On Your Mark, Give Birth, Go Back To Work Tricia Olson gave birth to her son and was back on the job three weeks later. Like most Americans, she doesn't get paid family leave, and she's among the 40 percent who don't qualify for unpaid leave.
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On Your Mark, Give Birth, Go Back To Work

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On Your Mark, Give Birth, Go Back To Work

On Your Mark, Give Birth, Go Back To Work

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KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

American working parents do not have it easy. They are pulled in a lot of different directions.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: It's about the busiest I've ever been.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: When I was in labor, I was responding to emails and receiving calls for work.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: Does my life feel sustainable - no.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #3: You're rushing to get home for your child care. You're not sleeping well. You're probably not eating well.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #4: Even just pumping one time at work makes getting through the day a lot more challenging.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: In a way it feels like I'm kind of set up to fail.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #5: (Laughter) I feel like I have three full-time jobs, yes.

MCEVERS: In a series we're calling Stretched, we are stepping into the world of working parents. And today we meet Tricia Olson of Rock Springs, Wyo.

TRICIA OLSON: I work for a small company. We do towing, and we do U-Haul rentals.

MCEVERS: It's a really small company. She is one of four employees. For the past 12 years, Tricia has dispatched tow trucks, kept the inventory straight, handled customers. In August when she was at the very end of her pregnancy with baby boy Gus, she started keeping an audio diary.

OLSON: My boss has been amazing and hilarious, and we keep joking about how long I'll be out for and how the place is going to fall apart without me.

MCEVERS: The amount of time Tricia is going to be out with Gus - two weeks, maybe three. Like most American workers, she has no paid parental leave. She actually has no paid leave at all, no vacation or sick days. So she negotiated with her boss to take the time off unpaid. She and her husband couldn't afford to go any longer without her paycheck, and even if they could, her boss was under no legal obligation to say yes to more time. And while this is one of the happiest times in Tricia's life, she also feels bad.

OLSON: Even just that two to three weeks makes me feel guilty - leaving them without someone there. And it's such a small business, anyways. There's only three of us in the office Monday through Friday. And two of them are tow truck drivers, so they're gone whenever the phone rings. So leaving them without sucks a little bit. It's also necessary because my son will be here tomorrow, and that's a crazy thought.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GUS: (Crying).

OLSON: So I'm a mom. That's weird to say. It's been a quick couple of days, and wow, yeah, a lot's happened - kind of made myself a little nest in the corner of my couch and put a garbage pail next to me and his diapers and wipes and his bottles. I don't even have to get up.

And I sat on the couch with him in his Rock 'n Play and took care of him for the first night. And I didn't do too bad I think (laughter). We've got some learning to do, so it's going to be interesting. It's going to be fun. I'm excited and already so in love with him (laughter).

GUS: (Crying).

OLSON: I know.

OK, so I've got Gus on kind of a schedule. So I was getting stuff out and getting stuff ready for when he wakes up, and it got me thinking about something that having a short maternity leave made me decide. We'd gone back and forth on whether I was going to breast-feed or bottle-feed. And while it wasn't the reason, having such a short time to be home really encouraged me to actually bottle-feed because I only have two - possibly two weeks, maybe three. We really don't know yet.

But I can spend those two weeks bonding and learning how to take care of him, or I can spend those two weeks trying to learn to breast-feed. And while it comes easy for a lot of women, it can be extremely difficult for a lot of women. And while I could, you know, breast-feed and then when I go back to work, I could pump, my office is actually glass, so there's not really a place that you can pump that's not extremely visible (laughter) from the street.

Again, there was other reasons that made me decide to do bottle, and I'm super happy with it. It's letting me enjoy this little bit of time that I have. But I wonder if it had been different if I had more time at home.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

OLSON: It's the first day back to work today. We did a trial run with the sitter last week to make sure she had all the things that she needed and that I brought her everything. And every time I meet with her, I feel more comfortable with her, so that's really awesome. I'm going to drink all the coffee - all the coffee - and stuff my pockets with Kleenex, and that will be my day.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

OLSON: I dropped Gus off at the sitter's, and I only lost it for a little bit just as I was leaving. I know he'll be fine. I just wish I could be there, not here. But finances don't really give me that option (laughter).

We have to work, have to have money. The house bill's not going to pay itself, and we will make it work - don't really have a choice. I'm just glad he gets to be with people who will take care of him and make sure that he's OK till I can be there.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MCEVERS: Here's the thing. Tricia Olson's story is not unusual, at least not in the U.S. Jody Heymann of UCLA's World Policy Analysis Center says when it comes to parental leave, the U.S. is an outlier.

JODY HEYMANN: So there are 193 countries in the United Nations. Of those, completely remarkably, 185 provide paid maternity leave. That's nearly everybody. Who doesn't - just Papua New Guinea, Surinam, a few small South Pacific island states and the United States of America.

MCEVERS: We're going to talk about all this over the next couple of weeks in this series about working parents. We're calling it Stretched. If you are one of the many people out there juggling kids and a job, we want to hear from you.

How much time did you take off with your baby? Was it enough? Tell us in a voice memo on your smartphone and send it to us at nprcrowdsource@npr.org. Make sure to include your name and where you're from. Tomorrow, a warehouse manager from Alexandria, Va., tells us what it's like to be a working dad in America.

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