Autumn Benton 0

More Childcare Options at OSU as Part of A Family Friendly Culture

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To Whom it May Concern:
I have been a Couples and Family Therapist for 8 years, working at the Counseling Center at OSU (CAPS) for the last 3.5 years. I want to provide some background to illustrate my personal investment in advocating as a mother, an OSU employee, and a mental health professional, for systemic and cultural shifts across the university to evolving into a more family-friendly, supportive environment. In order to best nurture the growth and development of Oregon State’s student body (which I – and we – are in the business of), I believe we must holistically nurture the faculty and staff who serve them. This is not about simply providing lactation rooms, willingness to flexibly accommodate parental leave following childbirth, or offering flexible work hours outside of the traditional full-time, 9-5 our society is so accustomed to. It is about being at the forefront of adapting to the needs of working parents and families in the 21st century. A culture in which a parent’s ideal needs drive their return plan following childbirth is viewed as optimal not only for the family, but the larger system as well (since it may increase retention and productivity) is something I believe we (my generation of working parents, our organization as a whole) are capable of co-creating.

I had my daughter Iris about 2 years ago. Becoming a mother, and the family adjustments that came with this rocked my world! I felt ill prepared for the exhaustion, intensity, and emotions that followed her birth. About halfway through my 4-month unpaid leave, the reality of returning to work and not yet having childcare secured hit full force. Iris was nursing every hour and a half. I tried to imagine being away for 9 hours. I couldn’t imagine it. We did not even have a place for her to be! I struggled with insomnia, terrified of the lack of caregiving options and not sure where to turn. I had my breast pump from my insurance company, and Iris’s name on 4 very long, ominous waitlists. I clung to the memory of the the passion and joy I had found in my professional life prior to Iris, and tried to remain hopeful about discovering a solution. I was able to get in touch with my deepest needs through the realization that I wanted to return to work part-time, not full time.

I feel so much gratitude even as I write this, that my supervisor worked with me upon my return and I have been able to stay in a part time role permanently. I can honestly say that the individuals at Oregon State’s decision to facilitate this change for me made the difference between my staying here, and going elsewhere. My first day back at work, I did not yet know whether or not I would be able to stay on at CAPS part time. My daughter was with my partner. And I cried getting on the elevator. I felt like my heart was being ripped out of my chest. I was lucky enough to see her at lunch to nurse. In the midst of the pain and upheaval that was the transition back to work following birth and becoming a parent, I sought solace in my friends on campus, confiding in them, and identifying with shared struggles. I am grateful to my background in mental health, as it enabled me to recognize the power of connecting with others rather than retreating when in pain. As I opened up, and listened, time and time again I heard similar stories about adjustment to parenthood, motherhood, and the pain and stress surrounding career decision-making, balancing finances, and arranging childcare echoed again and again. I was not alone. I am not alone.

One friend who returned full time at Oregon State when her son was 3 months old, told me she cried “everyday.” She was exhausted trying to “do it all,” but drove across town to his daycare to nurse him during her lunch break, often missing time to eat herself. She lost weight, and when we talked expressed some hopelessness about her situation improving; she identified that she could barely make a needed doctor’s appointment because she had used all of her paid leave during her maternity leave.

My other friend came back (also at Oregon State) when her baby was just 10 weeks old so that she could financially afford to start up part time initially, as full time felt so overwhelming. At 10 weeks postpartum she was still in the throes of chronic pain, as she literally broke her back birthing her baby in the posterior position.

Are these stories unusual? I do not think so. Would available, affordable, on-campus childcare have made a difference in the lives of these new parents? I absolutely believe it would have. Again, availability of such care ideally would just be one component of a larger cultural support of parents as whole people, people striving to maintain health and balance as they go through one of the most significant life changes we experience as human beings. The needs of the families I have mentioned included flexible schedules/work from home options, lactation rooms, and interest in part time work as well.

I am far more fortunate than many of my colleagues and friends who work at OSU in that my parents live in town, and had agreed to watch Iris on days my partner and I both worked indefinitely until she got in at Beaver Beginnings. Indefinitely. Indefinitely turned out to be almost 3 years. I do not know what we would have done in the absence of multi-generational familial support. To have placed Iris in a care center that I did not feel comfortable with would have been deeply unsettling at best, detrimental to the emotional and mental well-being of our family at worst.

Thank you for listening to my voice; the voice of a Millennial, a mother, a therapist, a daughter, a friend, a colleague, a CAPS employee. I hope to add my passion, dedication, and support to efforts to shift the culture of our university to one that is supportive of families (whether of students or faculty/staff), and work life balance. I want to continue to feel the sense of pride I do about being part of this organization, that strives to make the values they proscribe to a lived reality for all. As a next step, I plan in the coming weeks to collect employees signatures on this letter for people to whom this letter speaks. My hope is that each name signed represents support of increased childcare options at Oregon State University,

Autumn Benton, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist/Staff Counselor at CAPS

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