Shameika Rhymes is a journalist of all trades. She’s a former television news producer who has written for outlets like ET Online, ESSENCE, EBONY Magazine, the National Museum of African American Music, Shondaland.com, and WEtv.com.
A new addition to the family is a joyous occasion. It’s a cause for celebration and a time to take a few weeks off from work to bond with your new baby.
But some parents don’t have as positive of an experience in the workplace as others, and that’s not just because of pregnancy discrimination. Even in seemingly women- or parent-friendly work environments, adoptive parents deal with difficult and uncomfortable conversations throughout their adoption process because so many factors are unknown.
Most pregnant women, barring any unexpected issues, can anticipate a 40-week pregnancy with a due date that may or may not be accurate. That due date gives those parents time to prepare for their absence. Adoptive parents, on the other hand, are at the mercy of being matched with the birth mothers and it being a success. If they are adopting internationally, hearing dates are set on short notice, prompting last-minute trips overseas.
In a 2019 survey of more than 8,000 women, InHerSight asked women, if applicable, to share their experiences with motherhood in the workforce, including their experiences with adoption. New mother Angela Opalinski, one of the poll’s respondents, is a business analysis practice lead who adopted her first child. She says her experience with her company wasn’t a great because she didn’t have time to really bond with her newborn. She believes pregnancy and adoption need to be treated equally. “Both scenarios are a transition for any family that requires time for bonding, learning about each other, and adjusting to the new normal,” Opalinski says.
Adoptive mothers are less likely to get paid maternity leave once they get the green light that their new baby or child is ready to be adopted because they don’t qualify for short-term disability since there isn’t a medical need like childbirth, which is what most women rely on for their paid leave. Adoptive mothers can take unpaid leave through FMLA, but paid leave is either accrued vacation time, PTO, sick time, or a program offered by their employer. “It is pretty difficult for a family, especially a growing family, to live without any part of their income, much less the primary income for an extended time,” Opalinski says.
Opalinski had to find another option to stretch her PTO, which included working remote part time. She said while it gave her more time at home, it was stressful. “Adjusting to being a first-time mother while seeing projects through to fruition stressed me out more than anybody could really imagine,” she says.
Opalinski says there are some ways companies could help make the adoption experience easier.
Create Programs for Employees Expanding their Families
“I think that companies need to rely less on supplemental insurance policies to provide the means for people wanting to take the time away when a child is added to a family,” she says. “I fully believe that paid family time off after the birth or adoption of a child should be provided by the company. Additional paid time away should be provided and should be adequate to allow for the family to bond, adjust, and enjoy the time together. It shouldn't be a financial strain on the individuals. I wish that companies viewed a policy such as this as an investment instead of an expense.”
One other way you can potentially maximize your time away from work is to research your company’s maternity benefits and policies and find out if your colleagues can donate their vacation or sick leave hours to help you maintain your income during maternity leave.
Opalinski says upon returning to work that it’s helpful if employers and coworkers remember new mothers are adjusting to a major life change. “After the "congratulations" and the novelty of a new baby wore off, it was back to business as usual,” she says. “One of our core principles at work is ‘Our People Matter,’ but since there were deadlines, the owners of the business seemed to forget that I was dealing with a major life change.”
Use Positive Adoption Language
Let coworkers know to use positive adoption language. Some of the phrases used can be viewed as negative, such as “giving up for adoption,” when an adoption plan was put in place for a child. Another common phrase is “real parents” when referring to the biological parents. Opalinski says things can get awkward when people are wondering why her family went the adoption route. “I think if we can start to show there are many reasons why people choose adoption, it would go a long way in helping people have comfortable conversations about it,” she says.
Add Other Means of Support at Work
Employers can help support adoption through creative workplace activities such as hosting National Adoption Day Events, encouraging on-site support groups for employees who have adopted, and supporting holiday gift collections for foster or adoptive parents. Also, host workshops for employees with local agencies to discuss the process of adopting.
Read more: How to Negotiate Flexible Work Hours
Know that Support is Available
If you’re a parent (adoptive or otherwise), there are resources literally at your fingertips.With the Ovia Parenting app, you can track your child’s growth and development, get daily personalized articles and tips, and connect with an anonymous community of caregivers.
Ovia Health also works with employers to help them create supportive workplaces that encourage everyone to grow their families and their careers. Ovia’s family benefits for employees also include an adoption and surrogacy program—offering even more support for the many paths to parenthood. The Ovia adoption program covers the entire adoption journey: from supporting participants who are considering or pursuing adoption to guiding adoptive parents through bringing a child home and answering questions about adoption.
More employers and corporations need to create a culture that encourages informed employees about family planning choices. For now, keep rating companies on InHerSight. The more information we have about what women in the workforce want, the more we can inform companies about what they can do better.