When David Muscat Fenech Adami was expecting his first daughter, he counted his lucky stars that she was born on a Saturday, giving him two extra days off to add to his one day of paternity leave.
“The excitement I had when I held my daughter for the first time was something I was looking forward to so much, but then I faced moments when I felt useless, as I could not support my wife more on a daily basis during the first few weeks,” he told Times of Malta.
Things were slightly different when his second daughter was born last August, during the pandemic. He made sure he had saved as much time off as possible to spend with his newborn and was able to take a week and a half.
Apart from being the father of Sophia and Emilia, Muscat Fenech Adami also runs the ‘The Maltese Daddy’ blog, where he shares his own experiences, challenges and advice to other fathers and partners.
He is one of more than 2,000 who signed a petition to Malta’s parliament calling to implement paternity and parental leave in Malta under an EU directive yet to come into force here.
Under Maltese law, mothers benefit from 18 weeks of paid leave , while fathers and partners are granted only one day of paternity leave, also known as birth leave.
Both parents are then entitled to unpaid parental leave for a period of four months until the child is eight years old.
'Implement work-life balance measures as soon as possible'
Back in 2019, the Work-Life Balance Directive was given the green light by the European Parliament. The directive includes the extension of paid paternity or birth leave to 10 days and introduces two months of paid leave for each parent that can be used until the child is eight years old.
All EU member states have until August 2022 to introduce the new rights.
The petition, created by ‘Positive Birth Malta’, organised by midwives, women and the childbearing community, is calling for the work-life balance measures to be implemented into national law as soon as possible, rather than wait until next year.
Set up at the end of June, the petition had already reached 2,105 signatures by Sunday.
Muscat Fenech Adami said that childbirth had not only been an overwhelming experience for his wife but also a big psychological change for him.
“Having 10 days of paternity leave will give fathers the time to be part of the newborn’s development and also time to settle into their new role as a parent,” he said.
“It’s important that from the beginning we play a vital role – with this extra leave, partners would be able to change more diapers and help out, let their wife rest and recover and also catch up on well-needed rest, as sleepless nights will become a reality,” he said.
“It will also help mothers feel more secure and at ease. Parenting should involve two individuals, and the more involved parents are at an early stage, the more likely kids will have an amazing life ahead.”
'Unmarried not entitled to leave'
Another father, who wished to remain anonymous, recounted the difficulty he faced trying to book his paternity leave.
“When I first asked, my employer bluntly informed me that I was not entitled to any since I am not married. After much opposition, I managed to apply for 10 days of leave, but on my third day, I was asked to return back to work!
“Anybody with a child will know the endless list of appointments and visits pre and post-birth. Some mothers need more time to recover, with issues such as post-partum depression, and fathers want to be more involved.”
Senior midwife Pauline Borg, who forms part of ‘Positive Birth Malta’, said that the group set up the petition to raise more awareness and change the narrative of the role of fathers in childbearing.
4,000 births a year
“About 4,000 births take place in a year, and that means all these families will be missing out and suffering from this dire lack of paternity leave in Malta. We want to raise more awareness on this,” Borg said.
The group, set up in 2017, provides a supportive network for parents, midwives and other individuals on the journey of childbearing.
“The topic of paternity leave often comes up.
“We decided to raise more awareness and change the narrative locally, that childbearing should not just be about mothers but there is also a role for fathers and partners,” she said.
She said research has shown that an increase in paternity leave would benefit families emotionally, economically and socially.
“Knowing that your partner will be there to support you can decrease post-natal depression and anxiety and create a stronger bond between parents,” she said.