Following the decrease in the fertility level and the change in the pattern of childbearing in Iran and its demographic, economic and social consequences, efforts have been made in the policy system in recent years to support the family and working women. One of the programs carried out in order to support working women and increase fertility in the country was to increase the length of maternity leave from six months to nine months.
The purpose of this study is to interpret and represent the different dimensions of maternity leave among employed mothers. In fact, this study was an attempt to understand the effects of this policy in the continuation of women's participation in the labor market, improving the health of family members, developing the financial well-being of the family, maintaining the job values of mothers, and mothers' satisfaction, reducing work-family conflict from the perspective of working mothers who are the target group of this policy.
The approach of this research is qualitative. The sample includes 25 employed women with maternity leave experience living in Tehran who was determined through purposive sampling with maximum diversity based on the level of theoretical saturation. The data collection method is an in-depth interview that was conducted in the fall and winter of 2022. This study was carried out in the conditions of the Corona epidemic, so this situation affected both the way of collecting information and the duration of the research. Therefore, some interviews were conducted in person and some by phone. The method of analysis was thematic analysis which was extracted in three methods of open, axial and selective coding.
From the data analysis process, the core category of "paradoxical expression of maternity leave experience" was obtained, which arises from the two themes of "women's dual experience of maternity leave" and "contradictions in policies and executive plans". The category " women's dual experience of maternity leave " is the result of three sub-themes of "strengthening the family institution", "doubt in decision-making" and "job insecurity" which show the dual experience. According to the findings, "body management skills", "promoting the biological health of the child", "quality motherhood" and "helping the work-family balance" indicate women's perception of maternity leave as an opportunity to strengthen the family institution, but the decision phobia that It is caused by "fear of separation from the child" and "hesitation to return to work", and "insecurity and job degradation" is also an important part of mothers' experience. The understanding of employed mothers about how to implement the program also indicates that it is contradictory, which is included in three sub-themes: "lack of legislation", "closure of the private sector" and "openness of the public sector".
Based on the lived experience of the mothers in this study, on the one hand, the maternity leave policy has helped the well-being of women and families and has provided the satisfaction of mothers in order to provide the well-being and peace of mother and child and restore their health. On the other hand, this program has been the source of some worries, fears and uncertainties, and it has many weaknesses due to the contradictions in the policies and executive programs in providing the safety of mind and well-being of working mothers. Of course, various conditions such as economic, family, work environment, physical conditions of mother and child, and the level of knowledge and ability of mothers in understanding and facing issues related to the conflict of work and family roles have created a diverse experience of maternity leave for women.
In this regard, the review of policies related to the protection of working women shows that there are good protective laws in Iran. Existing laws such as breastfeeding hours, part-time work, child care services, reducing the working hours of women with special conditions can have a great impact on preventing personal and family issues, along with maternity leave. However, in addition to the ambiguity in the laws, the enforcement guarantee of these policies and laws has not been specified. In some cases, the implementation of laws has been left to the authority of the occupational organization. Therefore, it has caused the non-fulfillment of various support policies for working mothers. Therefore, it is important that maternity leave policy needs to be reviewed, monitored and redesigned according to the needs and conditions of mothers, children and employers.