Thursday, August 13, 2015

Office Baby (Guest Blogger Marissa VanHoozer)

I was worried when I found out I was going to have my first child. I had relocated to Washington from Hawaii when I left the military and had no family around. I found a great job working for the Washington State Department of Health, and really enjoyed it! The problem was, I had just enough leave saved up to get me through appointments during my pregnancy, and didn’t know what I was going to do after that. The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) entitled me to six months with my son, but without a salary. It was scary. Then, I got the opportunity to pilot the health department’s new Infants at Work policy.

Being a pilot mom for the policy allowed me to spend time with my son, Gavin, continue working to help support my family, and balance work and family without any conflict or guilt. I was a proud new mom, and it didn’t have to keep that pride at home. I saw my son grow (quickly) from a little baby into a little boy, and my coworkers were there to share in all of the fun, amazing, and yes, sometimes gross, moments. I watched him smile for the first time at work. Giggle at someone’s silly face. Crawl. For those moments, I can’t explain enough how grateful I am to the Department of Health team here who saw an opportunity to marry our work to our policies.



This agency does a lot for the families of Washington, and this policy is yet another example of innovation and its desire to help raise healthy families. In addition to piloting this program, I received Environmental Public Health materials that explain healthy fish consumption during my pregnancy and while I was nursing. Child Profile brochures kept me up to date on milestones, gave advice on how to interact with my changing baby, and explained why so much blood was taken out of his little foot for the newborn screening test. Immunization information sent directly to my house helped inform me of those dreaded doctor visits. I also got advice — a lot of advice — from many kind-hearted parents and grandparents who shared their stories with me.

Gavin has had a wonderful start to what I hope is a very happy and healthy life. The work that is done by my coworkers every day is special, and watching it all come together to help me, my son, and my family has been a blessing. We’re grateful to have been a part of this successful pilot, and we hope we can pave the way for more new mothers to benefit from this ideal back to work situation. Gavin is now nine months old (he “retired” from state service at six months) and is now at home with his dad, who just retired after 20 years in the military.

One of the best and most unexpected gifts from the program was the extended family that the agency provided. Now, Gavin isn’t with us in the office every day, yet he has a lot of people who will always care about his welfare, and I will always be thankful for their support. I hope organizations in our community see this for the wonderful opportunity it is and use the lessons we learned to create work environments that provide economic, health, and other benefits, long after babies reach six months of age.

If you are interested in learning more about the program, how it was implemented, or the details of the policy, please feel free to contact me at Marissa.Vanhoozer@doh.wa.gov or 360-545-2945.