DVM and Mom
Headshot of IndeVets Employee Anita
Words by:
Anita Patel, DVM — Director of Clinical Excellence, Southeast

DVM and mom

The state of maternity leave benefits in veterinary medicine is unacceptable. Consider this:

  • In the United States, the only federal statute regarding parental leave, the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), is available to only 24% of eligible private-sector employees.
  • 43% have access to short-term disability through their employer.
  • FMLA is received by only 10% of associate veterinarians in the United States.

Some states have enacted laws to set minimum paid parental leave. However, the U.S. still trails most other developed countries by a large margin. Additionally, in recent years, the U.S. has seen a decline in the duration of parental leave offered and in the number of employees with access to paid parental leave.

Anita and her daughterFor me, motherhood is one of the most challenging but most rewarding parts of life. It’s like taking a flight in some ways. That initial take-off period is crucial for the rest of the journey. A smooth, unhurried, on-time take-off can prepare you for peace of mind for the rest of the journey. If it starts off rushed with lots of turbulence, it just isn’t quite the same. Take-off in motherhood is that period when you get to welcome that sweet little bundle of sleepless nights, poopy diapers, stressing the little stuff, and of course, the sweetest snuggles. Enough stress and worry already come with the responsibility of raising a little human without having to sweat the big stuff, like being able to afford unpaid leave or compiling as much PTO as possible to get even a handful of weeks with your baby. Oh, and go ahead and make sure you heal that body of yours that has undergone nine months of change +/- surgery in a few weeks while you’re at it.

I have been surrounded by strong, hardworking women my whole life, and I firmly believe mothers (and fathers) are superheroes in so many ways. Sometimes, we should get to hang up that cape and, instead of being everything for everyone, be everything for one tiny human for the time they need us so much.

 

The incredible benefit of benefits

I have three beautiful children that keep me humble, challenge me, and keep me on my toes- literally tiptoeing over all the toys, everywhere, all the time. And though they may not always like me (time-out is the WORST thing ever when you’re 4!), they have taught me unconditional love. Each of those three experiences, from their births through my time on maternity leave, was so incredibly different. I worked at an independently owned small animal practice for a boss who paved the way in ownership for so many women veterinarians – all during a time when women were the minority sex in our field. I have so much respect for all that she did in her career. She built a successful practice with excellent medicine and standard of care. We had state-of-the-art ultrasound, endoscopy, and surgery. The staff quickly became my work family to its fullest definition. It was a new grad’s paradise and a huge part of what made me the veterinarian that I am. Where it fell short was work-life balance, benefits, and parental leave. With my two oldest children, I had to cover my own short-term disability. There was no paid parental leave, so I scrimped and saved PTO and money so that I could take the minimum time off I needed to heal from a c-section and sprinkle a few weeks on to spend time with this new little human I’d created. I was back at work in 10 weeks. I received six weeks of short-term disability, used ALL my PTO for the year, and took an additional two weeks unpaid. Each pregnancy significantly ate into our savings and emergency fund. That happy period of my life, unfortunately, came with crippling financial setbacks and additional unnecessary stress.

Let’s just pause for a moment to recognize what is happening post-partum for a woman- screaming hormones, exhaustion, sleep deprivation, biological healing, emotional and mental healing, breastfeeding/pumping, and trying and failing not to check your baby every 3.5 seconds to make sure they are still breathing because SIDS is terrifying. My eldest was premature. I went in for a routine scan, and less than 24 hours later, I was prepped for a c-section. My first thought and question- is the baby going to be okay? My second? Doing all the mental math in the world to figure out how this was going to fit into my carefully scrimped and saved plan. Becoming a mom is stressful enough without focusing on something that should be a given, like parental leave. I ended up having to take two weeks unpaid, which I’d not initially planned for.

The peace of mind that comes from being with a company that offers paid parental leave, short-term disability insurance paid for 100% by the company, and flexible scheduling – its value is, well, invaluable. And it wasn’t something that I experienced until I joined IndeVets.

 

Motherhood, fully supported

My third pregnancy came as a surprise—yes, I’m a veterinarian and know biology—but she was still a surprise. Though I could never imagine life without her, there was a period of intense emotional stress when I first learned I was pregnant. How were we going to afford a third? Did we need to find a bigger house? What was childcare going to look like with three kids under 5? This time around, the one thing I didn’t stress about was my maternity leave. Anita and her family

I’d been practicing as a full-time IndeVet for over three years and was two months into my new role as Area Medical Director when I found out I was pregnant. I knew our benefits inside and out – my job was to understand and help Associate IndeVets navigate it all. Now, I was on the other side of the table. I remember dreading having to tell my boss, Dr. Marisa Brunetti, I was pregnant. I dreaded it only because my previous pregnancy announcements had not always been met with enthusiasm. I was pleasantly surprised at Dr. Brunetti’s immediate reaction of pure joy and reassurance. She told me not to stress about work, and we’d figure it out. “Umm. I’m sorry. I think I just blacked out. Could you repeat that again?” That level of support was refreshing. After the moment passed, I realized I started with an apology. How had I been conditioned to apologize for something that in no way warranted it? We had our leadership retreat not long after, and I remember how excited the whole team was for me. A huge weight had been lifted off me, and it was the first time I’d truly been able to enjoy my pregnancy to its fullest without the financial stress or emotional guilt of post-partum leave.

IndeVets offers four weeks of paid parental leave and fully covers short-term disability for all its Associate IndeVets and HQ staff.

That is four weeks of FULL pay to spend time as a family, whether you’re a first-time dad or mom, or are a seasoned parent with a new addition on the way. If this new blessing is by birth or adoption, IndeVets has you covered. The short-term disability paid for by IndeVets also afforded me an additional six weeks at 60% pay to recover from my C-section. It was something I’d never experienced in my previous employment. It wasn’t even something I had seen in my job searches for more work-life balance. Not once, never.

“Happily breaking norms” is one of IndeVets’ core values. And they happily put their money, or in this case, parental leave, where their mouth is. There’s no argument that we have a long way to go with parental leave allowances in the U.S. Still, seeing and being part of a company driving that change is so refreshing.

After returning to work, one of my biggest struggles was finding and respecting time to pump. Every journey in motherhood is different and has varied needs, struggles, and successes. No two babies or bodies are the same, but it was an essential part of my journey to be able to produce milk for each of my three kids for at least a year. I would rely on consistency and support in the clinic to do that. As an associate at a single practice before IndeVets, I had blocks worked into my schedule and everything I needed to be able to pump as needed. As an IndeVet, my pump break needs were taken care of for me. Hospitals were contacted before my shift to ensure they could accommodate my needs, which I’d outlined beforehand. I was able to make changes as required for my post-partum timeline. I determined how frequently I needed pump breaks and what I needed in terms of facilities. I could walk into my shifts reassured by the support of my very own behind-the-scenes IndeVets team that advocated and communicated for me. I could confidently be an excellent veterinarian and could do so without sacrificing who I wanted to be as a mother.

 

IndeVets benefits, beyond babies

Parenthood doesn’t have a designated end, even when they’re all grown up. So much of what we do as parents is in preparation for our futures and our children’s futures. That’s where the additional benefits of being an IndeVet become so, well, beneficial. Parental leave and short-term disability are the foundation, but the additional benefits are vital building blocks. I didn’t have a 401K plan for the first 8.5 years of my career. I had an IRA, but an IRA comes with limitations that aren’t present with a 401K. The IndeVets 401K has a 100% match up to 4% with immediate vesting. As much as I hate dealing with the hassle of all the financial balancing of tax, retirement, and finance, I know it’s crucial to a stable and prosperous future for my family.

Now, after three and a half years with IndeVets, I've saved more in retirement and 529 plans for my kids than I did in my 8.5 years as a full-time associate.

Beyond the financial benefits that are so incredibly important, there is so much more to IndeVets. Flexibility in scheduling has allowed me to live a fulfilled and balanced life in so many ways. I continue to be a present mother and partner. It has also opened so many doors to travel. After becoming an IndeVet, my family was able to take our first week-long vacation in the summer and 2 week-long vacation in December. I had ZERO guilt about taking the vacations I did not have to find my own coverage. AND I had PTO time left-over. As an IndeVet, my partner and I took our first trip together, just us, since having kids. That time together was so crucial as humans, partners, and parents.Dr. Anita Patel and husband

I have scratched off more places on my bucket list and been present at more school events in 3.5 years while an IndeVet than I had in all the years prior. I have missed fewer baby showers, weddings, birthdays, and family events. I can finally give my kids, my family and my friends more time. Being an IndeVet has allowed me to create more meaningful memories and build a strong foundation of support – for all this, I am so incredibly thankful.

IndeVets has been one of the most rewarding changes in my life. I have gained leadership, national network and community, and financial gain short and long-term. Most importantly, I have received unwavering support and growth not only as a veterinarian but as a mother, partner, sister, child, and friend—all the things that make me, me.

Anita and her family