“It took me four years to have the courage to share this photo. Even now, it’s hard to look at,” Rachael Larsen wrote about an image of herself sitting in a car, staring tearfully into the camera.
“The shame around raising a family and working full-time is real. I took this on my first day back to work after my second daughter was born. I wasn’t ready. My daughter wasn’t ready. She wasn’t sleeping and was extremely fussy. I woke up five times the night before to feed her. I was exhausted. As a majority income source for our family, I was forced to suck it up, put on a smile, and get back to work.”
Larsen acknowledges that she had access to resources that eased her transition back to work—but they still couldn’t erase her unease about returning to work before she and her daughter were ready.
Rachael Larsen on LinkedIn: It took me four years to have the courage to share this photo. Even
“I know that I am extremely privileged,” Larsen continued. “I was able to have some partial pay during my maternity leave and I was able to take 12 weeks off. I had a job that I loved at an amazing company with great bosses. I had a daycare facility that I could afford with great teachers I trusted. But… I was not ready.”
“We need to do more to support parents and families,” she concluded her post. “It may have taken me four years after I knew I’d never have another baby to share this photo. But, I’m glad that I have the courage to speak my truth now.”
Larsen’s post got a lot of attention on LinkedIn, where parents are sharing their own experiences with maternity leave.
“Oh, sweet girl. I’m so sorry,” commented one user. “I know this pain. I know the faking. I know the pumping in a clients bathroom because there are no private areas. I know leaking through my work blouse. I know aching for my infant. I know bosses and coworkers making snide and threatening comments about my hours, my pumping, my outfit. I went back to work two weeks after my younger daughter was born because I didn’t think we could afford to drop to 60% of my income. It threw me into adrenal fatigue and perimenopause. I spend the next 9 years with digestive issues and then had an emergency gall bladder removal. This America is not working for women. We must do better.”
Another person added, “As a single mother of 4, I am solely responsible for supporting my family and I SEE YOU! Girl, it takes a lot to be expecting, to give birth and to heal. But to leave them is even harder, I know. You may be luckier than most, but don’t minimize your pain. It is heartbreaking. It is shame and guilt inducing. It’s a problem in our country. Im proud of you for speaking up.”
“Well said, Rachael,” wrote another user. “There is so much work to do in understanding and reintegrating parents (especially mothers) to work after family leave and in the many stages thereafter. Even the ones that choose not to return need more support. We just roll with the punches of a system that was not designed for us but it does hurt. I don’t think I would have this understanding had I not gone through the experience myself and frankly, can’t blame managers that don’t know how to handle it out of ignorance, shame, fear, etc. BUT that’s what makes this post even more meaningul [sic]. It starts the conversation. “
That’s what’s so important about Larsen’s post. She didn’t share a tearful photo of herself for attention or sympathy. She did it to spark a conversation about this universal experience all working parents go through—seemingly in silence.
You can have an incredible support system and love your job. That doesn’t negate the whirlwind of emotions you might feel when asked to leave your child for the first time.
For so many mothers, 12 weeks simply is not enough time to heal from childbirth. It’s not enough time with your baby. It’s just not enough.
We don’t talk enough about all the difficult parts of postpartum life. It’s time we start speaking our truths, like Larsen. We suspect that if we’re brave enough to share those vulnerable experiences, we’ll find strength together.
This story was originally published on March 31, 2021. It has been updated.