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Linzay wearing a white top smiles in front of a colorful bookcase

Navigating Parental Leave: Podcast Episode #173

Kristin discusses the ins and outs of navigating parental leave with Linzay Davis, Founder of The Park.  You can listen to this complete podcast episode on iTunes, SoundCloud, or wherever you find your podcasts.

Welcome.  You’re listening to Ask the Doulas, a podcast where we talk to experts from all over the country about topics related to pregnancy, birth, postpartum, and early parenting.  Let’s chat!

Kristin:  Hello, hello!  This is Kristin with Ask the Doulas, and I am so excited to chat with Linzay Davis today.  Linzay is the founder of The Park, and she is a mom of two.  The Park is a consulting agency which is focused on helping businesses create equitable and inclusive parental leave policies and programs that support women and keep them in the workforce after they become moms.  Six months after returning from her own maternity leave, Linzay quit a job that she loved because becoming a working mom of a newborn and a toddler in the middle of a global pandemic became too much.  She quickly realized the system for working moms in the US is broken, and so she started The Park to fix it.  Welcome, Linzay!

Linzay:  Hi!  Thank you so much for having me!

Kristin:  So what an awesome story to really see a problem and go ahead and start a business to hep make it more equitable in the workforce.

Linzay:  Yeah.  I mean, I had such a challenging time through my maternity leave and then getting back to work as a working mom, and I figured I couldn’t possibly be the only mom out there struggling with all of that.  So I created The Park to hopefully make it a little bit easier for all of us moms that are trying to make it all happen.

Kristin:  Yes.  So tell us a bit about The Park and how companies can connect with you.

Linzay:   Yeah.  So like you mentioned, I started The Park because I had just not a very pleasurable maternity leave situation.  It was unpaid.  I had no idea what I was doing.  I thought I had set myself up for success and my team when I went on leave, but I had such a small team, and when I got back to work, it just was like, this is – I never felt like I was going to get my head above water.  And if you live in a state – like, I live in California where we have state-sponsored leave, and it’s just so challenging to navigate.  And there’s so many nuances, and there’s so many parts of maternity leave that are historically holding moms back in the workforce.  And I saw the gender inequities, and so I decided that I needed to get that information out there.  So I started working with companies to help them make more equitable and inclusive parental leave policies so that they can have a more diverse workforce that includes moms because so many women leave the workforce after they have babies because it’s just too challenging, and maternity leave is a big part of that.  So I work with companies to make their policies better.  I work with moms to help them navigate maternity leave.  I make reels upon reels on Instagram just to help moms figure out how to apply for statewide sponsored leave programs, and how do you even write your out of office email when you go on maternity leave.  So that’s all to say, check me out on Instagram.  I’m @theparkconsulting everywhere.  LinkedIn, Instagram.  My email is linzay@theparkconsulting.

Kristin:  Awesome.  So, Linzay, let’s get into really understanding your options and rights and also just having that uncomfortable discussion with your superiors about, say, a pregnancy announcement, having that initial discussion and then really setting up your leave, any sort of temporary help that may fill your role while you’re on leave, and what it might look like coming back, whether it’s part time – I’m sure you do that with your consulting, of what’s the best for you and your family, coming back full time, part time, working remote a couple days and then in the office.  So how does that look for you as far as your consulting role?

Linzay:  Yeah.  Well, how much time do we have, because I feel like that’s such a loaded question.  I could talk for hours.  I’ll try to keep it short.  So, yeah, when people think about maternity leave, they think about this, like, golden rule of 12 weeks, and they go on leave, and they come back, and everything is perfect and fine.  But really, when I look at maternity leave and parental leave, I look at it so much farther.  It’s so much more encompassing.  It’s the weeks and months before you go on leave.  It’s the weeks and months that you’re on leave.  And then it’s the weeks and months that you return to your job, as this new person.  You’re a mom now.  Everything has changed, and society doesn’t really set us up to really accept that new person that we become when we come back to work.  So that’s all to say, I think that it’s so important to support moms, even before your baby is a glimmer in your eye, before you’re even pregnant, before you’re thinking about adopting.  Like, think about your options.  Consider your options.  What’s your parental leave policy at your office?  What’s the culture like?  Have people gone on leave before?  It’s not too late if you’re already pregnant or if you’re already in your adoption process to think about these things, but I encourage women to think about this far ahead of time so that they’re not pregnant and feeling like they’re up against a wall and have to figure everything out when their hormones are in flex.  I know for me, I was crying every day about everything, so, like, maybe think about it before you get to that point.

Kristin:  Yes!  In your family planning, yeah, include that, and also just your plan career-wise for moving up within the company you’re at or on to other jobs.  So, yeah.

Linzay:  Yeah, exactly.  We spend so much time at work, so make sure that it’s a place that you enjoy being at, because even especially once you have your baby, it’s going to be a place that is really pulling you away from your family.  So make sure it’s a good place to be and the culture is accepting.  But so going back to just the first things, like telling your boss that you’re pregnant, like I said, look at the culture.  What is it like?  Can you just go to your boss and be like, hey, I’m so excited to tell you I’m pregnant, and your boss is going to give you a hug and say, amazing, that’s awesome.  Don’t worry about anything yet.  We’ll take care of everything down the line.  Or do you have a promotion on the line, or do you have a review coming up in the next few weeks?  Legally, you’re protected when you tell your boss that you’re pregnant.  Culturally, though, that might not necessarily be the case.  And I don’t want you to be the martyr.  Unless you’re willing to be, but don’t – if you’re going to have a review or promotion that’s something that’s really important coming up in the next couple of weeks, maybe you wait just a couple more weeks and hide your pregnancy if you can.  But also remember that once you tell your boss, you’re now protected under several polices and protections through the federal government and likely through your state government, also, that make it so they can’t fire you for being pregnant.  Because we all know that used to be something that happens, and hopefully it’s not happening anymore.

Kristin:  Exactly.  So every state has different laws as far as breaks, but of course for breastfeeding and pumping moms, having the dedicated space to be able to pump and store milk and take those breaks is also a big part of navigating coming back to work.  How do you work with companies in that way and really making sure they’re set up, especially those that don’t have a lot of female employees?

Linzay:  Yes.  So like I said before, we go back to work at this magical 12-week mark – hopefully later – and we’re just supposed to go back to work like nothing has changed.  But unfortunately, a lot has changed, and you are likely – or there are a lot of moms that choose to breastfeed, and when you don’t have your baby at work with you, you’re going to have to pump.  And so legally, we are protected.  All new moms when they go back to work are legally protected to take break time to express milk whenever they have the need to do so.  And we also are legally protected to have a safe, comfortable space to do this.  And the safe, comfortable space is a room with no windows on it, or if there are windows, it has a screen on it and a door that locks.  So you’re not in the bathroom.  You’re not in, like, an office that people are going in and out of.  You legally have these rights.  So if you get any pushback from any of your managers or supervisors that say that you can’t take this time to pump, they are legally in the wrong.  So it’s so important to advocate for yourself and know your options and what you’re legally entitled to.  So just stand up for yourself.  Advocated for yourself.  And when you go back to work, you’re just this strong, badass mom, so, like, remind them of that.

Kristin:  Indeed.  And also, I mean, navigating childcare.  So you had a child during the pandemic, and it is more challenging to find a childcare center, licensed in-home childcares, like, all of it is so much more challenging during pandemic times than even before, and even then, you had to get on a waitlist as soon as you knew you were pregnant.  So navigating the times for pickup and drop-off and the sick policies and your own flex and vacation and sick days that would need to be used if your child was sent home from daycare, for example.

Linzay:  Yeah, it’s complicated.  Like, I was ten minutes late to our call this morning because I had to take my kids to the doctor this morning, and things just took longer than I expected.  If I wasn’t talking to a doula, maybe that would have been a little bit more complicated to explain, but it’s so important to – that’s why I was saying earlier to plan ahead.  If you’re at a workplace where you don’t feel like the culture is supportive of taking time off when your kid is sick or if you need to take them to the doctor, really evaluate where you are.  I’m not saying, like, jump ship and go get a new job right away, but that’s why I think it’s so important to think about not just your family planning and you having – when you and your partner decide to have a baby, if you have a partner, but also everything else that comes with it.  And when you go back to work, having someone trustworthy to watch your baby and having the time off to be able to watch your baby when that falls through or if they have a doctor’s appointment is so important.  So think about that ahead of time, and look at the culture of your company and see what they expect and what they’ve done in the past.  Stand up for yourself.  Maybe gather a team around you, if there’s other women in your office and the culture is not what you want it to be.  Like, maybe you can create an ERG, an employee resource group, and create one for moms and change the culture so that it is supportive and your manager does understand you can’t go to work because you have to take your baby to the doctor, or your daycare falls through.  There’s so many moving parts.  All the moms know.  I’m preaching to the choir here.

Kristin:  Exactly, and even if you have a nanny in your home, if the nanny is ill, then you need to stay home.

Linzay:  Yeah.  Backup plan B, plan C, plan D.

Kristin:  Exactly.  And hopefully your partner has a flexible schedule and vacation and flex time so the partner can also, you know, share in the load as far as just managing everything.  And when you have more than one child, it gets even more complex than just the newborn.

Linzay:  Yeah, I tell my doctor all the time when I take my kids to the doctor when they’re sick, like, I don’t know how people do this.  How do they have more than two kids?  Because I feel like we’re constantly sick and constantly at the doctor.  But we all make it work.

Kristin:  Exactly.

Hey, Alyssa here.  I’m just popping in to tell you about our course called Becoming.  Becoming A Mother is your guide to a confident pregnancy and birth all in a convenient six-week online program, from birth plans to sleep training and everything in between.  You’ll gain the confidence and skills you need for a smooth transition to motherhood.  You’ll get live coaching calls with Kristin and myself, a bunch of expert videos, including chiropractic care, pelvic floor physical therapy, mental health experts, breastfeeding, and much more.  You’ll also get a private Facebook community with other mothers going through this at the same time as you to offer support and encouragement when you need it most.  And then of course you’ll also have direct email access to me and Kristin, in addition to the live coaching calls.  If you’d like to learn more about the course, you can email us at info@goldcoastdoulas.com, or check it out at www.thebecomingcourse.com.  We’d love to see you there.

Kristin:  And so now again with pandemic times, there’s a lot more remote working and flex working, so how are you navigating this with both employers and also your clients who are planning for their leaves, or if they are working from home, how to separate the mother role from their time on Zoom and deadlines and really trying to get back to where they were production-wise output?  That can be very challenging, even with a postpartum doula in the home or a nanny.  There’s still the cries that you respond to, things that need to be done, so distractions.  So I’m sure you do some coaching on staying focused and even setting some breaks within the schedule to see your children.

Linzay:  Yeah, so COVID was a really terrible thing that we all went through, but there were some silver linings, and one of those silver linings was everybody had to stay home and figure out how to work from home.  And there are definitely pros and cons to that.  Working from home is great because you don’t have your commute.  You can work in your pajamas.  Like, you’re there for – say if you have a newborn and your nanny is taking care of your newborn, and before you were going into work and having to pump.  Well, now you can just take quick little breaks to go breastfeed your baby.  But you’re at home, so you hear every single cry.  Every single whine, every time that somebody needs a snack, you can hear it through your office door.  And it can be so challenging.  So like you said, setting some really good boundaries and setting expectations with your managers, with your family members, with your caregivers.  It’s going to be the best path to success.  And also, setting yourself up for that.  Like, knowing that you’re going to be at home and you’re going to hear your baby cry, and it’s going to be okay because you trust your caregiver to take care of them and learn their needs.  We all know that mom knows best, and you can just go in there and swoop them off their feet and do whatever you need to do and then they’re going to be a happy kid, but then your caregiver is never going to learn to have those intimate moments with your child.  So that’s all to say, setting expectations with yourself and with everyone else involved; communicating with them.  Letting your boss know that you do have a baby on the other side of the wall, and if you really need to in the middle of a meeting, take a moment to go soothe them or feed them or whatever it is.  Let your boss know ahead of time so it’s not this thing that becomes a negative.  It’s just part of your work schedule that needs to get done every day.

Kristin:  Exactly.  We work with a lot of executive in Gold Coast that really do focus a lot on that planning during maternity leave and want to set themselves up for success when they return, so they hire either a sleep consultant and/or our overnight postpartum doulas to ensure that they’re getting rest, and then when they’re back to work, they have a system in place.  So they may have an overnight doula three nights a week.  So they have at least some staggered full nights of rest where someone is caring for baby and they’re able to, again, get back into their career without having so many bumps.

Linzay:  Yeah, I mean, that is one of the most important things for all parents, especially in the newborn stage, but it’s getting enough sleep to even function to go back to work.  This holy grail of 12 weeks that I’ve mentioned is just what we’ve been brainwashed into thinking is the perfect amount of time for us to be this well-rested perfect mom that’s ready to go back to work, but that’s just not the case.  And so having an overnight support system like a doula or your partner is a really good option.  So to share those responsibilities because if you have to go back to work, it’s – you’re not going to be a very productive employee, and you’re going to struggle to be that number one mom if you don’t have enough rest.  So pull in your support system.  Make sure you’re asking for help.  Set expectations with your partner.  When my husband and I had our children, we both decided that, because I had the milk, I was going to be doing the breastfeeding at night, and if the diaper needed to be changed, which it didn’t always need to be – we learned that the second baby.  You don’t always have to change the diaper every single time they wake up.  And then if the diaper needed to be changed, I passed over the baby to my husband, and he took over those responsibilities.  But even better if you can have an outside resource like an overnight night nurse or a doula to help you out with that process.  No shame at all.  You’re just getting enough rest so that you can be a functioning human during the day, especially if you have to go to work.

Kristin:  Exactly.  And again, being sleep deprived, it just adds up.  And if your partner is going back to work within two days or two weeks or whatever that leave is, and it really is falling on you, so they could be rested to again get back to work and have the regular pressures of everyday work life.  So I think really the importance of asking for help, whether it’s family, friends, hiring help, and then also understanding the signs of perinatal mood disorders.  Being sleep deprived is one of the biggest factors.  So I’m sure part of what you’re seeing is also, like with that plan, is if you’re dealing with a client who’s struggling, like how do they go to their employer about having a PMAD, whether it’s anxiety, depression?

Linzay:  Yeah.  Well, I have my own story that I can tell from this.  I had put together this foolproof plan, I had thought, of I’m going to take – in California, we can take four weeks off before our due date, so I did that.  And the I was planning to take six weeks of California disability leave if I had a vaginal delivery; eight weeks if I had a C-section, and then eight additional weeks through California paid family leave.  And that was the plan with my employer.  And I ended up having a C-section, so I got those eight weeks, and then I had eight additional weeks through paid family leave.  But I was struggling.  Like, even though I had that time off with my baby, my husband had to go back to work after, like, a week.  I was by myself.  I didn’t bond right away with my second daughter the way that I did with my first, and I just felt like something was wrong, like I was doing something wrong.  There’s something wrong with my daughter.  And I remember going to my doctor and just crying through the entire doctor’s appointment.  And she’s like, I think you have postpartum depression and anxiety.  And it was such a relief to hear that validation and hear that there was, like, something that was, like, described what I was experiencing.  And she gave me four more weeks of disability leave.  And my first thought was, how am I going to tell my boss, because I know they were waiting for me to come back.  They needed me to come back.  And I was having more anxiety because I knew they were waiting for me to come back.  But my doctor assured me that, like, this is okay, and it’s just going to take a little bit of extra time for me to get through this and for me to rest and recover and spend more time with my baby, and those four weeks will go by, and hopefully I’ll be feeling so much better and ready to go back to work.  And I just had to send a note to my manager, and I said, I’m having some complications and I need to take four more weeks off.  And they were super supportive, and legally, I’m entitled to that, so remember, if you’re in that situation, this is your legal right.  And it was fine.  And now I’m feeling so much better.  I have a four-year-old and a two-year-old, and I’ve seen the light.  But I had to get through it, and it was really hard, especially because I knew my job was waiting for me on the other end, like counting down the days until I got back.

Kristin:  Right, and you didn’t want to let them down, but you have to take care of yourself first before you can go back to your employer, before taking care of your children.  And so I’m so glad you said something to your doctor because many women hide it and try to mask what’s going on, and that just spirals even more.

Linzay:  Yeah.  And I did try – I mean, I didn’t necessarily try to hide it.  I thought I was doing better.  Like, I got into the appointment, and she’s like, so, how are you doing?  And I’m like, I know, I’m making it through.  And the triggering question for me is, she asked me – because she wasn’t there for my delivery.  She’s like, so you had another C-section, and I had done everything in my being to try to have a VBAC, and that’s when I just exploded with tears and couldn’t stop.  And I think there was a lot that came from me having a failed VBAC that aided in the postpartum anxiety and depression that just made me spiral even more.  So I’m glad my doctor asked me that question so that I could be more vulnerable.

Kristin:  Exactly, yeah.  To be heard and tell your story.  Yeah, there is that fear of failure, especially for VBACs.  There’s a lot of pressure, and you obviously work very hard to try to achieve that, so yes.  I mean, there can be some posttraumatic stress after a birth that needs to be resolved, and again, talking to a therapist or your doctor or a friend, writing out a birth story, can all be helpful tools.

Linzay:  Yes, very helpful.  They were very helpful for me.

Kristin:  So any tips on really understanding your rights and options in your own state and how to navigate the system?  Obviously, California has amazing maternity plans.

Linzay:  Yeah, well, amazing is – it should be the norm everything.

Kristin:  Compared to many states.

Linzay:  But yeah, so my first tip is, like I said before, plan ahead.  So before you’re pregnant, or if you’re already pregnant, look into your employer’s policies.  If you’re interviewing, ask about their parental leave policy.  Find out that, so that when you do get pregnant, you already know what your options are, and you didn’t get a job right before you got pregnant that doesn’t offer any leave, or maybe they offer a really great policy, but you have to be there two years, and you’ll have only been there a year.  So look ahead.  Find out what your employer’s policy is.  The standard for the United States, the federal law, is through FMLA, the Family Medical Leave Act.  That is not through your employer.  That’s through the government.  And that offers you 12 weeks of unpaid job protection, which is good, but not great at all.  Basically, your employer – if you qualify.  They have to have 50 employees and a few other qualifications.  They have to hold your job for you for 12 weeks.  But that doesn’t mean you’re getting paid.  So that’s when you need to look into your state options.  So if you live in a state like California, New York, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, you are going to have something that you can take advantage of, a benefit that the state offers you.  And some cities even have additional laws.  Like, I just read Birmingham, Alabama, is offering 12 weeks of paid leave to all of their city workers.  And I know San Francisco has some really great policies that go above and beyond what California offers.  So look into what your employer offers.  Look into what your state offers.  And know that there’s going to be some general federal policies like FMLA that protect you, but you’re not going to get paid through them.  So look into other avenues like state, local, and your employer to figure out how you can get paid while you’re on leave.

Kristin:  Excellent advice.  And I love that you and The Park is focused on really helping companies retain their workforce, so you’re not only helping working women, but it is so hard to retain talent and attract new talent.  I mean, the workforce is so competitive right now.  So companies can work with you in order to not only retain their workforce, but also attract new.  And I feel like maternity plans are becoming more and more competitive.  Like, many companies are now adding doulas to their benefits, for example.

Linzay:  Yeah.  I used to be in HR communications in the Bay area, and I can tell you some wild offerings that some of these larger tech companies offer.  Anything from, like, fertility treatments to – some offer 52 weeks of fully paid leave for both partners, no matter what their gender is, and like, I look at those, and I’m just like, how is this – like, this is amazing, and how can we make this the norm for everyone?  Because we’ve been brainwashed.  The United States has no paid parental leave policies, and we’re the only wealthy country in the world to not offer anything.  Other countries offer lots of things for new parents.

Kristin:  Oh, yeah, a year paid?  For sure.

Linzay:  And we’re the only ones, and we just think it’s normal, but it’s not.

Kristin:  No, not at all.

Linzay:  Not at all.  So yeah, I work with companies to try and make their policies better, and I use better with air quotes because that’s going to be different for every company and what their employee population looks like.  I try to encourage all of my clients to create policies that are equitable.  So what that means, it’s the same for all genders.  So we’re not using terms like primary parent and secondary parent.  What does that mean?  Or even birthing and non-birthing because there’s so many different ways for families to start families these days, and we don’t want to leave out people or make people feel like they’re being singled out by saying birthing and non-birthing or primary caregiver.

Kristin:  Right.  With surrogacy, adoption, so many different opportunities.

Linzay:  Exactly.  And it’s so important for gender equity in the workplace for men to be taking the same amount of leave as women.  We’ve been historically, like, just told that women need more time than men, and men can go back to work after two, three weeks.  Maybe if they’re lucky, they get six weeks.  And the woman stays home for at least 12 weeks with the baby.  But what happens in that discrepancy, in those ten weeks?  That’s a lot of time that the man can be at work getting a promotion, getting a salary bump, while the woman is at home taking care of her baby and probably getting looked over for promotions.  Or maybe there’s this big travel opportunity that’s coming up, and women will just get overlooked completely because we just assume she needs to be home with the baby.  So I advise all of my clients to look at all of their policies from a gender equity lens to make sure that they’re not even not purposely saying things and doing things that could be setting women back in the workforce.

Kristin:  Yes.  You’re doing so much important work!  I really appreciate you sharing all of your wisdom with our audience, Linzay.  I could talk to you forever.  So let’s collaborate.

Linzay:  Thank you!  It’s been so fun.  I could talk about this all day long.  So if you ever want me to come back, I’m here.

Kristin:  Okay.  So, again, why don’t you share your social media links?  I know your website, and you’re on LinkedIn?

Linzay:  Yeah, LinkedIn, you can find us @thepark, but also if you want to follow me or connect with me, I’d love to chat if you have any questions.  I’m on LinkedIn as Linzay Davis.  I also post a lot of reels, like I mentioned earlier, about, like, how to take advantage of your state-sponsored leave programs or just how to navigate parental leave in general.  So you can find us on Instagram @theparkconsulting.  And if you have any questions, like even if it’s very specific to you, you’re not the only one that has that question, so DM me.  Ask.  And I can – if I don’t know the answer, I’ll find out for you, and we can share your question and answer with the world so that some more moms can get some help if they have that same question, too.  So don’t be afraid to reach out.  I love hearing from moms.  That’s my favorite part of my job.  So reach out.  I’d love to hear from you.

Kristin:  Thank you so much, Linzay!  Take care:

Linzay:  Thank you!  Bye!

Thanks for listening to Gold Coast Doulas.  Follow us on Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube.  If you like this podcast, please subscribe and give us a five-star review.  Thank you!  Remember, these moments are golden.

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