Last week, Huffington Post published an article concerning the United States policy on maternity leave alongside a video from one of their live chats with working moms, with that included a popular eye-opening graphic I’ve seen floating around the Internet for quite some time now.
When I found out I was pregnant, I didn’t even think it would be an option to experience maternity leave with pay simply because I had never heard of it. And there’s good reason for my not hearing of it, because it doesn’t exist. The graphic doesn’t lie: as an American citizen, I simply do not have the option of paid maternity leave.
As soon as I finished celebrating the faint blue line on the stick, told my family members and bought a baby name book, I logged onto my county database to review my sick and personal vacation days. I knew I would bid farewell to all of the days I had accrued in my years teaching. In addition, I spoke to an insurance representative who informed me that had I opted for disability insurance during the last open enrollment period and paid a certain amount per paycheck, I would have qualified for 50% of my pay. However, once a woman knows she is with child, she is unable to select that insurance option. How ironic.
So, I ended up taking all of my sick and vacation days when my son arrived. Then I ended up with one week unpaid before the summer started because although I had “planned” my son’s birth around my professional calendar, he came two weeks early. One week. And it still hurt us financially. On top of that, I was forced to come in the last two planning days of the school year when my son was only 4 weeks old in order to make sure that I remained under my insurance coverage per our contract.
I mentioned these circumstances to a co-worker who looked at me matter-of-factly and said, “Well, I guess women need to be like you and plan their children at the right time.” Newsflash: There IS no right time. Yes, I happened to get pregnant at the end of the summer which meant my child was due in the beginning of May—three short weeks before school would end. But not everyone is a teacher. Not everyone has the “summer” to set aside for all of the things. Not everyone has an out. And certainly, not everyone has the money to pay for necessities as well as the luxuries that come with having a new baby when they’ve had to sacrifice one income.
When one of our former LWM contributors, a resident of Canada, mentioned she took a year off when her daughter was born and received 50% of her annual salary, I was left scraping my jaw off the floor.
When I started to research, I realized, like many of you have probably realized, that all first-world countries except the United States of America offer some type of paid leave for new parents.
I read Australia’s Paid Parental Leave scheme, written in 2009, which calls the new program “an historic reform to prepare Australia for the challenges of the future.” In the document, the Australian government promises its citizens “greater financial support” and claims that the scheme will “increase workforce participation and promote early childhood development.” When I read the line that revealed, “Australia has been one of only two OECD countries, along with the U.S., which does not have a comprehensive Paid Parental Leave scheme,” I felt sad. Embarrassed. Irate. Australia has been one of two. But now, America stands alone.
Why? Why are we the only first world country not seeing the importance of government supporting growing families? Why do I have to read another country’s document calling out my country, where I live and work so hard? And why do I have no reasoning with which to defend my country?
The Huffington Post discussion highlighted “bright sides” to this striking maternity leave discrepancy in the U.S. Certain states like California and New Jersey have taken steps in the right direction by instating programs through which new parents and caregivers of elderly family members are allotted a certain number of weeks off with pay. However, like many other issues plaguing our nation, other states have fallen behind and nothing is being done at the federal level.
According to Best for Babes Foundation co-founder Danielle Riggs, the bottom line is that the lack of paid family leave in the United States IS a human rights issue. Plain and simple. And I couldn’t agree more. This travesty must be addressed at the federal level so that all citizens of our country can benefit and can rely on the fact that we have support as new working mothers. According to National Partnership for Women & Families Director of Work and Family Programs Vicki Shabo who spoke to Nancy Redd via Skype on the subject, “Both workers and employers benefit when workers are able to take time off after having a new baby. For mothers, it means doubling the length of breastfeeding… it means going back to work…in a mindset and in a physical condition where you’re better able to do your job. For employers, it means less turnover.”
How can these positive possibilities be denied? I can’t help but wonder… What would our nation look like, how much better could we be, how much stronger would our sense of family become, if every branch of our government, every politician, every person who has influence, gave working mothers and fathers the support, the finances, the opportunity they deserve to welcome new children into their homes and care for ailing family members without worry?
Ultimately, if our rights as humans are being withheld, and if we want policies to change nationwide, what are we going to do about it? Would writing letter suffice? Holding protests? Telling our stories as mothers and fathers? I believe many of us, ALL of us in America, have pertinent stories to tell.
Tell us yours.