‘ternity in the Foreign Service
For the last month, our blog — much like our lives — has been devoted exclusively to the newest, and most demanding, member of our family.
We feel incredibly fortunate to be able to spend this much time with Munchkin without having to worry about much of anything else. We had planned for D to be home for three weeks before the birth and four weeks after, but because Munchkin arrived a little early, we’ll end up having five full weeks together before D has to return to Moldova. We’re a little apprehensive about the transition. Clearly, people somehow manage to balance children, jobs, pets, and a myriad other responsibilities, though at the present moment it’s difficult to fathom how. Days fly by lightning-fast and in between feedings and diaper changes we barely find the time to feed ourselves, and even then not always.
Mostly, we are thankful that we have been able to take a time-out from our real lives and responsibilities for as long as we have. Unfortunately, the United States lags far behind many countries in employer support for new parents, and remains one of the few countries worldwide that does not mandate any paid maternity or paternity leave. D cobbled his seven weeks off together with a combination of sick leave and annual leave, figuring that he probably won’t get to take much vacation this year anyway after missing such a large chunk of time for Munchkin’s birth.
Many Foreign Service colleagues are unable to be absent from their jobs even for this long. Although federal employees are protected by the Family and Medical Leave Act, which provides for up to 12 weeks of unpaid medical leave per year, most are not willing to or cannot take the maximum amount of time off. Studies show that Americans routinely forego accrued vacation time because they want to get ahead and fear that their coworkers will view them as lazy and unmotivated otherwise. The same dynamics play out in the Foreign Service, where they are exacerbated by a chronic personnel shortage that leads many employees to prioritize their jobs and office relationships over time off. In Nairobi, D had a colleague whose wife scheduled an induction so that she could deliver the first night he returned home because he felt he could only take three weeks of paternity leave.
Thankfully, Chisinau is a baby-friendly post, with a lot of young children in the Embassy community. D’s supervisor was very understanding and arranged for temporary support to help fill D’s position while he is on paternity leave so that we did not feel rushed. And another colleague, who is also expecting his first son soon, found himself in disagreement with his supervisor because the latter wanted him to take a longer paternity leave than he had requested, which is not a bad problem to have.
Despite his best attempts to live exclusively in the moment, with the current international media spotlight on Eastern Europe, thoughts of Moldova have begun to sneak their way to the forefront of D’s brain. Munchkin’s arrival coincided with the beginning of D’s busiest work season, which will make leaving him to return to work all the more difficult. If there is a silver lining, it’s that we don’t anticipate being apart for more than a week or two, so hopefully D won’t miss too many baby development milestones.