Maternity Leave: How the United States Is Failing Working Moms
***Guest post by Anonymous Single Mom
Much has been written about the poor - or more accurately - non-existent maternity leave policies in the United States, citing statistics and comparisons to third world countries that have more accommodating policies the good ole’ U-S-A. Reading articles of that nature prompts serious concern, thought, and frustration from yours truly. On one hand we pay a decent amount of lip-service to the fact that we need to see more women in leadership positions, and on the other hand we hamstring working women by not providing reasonable paid maternity leave options.
And by reasonable, I don’t mean 6 weeks of medical leave for a vaginal delivery, and 8 weeks of medical leave for a c-section, nor do I mean job protection for 12-weeks of UNPAID leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act. That whole unpaid thing is a sore topic for, oh – I don’t know – every working woman I have ever met. And, as I learned during my own pregnancy, if you need to take medical leave before your child is born, it comes out of those 12 weeks. In my case, I had preterm contractions in my second trimester and was put on bed rest for 3 weeks, until the contractions stopped and I was able to return back to work.
After returning, I met with HR at my company to make plans for my maternity leave. The delightful woman I met with in HR made it very clear that our company does not have actual maternity leave. Yes, I work for a HUGE company, with thousands of employees, and a large portion of the staff of childbearing age – but no, there was no maternity leave. And don’t even ASK about paternity leave.
She informed me that what we do have is partially paid medical leave for 6 or 8 weeks depending on the type of delivery, and I would be allowed to use my vacation and sick time – so I could at least receive some form of pay for the remaining 4 or 6 weeks, if I chose to take the full 12-weeks (which I planned to do).
This prompted me to spend the rest of my pregnancy squirreling away as much money as possible, and basically doing everything in my power to refrain from freaking out. It wasn’t only the money, or the lack of true maternity leave at my company – it was the subtext that permeated through the conversation I had with our lovely HR department. I felt like this pregnancy was something that was a nuisance for the company, and something I would get penalized for both in pay and in stigma.
After I had my daughter, I submitted all of the appropriate paperwork to my HR department and for the following 8 weeks, I emailed back and forth with them about where I would be able to pump breast milk. She finally told me I would able to pump…. in another building. Which took longer to walk to than it did to actually pump. When I explained that the location would compromise my ability to do my job (I have very strict and ever-changing deadlines), she reminded me that NY State law simply requires that a company provide any private room other than a bathroom to pump (read: and nothing more, my dear). The law doesn’t specify anything regarding how far (or near) said room should be from one’s office.
THEN she told me to check in with her the following Monday when I returned to work.
UM…what? I wasn’t due back that soon.
I told her that she must be mistaken because I had planned to take the full 12 weeks with my child, and she emailed ME back, explaining that the 3 weeks I had been on bed rest was taken out of my 12 week allotment for FMLA – so I needed to return on Monday. Excuse me? After a number of back and forth emails with her, while having multiple panic attacks, she finally told me I could ask my boss for special permission to stay out for the full 12 weeks, “If it meant that much to me.”
Meant that much to me? Well let’s see, I had a new baby, I wanted to bond with her, while trying to get my head on straight before I returned to work. But honestly, those thoughts were secondary to the fact that I had made all of my childcare plans around a 12 week leave. She never told me that my 3 weeks of my bed-rest counted against the 12 weeks of FMLA, and I never thought that it would – especially because both events took place in two different calendar years.
In any case, my boss reluctantly agreed to allow me to take the full 12-weeks off.
And suddenly I understood why certain women choose to leave the workforce when they have children. Behavior like this, which takes place in offices all over the country, every single day, prompt some women to say, “That’s it, I am taking my brains and my self-worth, and I am staying home!” Until we change maternity leave policies, and the attitudes towards them, we will continue to live in a male dominated corporate environment.