Written by Aimee Hart, public affairs strategic communications coordinator for Human Capital Strategy
In February 2016, the Coast Guard extended its maternity leave policy from six weeks to 12 weeks. Since then, over 50 active duty mothers have utilized the new maternity leave policy. In order to ensure the policy is achieving its objectives, the Commandant has tasked the Office of Diversity and Inclusion (CG-12B) to undertake an assessment of the maternity leave policy as an initiative under the Human Capital Strategy (HCS). The assessment has included gaining qualitative data by interviewing commands and members to gain a sense of their experiences with maternity leave.
This post highlights two dual-military couples that have had children under the new policy and how this new policy has affected their personal and professional lives.
HS2 Bonnie and HS2 Jonathan Baker:
The Bakers are petty officers currently stationed in Kodiak, Alaska. Bonnie is a corpsman at Base Kodiak while Jonathan is the corpsman aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Spar, a 225’ buoy tender. Recently, the Bakers welcomed their first-born, a daughter, into the Coast Guard family. As new parents they faced the same fears faced by many of caring for a newborn. But, when Bonnie heard at the beginning of her pregnancy that maternity leave had been extended, she was relieved. “I knew that this extra time would allow me to get to know my daughter and not have to worry about sending her to the Child Development Center (CDC) at six weeks old.” Once Bonnie knew how long she would be out of the office, she found the most difficult part to be preparing for maternity leave. “It was hard training other people to do my job and let go of the reins and accept that I would not be able to step in and take care of things when needed.”
Jonathan, the lone corpsman aboard the Spar, did not get underway with his crew for a patrol, but prepped the sick bay and temporarily assigned duty (TAD) corpsman well in advance. “I had to get all of my monthly and quarterly inspections done for Spar’s six-week Arctic Shield patrol so that our TAD corpsman had everything they needed while I went TAD to Base Kodiak. Though the TAD corpsman was extremely capable, I still worried about the crew and that I wouldn’t be there to care for them if they got hurt.”
When it was time to go to the hospital, Bonnie encountered a hard first-time experience with epidurals. “During my delivery, I had to have four different epidurals because I was having spinal headaches, which are these super terrible headaches that can only be solved by getting a different epidural. I was pretty much bed-ridden for the first two weeks after giving birth. Having Jonathan at home was paramount because he cared for the baby while I rested. I don’t know what I would have done. I honestly would’ve had a mental breakdown about it. I wouldn’t have been able to do it on my own.”
Jonathan was able to take ten days of paternity leave but his command allowed him to supplement that with 18 days of regular earned leave. “Parental leave is so necessary and fantastic. I learned so much about being a parent in those few days than I ever thought I would. I think that comes with the territory but being able to be home the entire day and see how her processes work was really pivotal to me being a better parent.”
Jonathan and Bonnie were very appreciative of the 10-day paternity leave and command-approved additional leave; however, were very aware that their situation could have been different. Many new fathers throughout the service, especially stationed overseas and on cutters, are faced with the burden of returning to work after their paternity leave only to leave their new child for three months or longer. “If this forward-thinking military has all of these initiatives to promote gender equality, we should embrace the fact that parenting is a job for both mothers and fathers. Many studies show that companies that extend paternity leave, those babies grow up happier and healthier.”
For Bonnie, it’s simple. “This new maternity leave policy shows that the Coast Guard values families. There is a saying that gets thrown around that ‘Your kids were not issued in your sea bag so deal with it.’ I feel that this new policy pushes that mentality and says ‘No, your kids weren’t issued in your sea bag, but they are still important and that we care. We want you to have a happy home life as well as a happy work life.’”
“If I had had to go back after six weeks of maternity leave, I would not have been as productive at work,” reflects Bonnie. “Having these 12 weeks with my daughter, we have established a lot of milestones and routines and I feel like a better parent. I am going back to work with the peace of mind that she will be healthier and better adjusted at the CDC while I am back at work.”
LT Amanda DiPietro and LCDR Josh DiPietro:
The DiPietros are both currently stationed in the Base National Capital Region, one at the CG Yard in Baltimore and one at CG Headquarters. They have two daughters who were born under the previous six-week maternity leave policy, and one new son, born just a couple months after the implementation of the 12-week maternity leave policy. “I had been planning and prepping for six weeks of maternity leave at work and had prepared my relief with a great pass down. When I learned that I had 12 weeks, I was overjoyed to learn I would have more time to recover and bond with the baby, but just hoped my designated relief would be able to handle the busy summer schedule. The loss of control over how work was being done certainly concerned me,” Amanda said. Though both worried about projects at work, Josh was confident in Amanda’s planning abilities. “The beauty of a nine-month pregnancy is that you have that long to create a good transition and sustainment plan, and Amanda did just that.”
When having her first child, Amanda was a port engineer in Boston and her supervisor had arranged for another port engineer to take over her dry dock projects. “In order to make it work, I had to take personal leave and adopt a flexible teleworking arrangement due to our inability to get our child into daycare in time for me going back to work. I also had a C-section in that first delivery, and it had taken six weeks just to fully recuperate from that surgery. In preparation for my recent 12-week maternity leave, I prepared much more extensively by briefing my command early on about the timing of my leave, especially since our unit would rotate one-quarter of its workforce over the summer while I was gone.”
Once on maternity and paternity leave, Amanda and Josh worked as a team. Josh was able to support the logistics with pharmacy and food runs and took care of their two young daughters while Amanda cared for the newborn. The two older siblings had some trouble adjusting to a new baby, and Josh helped them feel loved while Amanda worked on bonding and feeding the baby, which proved a little difficult for the first week. Knowing that this new addition to the family would need some TLC, Josh had preemptively requested an additional 20 days of regular leave to supplement his 10-day paternity leave so as not to overwhelm Amanda. “The result for us was a better transition and normalization of our family routine. We really bonded as a couple and as a family during this time away from work,” Josh emphasized.
“I was really happy to have Josh for the first month of my maternity leave,” Amanda affirmed. “Josh was underway for our second child’s birth and it had been taxing on our immediate family who flew out to help Amanda during her maternity leave. This time though, with 12 weeks and my husband to help I didn’t have the stress and worry of figuring everything out in six weeks, like having a good supply of milk for the new baby for daycare. It was great to really slow down the rushed feeling of getting back to work where I could instead really focus on my new son getting the love and support he needed to develop into a strong 3-month old.”
The one challenge they still faced well into the maternity leave were the daycare waiting lists. Though they had filled out the application packages for multiple daycares in the area very early on, including the Naval Support Activity Annapolis CDC, they were still on the waiting list 10 weeks into Amanda’s maternity leave. Had the maternity leave time been shorter, this clearly would have been a stressful situation, especially since they didn’t have any local family support, which is often the case for Coastie families. “Another very positive aspect of the longer maternity leave was the fact that I was able to take my new son to all of his appointments for shots and that he had more time to develop before I had to put him into daycare, which was a much more positive experience,” said Amanda.
Amanda acknowledged, “I was very eager to return to work because I felt secure in our family’s new routine and the time off energized me and gave me confidence in our family’s ability to meet our new challenges. I was extremely grateful to be given this time by the Coast Guard.”
One anxiety Amanda felt when she learned of her pregnancy was the concern of her next OER, which was the last before her promotion board. “I did have concerns of how my absence would affect my selection for O-4, especially as this was a new command and I had just established myself in our office. I am very grateful to my command, who was very supportive of me and my professional development in the time leading up to the board and my maternity leave. Their support was a key contributor to performing well in my job and to a successful selection to O-4.”
“We are very thankful for this policy,” Josh stated. “It’s actions like this that really show the Coast Guard is dedicated to the well-being of its people. When you make this policy a priority, it speaks the strongest to young families. We recognize that these types of policies must be more difficult to enact in our small service compared to our DOD counterparts, so it really displays our Commandant’s devotion to improving the work-life balance of our service members. It’s wonderful that the big Coast Guard family made this investment in our little Coast Guard family.”
For expectant parents, there is also the option to request a temporary separation to allow time for the care of a newborn child. To learn more about Temporary Separation (TempSep) see our recent All Hands blog.
As Coasties across the service grow their families, the Commandant has continued to show a deep commitment to improving their work-life balance. Many initiatives under the Human Capital Strategy (HCS) have the objective of making changes that matter to not only our active duty and reserve service members, but also to our civilian contingent.
As we share new policies coming out of the Human Capital Strategy, we hope you will subscribe to the All Hands blog and the Paratus Report to ensure you get the latest updates on how the Coast Guard is working to fulfill its Duty to People.
To subscribe click here.