I remember very vividly the moment I found out I was pregnant. After I prayed, processed, and accepted the fact that I was having a baby, I became overwhelmed with joy!! I couldn’t believe it…I was having a baby!! I then began to think about all the things my boyfriend and I had to do to prepare for our baby’s arrival. Once we got past picking a name, planning a baby shower, and deciding on a nursery theme, I stumbled across something that was arguably the most important of all: maternity leave.
Now, keep in mind, this was my first child. I also didn’t have any close friends that had previously had children, so I didn’t know much about how maternity leave worked. I assumed that maternity leave was a part of all benefits packages, by default. I assumed that all women were entitled to a certain amount of paid time off to spend at home after their baby was born. Because after carrying a baby for 9 months, of course you should be allowed a few months at home to adapt to life after baby and to help your little one assimilate into the real world, right? And surely, this time off is paid, because who the hell can afford to take a few months off without pay? I thought of maternity leave as a necessary benefit that was afforded to all women in America. At around 7 months pregnant, I scheduled a meeting with my Director of Human Resources to discuss my plan for maternity leave. Here are the two most important takeaways from my meeting:
1. All mothers in the U.S. are guaranteed 12 weeks off after the arrival of a new baby, but they are not guaranteed to be paid during that time.
So my situation ended up like this: I would take 12 weeks off, 6 weeks would be paid through disability (at 65% of my pay), and the other 6 weeks I would have to disperse my yearly paid time off. Luckily for me, I had not used all of my vacation and sick time for the year, so I was able to make suitable arrangements. I also planned to be on maternity leave during Thanksgiving and Christmas break (our office is closed during this time), so I got paid time off for those holidays. I ended up being compensated at about 70% of my pay for the 12 weeks that I took off.
2. My company did not offer maternity leave. They offered short-term disability, which is what was used in all cases for women who needed to take time off after pregnancy.
Yes you read that correctly. “Maternity leave” was provided under the guise of disability. Since when did being pregnant become a disability? And what if I actually fell and broke my leg, at which point, I would actually need to use short-term disability. Well, I’ve used my disability for maternity leave, so now what? Needless to say, I was pissed. But there was nothing I could do so I rolled with the punches. Under short-term disability, a vaginal delivery warrants 6 weeks off, while a cesarean section warrants 8 weeks off. In either case, there was a 2-week “waiting period” that you were not compensated for. So the 6 and 8 weeks off really turned out to be 4 and 6 weeks off. You’re probably thinking: “How in the hell are they getting away with this?” I know, it’s crazy.
The truth is, maternity leave in America is downright despicable. For the U.S. to have so many resources and be one of the richest countries in the world, it’s a shame that we are the ONLY industrialized nation not to mandate paid leave for mothers of newborn babies. When I look at maternity leave in other countries (that are less wealthy and have less resources than the U.S.), I am literally disgusted at the numbers. Only about 16% of employers in the U.S. offer fully paid maternity leave, and even then, it is not required, it’s a “luxury.” I have to note that our president elect sees maternity leave as a “burden” for employers. But that’s another topic for another day. Lets look at maternity leave around the world:
• United Kingdom: 280 days, 90% pay
• Russia: 140 days, 100% pay
• Brazil: 120 days, 100% pay
• France, Switzerland, Netherlands: 112 days, 100% pay
• Germany 98 days, 100% pay
• South Korea, China: 90 days, 100% pay
• Mexico, Indonesia: 84 days, 100% pay
• Canada: 119 days, 55% pay
• Turkey: 112 days, 67% pay
• Saudi Arabia: 70 days, 50% pay
• Switzerland: 98 days: 80% pay
• United States: 90 days, 0% pay
Now let me be clear, I am very grateful that I was able to take 12 paid weeks off. But it literally breaks my heart to think about the mothers who are not afforded that opportunity. It breaks my heart to think about the mothers who can only spend one or two weeks home with their newborn baby because their job does not offer paid leave and they can’t afford to take the time off. I remember riding past a daycare and seeing a sign that said: “Accepting infants from 6 weeks old”. I turned my nose up and foolishly thought, “What kind of mother would send her child to daycare at 6 weeks old?” I found my answer shortly thereafter: the kind of mother that can’t afford to take 12 weeks off from work unpaid. Can you imagine your employer saying “Congratulations on the baby! You are more than welcome to take 12 week off to spend at home with your little one. Oh, and we won’t be paying you during that time, but your job will still be here when you get back! Congrats again!” Sadly, this is pretty much what maternity leave is in America. I could honestly go on and on about this, but I don’t want this post to take a totally negative tone, so I’ll switch gears.
Lets talk about the actual time spent home with baby. This has been such a journey. I’ve been on leave for about 9 weeks now, and have 3 weeks left before I return to work. I’ve learned so much about my baby and myself throughout this time. Being a first time mommy, there were a ton of things I did not know and I appreciated this time off to familiarize myself with motherhood. My baby is such a blessing! My daily routine consisted of nursing baby, changing diapers, waking up 3 times a night, getting about 3 hours of sleep a day (not consecutively, btw), being pooped and threw up on, and having to decide between cleaning the house, making dinner, or taking a shower. Thank God for my boyfriend who is so amazing and the best daddy Sanai could ask for!! Daddy-daughter time is his most sacred time and it melts my heart to see the love he has for my daughter and I. In this time, we’ve watched our baby become her own little person! We’ve watched her cry, smile, coo, and even laugh a few times. We’ve watched her lift her own head, hold her own bottle, and even sleep in her own room. Oh… and we survived our first case of gas/constipation; that was a scary one! All in all, these moments have been priceless and I wouldn’t trade this time for anything in the world. Looking for daycares is a nightmare and I wish I could just keep my angel baby in my arms forever! And though, I am slightly ready to return to work, I am going to cherish these last few weeks home with her. To all my expecting mommies, prepare for the time of your lives!! Maternity leave is just the beginning J