Evie's first birthday
Happy First Birthday!

Maternity leave during COVID

By Emma Lieberth Osborn 

I always envisioned what my first year as a Mom would look like. I would have friends and family over to see my baby, take her out in cute new outfits I bought for her during pregnancy, have playdates with other babies and mom friends and travel to see her great grandmother in San Diego. Little did I know, my daughter’s first year of life would be none of these things.

My daughter Evelyn Kathryn, was born on January 4, 2020, just before the world went into lockdown for COVID-19.  The first few months were spent napping, snuggling and watching Downton Abbey, soaking in every second I could with my new baby girl. At around 10 weeks, my husband and I got Evelyn on a good nap schedule in her crib to get her ready for childcare once I went back to work in late March. I bought new containers to store formula, a bag with extra outfits and other necessities I would need to take with her on her first day of childcare at the JCC. As all new moms do, I felt a combination of sadness and excitement. The thought of not being with my baby every minute of the day and learning how to trust others to care for her seemed daunting. But I was also excited to get back to my job in government relations at United Way of Summit & Medina.

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My first day back from maternity leave was the same day our offices shut down and went to remote work. The coronavirus was appearing to be more dangerous and widespread than many of us envisioned and with childcare centers being shut down it would appear I get to stay home and work with my baby girl by my side.

The first few months were stressful trying to build a routine and schedule. From reading months of unread emails to changing diapers to Zoom calls with my colleagues to cleaning bottles to updating our local, state and federal elected officials on our organization and how we pivoted to help those in need during the pandemic to tummy time…some days it was hard to tell the difference between home and work. Some days, there was no difference — if my camera was off on a Zoom call, I was likely changing my daughter or feeding her. When she fell asleep on my lap, I was replying to emails. I wanted to put 100% into my work, but also 100% into being a mom, but as time went on it became apparent to me the first year of motherhood would be equally challenging and rewarding. 

Now, here we are, January 2021, almost a year later. My daughter turned 1 year old at the beginning of the month, started walking (and getting into everything) and I continue to work remotely. I don’t know if working from home has gotten easier or if I have gotten used to it:

  • Knowing if I get up at 6 am, I’ll have 90 minutes of quiet to check my email and make a to-do list
  • Knowing what toys will keep her entertained in her high chair or pack ‘n play if I need to join a call
  • Knowing that nap time will give me three hours in the afternoon to keep up with colleagues, track state and federal legislation on our organization’s priority issues, and schedule my most productive meetings
  • Knowing that it’s okay to stop and take breaks when she needs extra attention – which is good and re-energizing for both of us 
  • Knowing this isn’t permanent and soaking in every extra minute I get to spend with her

While it wasn’t the year I imagined, it’s a year I will never forget. I didn’t get to dress my daughter in some of the cute dresses and show her off to friends at weekend brunch, but I have gotten to be home for her first year of life and experience every new skill, look, mood and milestone. My colleagues have gotten to watch Evelyn grow up on screen — from her first Zoom call at three months to the last one at a year old, she now waves at them and smiles – and they all, always, smile back and wave.

While every part of me wishes our communities didn’t have to go through this – with so much loss, pain and anxiety, I will always remember the first year of Evelyn’s life and my first year as a mother as a beautiful challenge. I will always be grateful for a supportive work environment that has given us the flexibility we need to do our work, but to take care of things at home when we need to. I will remember the good, the bad, the stressful and the heartbreak, but I will also remember every minute of peace, joy, gratitude, love and awe.

Emma Lieberth Osborn is the Director of Policy and Advocacy for United Way of Summit and Medina. After an 11-year career in Washington, DC, Emma and her husband Nate returned to her hometown of Akron in 2018 to be closer to family. Emma and Nate have one daughter and she is a proud “Auntie Em” to two brave girls, Genevieve (6) and Paige (4). She currently serves on the board of the Akron Roundtable, Glendale Cemetery and was a member of Leadership Akron Class 36. During her free time, she enjoys watching Frasier, the Golden Girls and Chris Farley movies. 

Photos provided by Emma Lieberth Osborn