turned the end she was pooping blood since she was allergic to both dairy and also soy. What a fun an enig to solve that was!) ns hadn’t yet had actually a full night of sleep and also wouldn’t because that months and months after, since she didn’t sleep through the night until after she to be one.

I don’t know how I did it, and I’m one of the lucky ones. Ns cobbled with each other 10 mainly paid and only had to take 2 unpaid. It honestly humbled me to mine core and also made me militant in my belief that all brand-new parents require at the very least six month paid, minimum.


Only 14% of us civilian employees in 2016 had access to paid family members leave, follow to the Pew research Center.

Lindsay, 36, certified publicly accountantEleven weeks

My experience has actually been positive. Ns am maybe to set my own pump schedule and also have a clean, nice space to carry out it. Ns am may be to change my hours to leaving on time to obtain my baby from daycare. I have the right to work from residence when I need to. I deserve to go come all baby appointments as essential without penalizing my payment time off. My just criticism is i wish I obtained my complete paycheck while ns was out, rather than the 60% mine short-term impairment provided.

Melinda, 37, beforehand intervention routine managerTwelve weeks unpaid

I can only go back component time because of my infant’s needs and my own health and wellness issues. It to be extremely difficult to find quality and affordable care, pump enough milk because that him to be fed once I no there, but additionally impossible to pay the receipt without my job. And it feels devastating to not be able to rest and also enjoy your baby, and also to go ago to occupational when you’re tho barely getting any type of sleep. Ns am thankful my employer to be flexible and understanding, otherwise the would have actually been impossible, not simply hard! This is a huge part that the factor I only have one child.

Ashley, 28, teacherSix weeks

“It honestly humbled me to mine core and also made me militant in my belief that all new parents need at the very least six months paid, minimum.”

It was tough leaving my newborn daughter v someone that I had only recently met. It’s even more an overwhelming finding adequate time come pump and the stress and anxiety of producing enough is at time unbearable. My rectal is much more than accommodating, but being a teacher makes it daunting to leave the college student during class not understanding if they’re acquiring the aid that castle need, let alone discovering that their habits changes as soon as I’m no there. That a catch-22: ns love my job. But I miss out on my daughter.

Cynthia, nonprofitEleven and a half weeks

Two kids at two different jobs. Both unpaid. Ns was a destructive after mine first—colic, no sleep, came ago to a huge pile the work and also pumping accommodations the maybe simply barely met the law. Wasn’t spanned by FMLA with the second, to be warned I might be fired and also advised to take an even much shorter leave. mine department and also coworkers to be much an ext supportive, though. They had pumping space and no one seemed mad once I took time through my baby on leave or to pump.

Annalyn, 25, mammographerEight mainly

I’m a first-time mom and I knew ns would miss my child but didn’t recognize it was going to be as complicated as the turned out to be. My heart ached everyday and still does even with her at 7 months old. As lot as I would certainly love come be residence with her, I always think around how hard I worked for my degree and also how fulfilling my project is. I sometimes feel selfish for thinking that, however I’m so damn proud of what I’ve accomplished career-wise that i can’t offer that up, in ~ least just yet. I wish we might stay house with our babies for much more than the 12 weeks some employers enable (if you eligible for FMLA the is), due to the fact that there’s so lot growth and self-discovery that our babies go with that we miss out on.

Jenn, 30, teacherFive months

“I wish i had an ext time to bond and understand my new life together a mother.”

I occupational for a super-awesome, alternative-options, year-round high school program. I had five months payment time off while working from house 15-20 hours a mainly to expand it as long as possible. All my coworkers are really supportive of breastfeeding and also understood as soon as I had to pump, as most of them have actually kids.

Susan, 35, nannyFour weeks

I said my ceo I’d require “at least a month” off before coming earlier to work. unpaid, so ns really can not afford any kind of longer. He construed that to mean 4 weeks and also scheduled me come be ago 28 job after my baby was born. Somehow ns felt choose 30 or 31 job (a whole month!) would have actually made a difference, but I guess not lot in the end. I’m happy though, I acquire to lug my baby v me and also I deserve to breastfeed anytime I require to.

Jennifer, 43, content editorTwelve weeks

disorienting. Ns was grateful to be back in a an ext familiar element, but I to be sleep-deprived and had a difficult time capturing up. At three months, my infant still wasn’t resting through the night, so us were waking up every three hrs (or less) to she cries. And also while my work had actually a lactation room because that nursing mother to pump, it to be windowless, dark, and also depressing. Plus, since I was having actually a difficult time developing milk, ns would constantly take much longer than I had planned for, which would eat right into the time I needed to spend catching up on work. So I ended up providing up top top breastfeeding less than a month after I had returned come work. Ns don’t know just how women do it with even shorter maternity leaves.

Sheena, 38, software program engineerFour and also a half months

It to be hard. My project had actually been taken over by someone else and all the other great projects to be snapped increase also. I shed a most momentum and also it take it me a year to acquire it back. And also I to be pregnant again, so I lost the chance to watch my job through.

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Gail, 41, chefFour months

It to be complicated. A component of me was ready to work-related again, and also another component of me knew i was absent out top top being with my baby. Because that my last child, I had started a family business, so as soon as I went ago to work, she went through me. A niece met me at job sites wherein I worked making the food. She would hold my infant on website while ns worked and also bring she to me when it was time to nurse. After ~ a few months the that, she went to day care with she brother and also sister. I had actually to give her formula then, another decision that was facility for me. I constantly thought I would certainly be a continue to be at house mom, but it transforms out i am not.