More leave for multiples?

DONNELLE BELANGER-TAYLOR
Last updated 09:00 03/10/2012

Having a baby can be stressful, expensive, exhausting and draining. It can affect your mental health, your relationships, and your physical wellbeing.

The effects are only increased when you're having two or more babies.

After all, you're more likely to have pre-term infants (54 per cent of twins compared to 9.6 per cent of singleton births), more likely to be recovering from a c-section (around 59 per cent of twins), and more likely to be affected by postnatal depression.

People don't plan on twins. That surprise sonogram shakes your world. Your careful budgeting starts to look inadequate when you discover that you'll have greater expenses and that you're likely to have to stop working earlier.

Paid parental leave in New Zealand is currently 14 weeks (and unpaid leave of up to 38 weeks on top of that). Since (on the recommendation of my obstetrician) I had to stop working at 28 weeks pregnant, I ran out of paid parental leave when the twins were six weeks old. At six weeks, I was struggling to deal with a growth spurt that saw me feeding babies for 16 hours straight, and using nearly 100 nappies a week. I can't imagine having to go back to work then.

We were luckier than many families. We could get by on one income for a few months, though our credit card took a hammering.

But I had to return to work when my twins were five months old. They were waking multiple times a night (each) and I had an hour's commute with them (each way). Basically I ran myself into the ground and ended up having to resign, on the brink of a nervous breakdown. It was the right, the only decision we could make at the time, though financially, it has been extremely difficult.

There is a bill before a select committee which would extend paid parental leave to 26 weeks, thus enabling parents to spend longer with their babies at a critical time, as well as easing the financial impact on many families. If my paid parental leave had been longer, I would have been in a much better physical, mental and emotional place to return to fulltime work. Three months more is a long time in a baby's life.   

Not everyone's experience will be the same as mine, but I fully believe that extending paid parental leave would give parents time to adjust to their new, demanding role, and give babies the best chance to develop a secure attachment.  After all, "attachment is a powerful predictor of a child's later social and emotional outcome".

I'm not alone in this belief; a recent flash mob at Britomart gathered submissions to be sent to the select committee. (To make your own submission, go to 26forbabies.org.)

When the topic of extending paid parental leave arose in April, Hamish wrote a post that received many comments along the lines of "if you can't afford babies, don't have them".  The proposed bill has received similar comments, that New Zealand is not in a position to fund an extension for all families.

But maybe it could be extended for the 900 families who are blessed with multiples each year.  

It's Multiple Birth Awareness Week. As a mother of twins, I know how all-consuming the reality of multiples can be.  To all the parents of multiples out there: well done on getting through the day-to-day. To the committees of multiple birth clubs: thank you for all your hard work!

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