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7 Things a New Mom Wants Her Boss to Know

Back in 2009, I was given seven weeks of paid leave after having my baby—six from maternity leave, one from vacation time. (I kept my few sick days for the inevitable doctor's appointment or childcare mishap … or, you know, for when I was actually sick.)

At the time, it felt like I hit the lottery. Paid leave! It's what U.S. political dreams are made of, the stuff of pop-culture scrutiny and outrage. We're the last industrialized country to offer paid leave to new parents—hell, the last country period, minus Papua New Guinea (a place where, according to good ol' Wikipedia, is "potentially the worst place in the world for gender violence"). So to get this kind of perk was a big deal.

RELATED: 12 Reasons Moms Put Their Dreams on Hold

And yet as those seven weeks ticked off, one sleepless night bleeding into the next (keyword: bleeding; my goodness, the blood!), I realized how downright torturous it was to leave my teeny-tiny baby, still eating every few hours around the clock and too young for a routine or schedule of any sort.

As for me, my breast milk was barely stabilized, meaning I was still suffering from peaks of engorgement, still waking up with one breast twice the size of the other, still phoning my lactation consultant on a regular basis. My uterus was finally shrinking down to size, but my undercarriage was still sore (especially for a two-hour commute). And then there were my postpartum hormones.

But like so many women, I needed the salary. Even more, I needed the health insurance. So back I went, sobbing all the way.

Nine months later, I quit. It was a complicated decision, of course, but the long required hours, expensive childcare and crushing heartache were too much. I cracked under the weight of it all, leaving in pursuit of more flexible work. (Luckily, I found it.)

While the country holds its breath for some national government recognition and help, many companies are stepping up and figuring out how to give new parents the time and flexibility to not only heal from childbirth, but to transition back to work in a reasonable way. These companies—like Johnson & Johnson and Vodafone, both of which recently significantly expanded their maternity leave policies—can be an example to employers everywhere, a new standard to aspire toward.

Not all of us are so lucky. Many employers are stuck in an antiquated "get back to work" mentality, without seeing the fuller picture. And so on behalf of all new moms, here are some things we really wish our employers knew.

1. We do want to work/need to work

We have mouths to feed. We have an example to set. We're going to show up for work because we have to.

You could look at motherhood as the ultimate diluter of ambition and goals, or you could see it as a tremendous motivator to contribute to the world in a meaningful way, and to support our family in a way that we need.

We have mouths to feed. We have an example to set. We're going to show up for work because we have to. I didn't quit my job because I didn't want to work; I quit because it was flipping impossible without losing my mind.

2. We need to heal

A number of things have changed since the frontier closed, but the female body is not one of them.

More companies are expanding their maternity leave packages for longer than the standard six weeks—the very minimum that it takes for our bodies to heal from the trauma of birthing a human freaking being. Silicon Valley tech companies led the way: Google offers 18 weeks, Facebook offers 17, and many others are starting to catch up. Take Accenture, for example, which recently doubled its paid maternity leave to 16 weeks.

But not many are.

Even among Working Mother Magazine's "100 Best Companies" list, the average length of paid maternity leave is only seven weeks. And take it from me, those are seven rough weeks.

In the Daily Beast's "Why Are America's Postpartum Practices So Rough on New Mothers," writer Hillary Brenhouse details how drastically different our postpartum expectations are to the rest of the world.

"America might begin by conceding that the postnatal period ought to be a formal, protected, well-monitored term and that any woman who does not adequately and restfully observe it is putting herself and her infant at risk," Brenhouse concludes. "Perhaps if we started talking about the time and energy it actually takes to recuperate from childbirth, women wouldn't feel the need to return as quickly as possible to 'normal.' A number of things have changed since the frontier closed, but the female body is not one of them."

Dear employers: Giving new mothers more time to recuperate isn't just nice—it's humane.

3. It's really hard right now, but it won't always be this way

We're caring for tender helpless creatures at their peak neediness.

Telecommunication giant Vodafone recently changed their maternity leave policy, adding 16 weeks of maternity leave, plus the opportunity to work part-time at full pay for the following six months, after finding that 65 percent of the women who left after maternity leave did so within the first year back.

That's because the first year is brutal, unlike any other stage of parenting. We're not sleeping, as a rule. Our hormones could still be out of whack—not because we're weak or stupid, but because we're stuck in these human bodies with biological realities. We're caring for tender helpless creatures at their peak neediness. And have you ever known the torture that is a teething infant, dear employer?

It's harder in that first year than it'll most likely ever be. Which brings me to …

4. The phase-back transition is important

For many moms, going back to work is like leaving a vital organ behind every day.

More companies are starting to realize the obvious: It's not just about the maternity leave. Jumping back into full-time work can be emotionally and physically demanding (which reminds me, dear employer: Pumping is not a luxury; it's a right).

For many moms, going back to work is like leaving a vital organ behind every day; we feel the ache of its absence. Good, strong, smart women have been reduced to tears, and just as Vodafone found, it can cause talented women to quit within that one-year time frame. I was one of those women.

Vodafone giving new parents the opportunity to work 30-hour weeks at full pay is huge. So is Johnson & Johnson's new policy, which gives an additional eight weeks of paid leave (on top of their existing maternity/paternity leave) to be used any time during the first year.

"This new policy is in addition to our current leave policies, which means moms who give birth can take up to 17 paid weeks off," said Peter Fasolo and Lisa Blair Davis in their "J&J and the 21st-Century Working Family" announcement. "The time doesn't need to be taken consecutively, so our people can enjoy some much-needed flexibility during such a critical time in their lives."

5. Flexibility is everything

The keys to success are institutionalizing flexibility with a company-wide policy of individualized arrangements for each woman that has support from the CEO.

In many industries, "flexibility" is synonymous with laziness, weakness and the much-feared Mommy Tracking.

Writer Lisa Endlich Heffernan takes on this idea of "mommy tracking" in a fresh, insightful way for Vox.com, arguing that it just might be the answer:

"Some of the companies that have been successful at retaining and promoting women have done so with an explicit 'mommy track,' although they don't label it as such," said Heffernan. "Rather than shying away from creating a path for women that involves part-time work or leaves of absence, they have embraced it."

The new policies at Johnson & Johnson and Vodafone are good examples of this.

"The keys to success are institutionalizing flexibility with a company-wide policy of individualized arrangements for each woman that has support from the CEO," Heffernan continued. The end result? The loyalty and retention of their female employees.

Case in point: The consulting firm Deloitte has a "Mass Career Customization" program that allows employees to either dial up or dial down their careers—their role, pace, workload and schedule—during twice-yearly evaluations. These kinds of programs offer women more flexibility and control over their careers throughout the various seasons of life.

According to Heffernan, Deloitte's CEO Cathy Engelbert (the country's first female CEO of a major audit and consulting firm) almost left the company when she was pregnant in the '90s. Instead she asked for the flexibility she needed during different points in her life, and they gave it to her. Clearly it worked out for her and for the company.

And with today's telecommuting capabilities, it's never been easier to create the flexible schedules that parents need.

6. Childcare is a problem

It's not what most moms want. Is that what society wants?

One thing I hear over and over again: "My salary would barely pay for daycare; it just wasn't worth it."

According to a Pew Research report, more moms are opting out of employment after they had children than in the past two decades—and a lot has to do with daycare costs.

"This isn't a case of Sheryl Sandberg backlash. Or of conservative values seeping into advances feminists have made over the years. It's a business decision, especially for two-income families with more than one child," writes mom.me editor Madeline Holler in "Taking Out Loans for Day Care?"

According to Holler, today's families are paying 70 percent more in childcare costs than they did 30 years ago. "In many cases, it would be more expensive to work than to give up an income until the kids enter kindergarten. It's not what most moms want. Is that what society wants?"

It's not always about the work; it's about reality.

Many of the companies in Working Mother's "100 Best Companies" have on-site childcare centers, including AOL, Discovery Communications and the healthcare company Abbott. Many others, like MassMutual Financial Group, offer subsidized tuition and discounts for childcare.

Take note, employers.

RELATED: How to Prepare for Motherhood in 17 Simple Steps

7. We can still get our jobs done, and do them well

When our basic needs are met ... we're better workers.

When our basic needs are met—when there's genuine compassion and care for employees as humans, not just workers—we have more focus and dedication. We're better workers. We're better people.

And as all of the research and policy changes indicate: Retaining talented women is better for business, too.

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