There’s a pretty standard list of small talk questions that people ask when they find out you’re expecting the arrival of your first child.
“How’s your wife feeling?” (Good! The beginning was rough but she’s doing well now.)
“Do you know what you’re having?” (A girl)
“Do you have a name picked out?” (Yep, but I’m not telling you what it is.)
“Do you get paternity leave?” (Four weeks paid actually!)
When answering this last question, I was aware that InkHouse’s parental leave policy was significantly more generous than many companies when it comes to time off for dads or secondary caregivers. I knew dad friends and acquaintances who had returned to work just days after the births of their children. But until I actually found myself in the bleary, sleepless throes of the first weeks of my daughter’s life, I didn’t appreciate just how valuable of a benefit this was.
A recent study of new parents in Sweden found that paid leave for the other parent made a significant positive impact on mothers’ postpartum health. Having the other parent home in the early days after a baby’s birth led to measurable decreases in anti-anxiety prescriptions to postpartum mothers, and reduction in hospitalizations and antibiotic prescriptions. In short, parental leave, or lack thereof, can have a profound impact on a new family.
When I was hired at InkHouse, my wife and I had recently found out we were expecting our first child, but we hadn’t gone public with the news yet. I tried to subtly squeeze questions about paternity leave alongside ones about FSAs and health care policies so as not to too obviously tip my hand. The response to my inquiry was one that ultimately helped seal the deal on the position at InkHouse over another position I was pursuing at the time:
“If the father is the primary caregiver, he may take 12-weeks’ time at 100% pay. If the father is the secondary caregiver to the mom or co-parent, he can take up to four weeks at 100% pay. There is no minimum length of service required to utilize this benefit.”
Last November, my wife endured three heroic days of labor at the hospital before our daughter Grace was finally delivered, via c-section, on Thanksgiving morning. We had not planned on a c-section delivery but of course knew in the back of our minds that it was a possibility. But right away the recovery calculus changed, as you are advised after a c-section to rest as much as possible, not drive for two weeks, avoid stairs and not lift anything heavier than your baby.
Any new parent will tell you how challenging the first few weeks at home are. You barely sleep. You’re constantly wondering if you’re doing things right or wrong, now fully in charge of another human’s life. My wife’s recovery from major surgery on top of the already overwhelming experience of bringing a newborn home tested us just that much more. And I couldn’t have been more grateful, that during this time, I wasn’t preparing to return to work or worrying about client calls, pitching reporters or trying to secure coverage.
Instead, I was able to make impromptu runs to CVS for the things we inevitably needed, get up for the middle of the night for diaper changes and treks down to the kitchen for bottle washes and glasses of water, drive Aly and Grace to their respective follow up appointments and spend plenty of time with an adorable sleeping baby on my chest.
Almost seven months later, I think about how those early days were hard but unforgettable, and I’m fortunate to not have missed a minute of them. Being given time to get to know our daughter, experience the joys and challenges of fatherhood and to become a family together was an immeasurable benefit.
This Father's Day, I hope other companies start to prioritize paid leave that provides fathers support and care for their spouses and children in these crucial first weeks.