When I was seven months pregnant, I left my COVID-19 screener job to go on pregnancy disability leave. Pregnancy Disability Leave (PDL) is a state law that provides employees the right to take job-protected unpaid leave for pregnancy-related conditions. In order to qualify for PDL, one has to be disabled due to pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions, according to the California Family Leave Laws.

At that stage of pregnancy, it was really hard for me to walk, sleep or even do any other physical activity. Not only that, I was always risking myself to COVID-19 exposure. There were several times when I had to get tested because patients would not follow protocols. It was rough working in an environment where I was always worried about my health and the health of my baby. Not to mention the constant mental exhaustion I had. 

Paid family leave/State disability insurance

To go into PDL, you have to give your employer at least 30 days of notice. PDL provides mothers with up to four months of leave for complications, severe morning sickness or other disabilities related to pregnancy.

While I was on PDL, I wanted to receive some type of income, so I applied into the State Disability Insurance (SDI) program. SDI disability payments are given during the duration of your disability leave, before and after delivery, or as long as the leave is medically necessary. To apply, visit the Employment Development Department.

After I delivered my baby, I decided to take advantage of the Paid Family Leave Act. The PFL allows you to get paid while taking care of an ill family member, child bonding or participating in a family member’s military deployment, according to the Employment Development Department.

If the mother is able to give birth vaginally, she can stay with the baby for up to eight weeks for child bonding. Due to my complications and having had an emergency C-section, I was able to extend my leave from work up to 12 weeks for child bonding, which was great because C-section moms typically need a lot of recovery time. 

Going back to work

When my 12 weeks of leave were over, I knew I needed to go back to work but, just thinking of that made me upset. A lot of moms usually don’t return to work but, I knew I had to and eventually did. I’ve been working most of my life, and that’s how I’m wired in order to feel productive and mentally sane.

 I returned back to work when Levi was four months old.

When I was young, I lived in Mexico, where my mother would take me with her to the tortilla factory where she worked five days a week. Sometimes I washed dishes with her, and when I did, I was paid 25 cents at the end of the shift. When I was in elementary school, I used to sell candy and stickers to my classmates as a way of earning money for myself.

Most of my mother’s jobs had to be what I call “entrepreneurial-type projects,” all of which were created by her. By the time I was in middle school, my mom would take me and my siblings to go sell bolis (ice cream) in a stroller at nearby car washes, laundromats and apartment complexes. We would sell bolis after school, on the weekends and during the summer.

There was a time when she started to work at a shoe store in El Monte. The owner of that place also hired me and my siblings. At the time I was 10, my brother was nine and my little sister was two. My siblings and I would straighten out shoes, take out the trash and together, we would cut out boxes and lay them flat in a pile in the back of the store, a pile so big that it looked like a mountain.

Some days I would be told to call customers on the phone for four hours straight to let them know about our shoe sales. While I was working there, it was common for me to take new sandals to school and sell them to friends at lunch.

By the time I was in high school, I started to sell homemade food with my mom after school to customers at a car wash in Montebello and a bodega near Rio Hondo College. My mom made hot dogs, fish tacos, tamales, tostadas, sandwiches, burritos and more. I was always in charge of collecting the money from customers. That’s how I became a good cashier.

Today, as a young mother and budding journalist, the idea of not returning to work after delivering my son never crossed my mind. I knew I had to go back to work, and I did. My mom began picking up Levi early in the mornings before my shift at work, and I began picking him up after work. As a COVID-19 screener I had to work from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. shift, Monday through Friday. That became my routine every day. It was hard being apart from Levi. During my breaks I would FaceTime my son. My mom would always send me pictures of him and that would make me feel better.

Levi was four months old and I was grateful to see all his little milestones.

Being a screener while having a four-month-old baby was scary. I was super afraid of exposing him to COVID-19. So, I would make sure to follow medical safety protocols at work and go home and shower before I would touch Levi. About three months in, I decided to leave that job to find something else that was within the career I went to school for.

I always knew that when I would become a first time mother that I wanted to spend that first year with him because I wanted to experience every little milestone.

Work and family balance

Thankfully, with the help of my college professor Julie Patel, I was able to get hired at CALÓ NEWS and I’m able to work from home. It’s been a blessing working with them, especially my editor Daniel Vasquez and my co-worker Brenda Fernandez.  CALÓ and the team have been so understanding of my flexibility and my needs as a mother. 

As a first time mother it can be a little overwhelming adjusting to the new you, but don’t be afraid to ask for accommodations that will help you best balance work and family time. 

If there is anything I can help young mothers and fathers with, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me at amairani@latinomedia.org

Follow my Mami & Me columns stories here.

Amairani Hernandez is a native of Los Angeles and a graduate of the California State University of Los Angeles with a degree in Broadcast Journalism. She is a staff multimedia journalist, who focuses on...