Jen's Maternity Leave
This summer, and coinciding with our twentieth wedding anniversary, we found out we are expecting baby number four, a welcome surprise and our first girl! In lieu of baby gifts, we are asking for contributions toward my maternity leave fund....WHATEVER YOU CAN AFFORD HELPS! We want to give our baby the gift of mom at home. (If you prefer to send a check, please mail it to PO Box 2578, Purcellville, VA 20134). Read our story below, and thanks in advance for SHARING with your friends!
Top to bottom, L to R: Andrew Baker (10th grade), Bill Baker (Dad), Jennifer Warren-Baker (Mom), James Baker (2nd grade), Isaac Baker (age 5, starting Kindergarten in 2016)
Who is Jen?
Jen - that's me, or "Miss Jennifer," as my piano students address me. I am Jennifer Warren-Baker of Purcellville, Virginia, USA: wife to a hard-working husband, mom of three boys, and owner of a local music business ( www.piano2go.com). I teach piano lessons in clients' homes each week and play for parties, events, shows, weddings...just about anything. What little spare time I have is spent advocating for arts in the schools, chairing arts/music contests, playing for shows and school concerts, and volunteering as a PTA business sponsor.
I have spent my life ministering to and investing in others. I could have settled for a desk job with a Defense contractor, but I feel this (in addition to mothering) is my calling and purpose in life. Whether at the church piano or teaching jazz improv to a five-year-old, my mission has centered on blessing others with my musical gifts. It has been my joy to give piano lessons to hundreds in my area over 15 years. Some of my students have gone on to attain music degrees and launch successful music careers. Along with my husband's job, this small business plays a large role in providing the most basic needs for my family, but I have no maternity benefits or paid leave at all. If I miss a lesson or take time off from gigs, I don't get paid (nor is it ethical to ask my clients to pay for services that I cancel).
Baby Girl Baker - Sept. 14, 2015, 20-week ultrasound
Who is this fund for?
This is not so much for me, but for the unborn daughter who will join our family late January/ early February. Her layette is complete. Our friends and family have generously donated all the warm sleepers, diapers, and blankets that she will need. Our medical insurance through my husband's company will pay for a large portion of the birth and medical bills.
But our baby will not have time to bond with her mama (me!) before I am forced to prematurely re-open my business for economic reasons. With baby's arrival just a couple months away, we need to fund my maternity leave so I can take a few weeks off with my baby. So why does this fall entirely on our shoulders?
The US lags behind other countries in maternity leave coverage, especially burdening self-employed moms.
Paid maternity leave for all hard-working moms should be a HUMAN RIGHT. This not a feminist issue or a partisan cause of the Democratic party. It is a human rights issue. Government-sponsored maternity leave for hard-working contributors to our workforce is not welfare; it is a country's way of valuing hard-working families, mothers, and babies, babies who will positively contribute to our country's economy in future years. It is no wonder that abortion rates are so high in the US; the economic burden of a having a baby here and taking time off to establish a healthy start for that baby is HUGE, if not impossible for the working and middle class. Women often feel like there is no choice but to abort.
This is heartbreaking. As advanced as the US is economically and technologically, we fail miserably at giving our newest citizens the best start and a chance to thrive. ( http://www.workingmother.com/best-companies/everyone-us-state-maternity-leave)
If you think I'm making this stuff up, watch this factual video by PBS: ( http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/u-s-support-paid-family-leave-one-pay/)
Unlike the rest of the developed world, the US is the ONLY developed country that does not offer PAID maternity leave (FMLA established by the Clinton adminstration only offers UNPAID leave). Women business owners like me -- often major breadwinners for their family -- are especially penalized for taking a few weeks off with their newborn. The income they would otherwise be making is simply lost, at the precise time that uncovered birth and maternity care expenses are coming due. It is a double-whammy.
Not only do self-employed mothers lack paid maternity leave; these leaders in their community have no paid sick days, no paid vacation, disability coverage, or unemployment eligibility to allow for even a short hiatus; to take a few weeks off, heal from childbirth, and establish a critical bond with their helpless infants. Countries in western Europe offer an average of 16 weeks of paid maternity leave -- even for self-employed mothers (I've done the research). Instead of a worry-free recovery from birth, female entrepreneurs and uncovered women workers in the US must endure emotional stress and financial pressure on top of postpartum pain and physical exhaustion.
But how did we fund maternity leave for our other three children? Simply put, we had to get creative. For my first child in 2000, my husband had a thriving limousine business and it was the middle of prom and wedding season. Baby Andrew arrived in mid-May. We were in a good financial position and I was able to take most of the summer off. After the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the travel industry grinded to a halt and our limousine business slowly disintegrated. Bill was forced to take a lower paying position with a transportation company, while I built my business up to compensate. For my second child, I was the main breadwinner and we relied on my income to survive. Reluctantly, I had to sell my grand piano, my most prized and loved possession. It was a huge sacrifice, but it created a two-month maternity leave fund.
The third child...
With my third child, I didn't have any valuables to sell and was still the main breadwinner. I returned to work two weeks after he was born and my body was not fully healed. As I handed my precious son over to a truly wonderful nanny, I suffered brain fog and exhaustion in those early weeks of working full-time. It didn't seem fair to baby or me, but that is what I had to do. I want this time to be different. I want to give my daughter the best start possible. This fund is for her benefit more than mine.
But what about the child dependent tax credit?
Even the child tax credit will not help with our baby in early 2016. We must wait until the beginning of 2017 to reap the benefits of that.
Please, no gifts for our baby!
I can't emphasize this enough. We have everything she needs materially. What our baby really needs is time to bond with her mother and establish breastfeeding. She deserves the full attention of a stress-free mom who knows bills will still get paid while not working. I also need the time to heal. In lieu of gifts, we are asking that our friends and family (and community members that are so moved) -- make a small contribution to my maternity leave fund. I have never asked for help like this before. This is not my style. I pride myself on my self-reliance and industry, values that this country was founded on, and qualities that have allowed me to double my piano-teaching and performance business while pregnant (yes, I did that). But now my body is slowing down. I have done all I can do for my little girl and my family. I will work until my water breaks, but I need to leave the rest to God. And I have faith that God will provide.
How will this fund be used?
All funds raised will ONLY be used for my maternity leave; to replace my lost income over 4 - 6 weeks. This money will be used toward our family's basic living expenses (food, housing, utilities, fuel, and medical), so that I am able to stay home with our baby girl for an adequate amount of time. We are humbly grateful for even the smallest donation you can give.
When do we need these funds by?
Our baby is due February 5, 2016. Since babies often arrive earlier than expected, we would like to have met our goal by January 5, 2016.
Thank you for taking the time to read this. Your support means so much!
Yesterday we were featured twice on national television, first on The Today Show (NBC) and then on Home and Family (The Hallmark Channel). Our local Christian radio station in Washington, DC (WGTS/91.9) also featured my story on their morning show, although I've yet to hear it. I've provided the links below.
Today Show: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OY43wQ6ohk0
Home and Family: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9o_3CF5HnNM
I have come under some criticism for my approach to funding my maternity leave. Some are calling it inappropriate, tacky, and even self-serving. If this were the case, then why are thousands of women now following suit and standing up for themselves and their babies? It's simple. Mothers know in the most primal, instinctive way, that the bond between mother and newborn is sacred. It is a bond that should be fiercely protected by society. This truth, while denied by our government, is understood as natural law throughout humanity and the animal kingdom.
Baby showers and material gifts pale in comparison to time with our children. Birth IS a big deal. Women DO need support after the birth, both economically and emotionally. Every working woman deserves time to recover from childbirth and bond with her infant without the economic pressure to resume work while she is still bleeding. If women can buy some more time with their newborns through crowdfunding, then we should all be stepping up to donate, at least until paid leave legislation is in place.
Let's stop bashing women who are doing whatever they can to protect the sacred union of mother and infant. There is nothing selfish about protecting your infant's health, development and well-being; not to mention the benefits of a rested, healed mother. Paid leave, however obtained, helps keep the bills paid, rent caught up, and families united. It is a win-win for both the economy and families.
My emotions today are mixed, and I am about to disclose something I have not talked about publicly. I suffered terrible postpartum depression with this fourth pregnancy, a derailing affliction that was probably rooted in money worries. My anxiety peaked in my third trimester. Surging hormones didn't help the situation. Until now, I wore my stoic superwoman mask, admitting defeat to no one. But for nearly three months, I was living a private hell, drowning in despair. Having endured two natural, unmedicated births (now three), despair was not in my vocabulary. I was a fighter. To be crushed by worry at the joyous advent of life -- this was out of character for me, and symptomatic of a much larger dysfunction in our anti-family culture.
In my ninth month of pregnancy, I experienced uncontrollable crying every time I got in the car to drive to my piano lessons. At one point, I was so distraught that my midwives' practice told my husband to take me to the hospital for a mental health evaluation. I was [barely] deemed fit to go home and decided to self-medicate with counseling and prayer. We couldn't afford another hospital co-pay and I needed to save my Gofundme funds for AFTER the birth. Maybe the baby absorbed my stress hormones, because she was (inexplicably) breathing very rapidly when she was born and, as we know, spent four days in the NICU. I wonder...if a calmer mommy would have produced a baby who's vitals did not resemble those of a panic-stricken gazelle running from the jaws of a lion. She is fine now, but I continue to blame myself.
As for my recent silence here, I have not had the energy or time to do much but care for my children and business. I am as useless as roadkill at 8:00 every night; every fiber of my being is depleted and dead. But I march onward, wondering why six months of paid leave is not universally mandated, or why I can't get an inexpensive helper as Amish families do for their new mommies. On top of piles of laundry to wash, casseroles to compose, and PTA duties to resume, I have wedding contracts to prepare, invoices to get out, and wait-listed students to enroll...because I have to. But at least I had nearly two months at home with my baby before I had to get back to the grind. Without your help, I was looking at two weeks -- at best.
As to why I stopped campaigning when I was still short of my $5000 goal...let me explain. You see, we weren't expecting the January blizzard to bring my husband bonus snow-plowing income -- just like we weren't expecting this beautiful baby blessing to waltz into our lives. The fact that God provided abundantly in His perfect timing is a testimony to His perfect and all-knowing love. Who cannot marvel at the serendipitous timing of this windfall? The blizzard was -- an answer to prayer.
With the money donated by you and the extra "snow pay," we managed to stay afloat for seven weeks while I tried to figure out when I was going to take a shower. You, my friends, and God...met our need completely. It seemed greedy to keep squeezing money out of our self-produced pity party, even though we could have used it for hospital and midwife co-pays. Actually, I'm glad we could stop campaigning -- because it really feels unnatural, almost shameful, to ask your friends for money. But should it? After all, it takes a village to raise a child. Should there be shame in asking our personal, faith, and work networks for help? Bearing one another's burdens is a noble calling. It may have become culturally unfashionable (relying on insurance, banks, and government is the norm), but it is what God calls us to do.
A reporter for a national television station called me today to interview me for a story about this new trend in crowd funding maternity leave. She came across my campaign online. We had a great conversation. I don't know where this will lead, but the plight of leave-deprived US moms is gaining national attention. And God is, perhaps, using our little story in a bigger way than I ever anticipated. If women unite to tell our stories, then perhaps we can ignite change on a larger scale, helping future generations to bring new life into the world with the security and support they deserve.
Where the government fails, you see, God is bigger, and He uses us in our weakness. Early on, I thought that perhaps all moms should use this platform to fund their maternity leave (it works so well). After all, our government is far less effective at supporting new life than a passionate mommy armed with internet fund-raising tools. But no. She shouldn't have to. As one friend stated, mommies should be focused on raising their babies, not raising money for leave from work. We can improve on unpaid FMLA leave, and we must.
Thank you again for helping us out in our time of need. We couldn't have done it without you, and our family is eternally grateful!
In case you aren’t friends with us on Facebook, we had our baby on January 14 (Thursday) at 8:23pm. She is a beautiful brunette with blue eyes, weighing nearly 7 pounds. Virginia Louise flew into the world three weeks early, after a routine ultrasound revealed low amniotic fluid levels, suggesting a poorly performing placenta or that the baby had stopped recycling fluid. Our midwives and the antenatal team at the Birthing Inn recommended that our baby girl be delivered immediately. We were not ready, but trusted that God was in control.
Labor was induced around 12:30pm. The midwife broke my water at 5:30, and our precious girl arrived at 8:23pm. Despite worries about the placenta disintegrating, I delivered a healthy, intact placenta.
Although her initial assessment was excellent (Apgars were 9 and 9), Virginia’s breathing was still rapid 15 minutes after birth, so she was taken to the NICU to monitor her respiration, pulse, and oxygenation levels. Her body was getting plenty of oxygen, but her rapid, labored breathing suggested fluid in the lungs. A chest x-ray confirmed a fair amount of fluid in the lower left lung (we had been through this with our first baby, so we were not alarmed). Sometimes all the fluid doesn’t get pressed out in a rapid birth, or the baby aspirates fluid during the birth. But they have to check for infection, just in case. Blood cultures were taken to see if there was infection in the lungs. All the cultures came back negative, but we had to wait three days for them to come back. In the meantime, she was treated with IV antibioitics -- just in case. The antibiotics were stopped when the possibility of infection was dismissed. Just before she was discharged, her bilirubin level became elevated, but was still ok. We had been through this with all three of our previous babies, so we were not alarmed and were glad it was being monitored. We had to come back to the hospital for bilirubin checks twice over the next few days.
Our baby was discharged on day four, but we spent the entire first week of her life traipsing back and forth to the hospital and pediatrician’s office. The high bilirubin levels made her so sleepy that she wouldn’t nurse. I had to bottle my breast milk and feed her bottles until she was strong enough and awake enough to nurse. This was upsetting as I had never had trouble breastfeeding.
I spent the second week of her life home alone with three kids and a newborn in a historic blizzard which dumped 3 feet of snow in 24 hours. My husband was called to work snow emergency, and had to accept the extra income since I, of course, have no paid maternity leave! He will return to his primary job on Monday.
So here we are….exhausted, delighted, and bewildered by the unexpected turn of events. We are beyond blessed to have a live, healthy baby at our ages (even if her lungs and liver were slow to transition), and we are thankful for supportive friends.
Though I miss my students and piano, I am in no shape to go back to work yet. I want Virginia to have as much time with mama as possible. Please consider a donation to my maternity leave fund if you are able. The unexpected NICU stay will put additional strain on our finances. Even after insurance, we expect a sizeable bill.