Maternity Leave Makes a Pregnant Woman Worthless?

pregnantIf you just read that headline and wanted to grab the phone and start screaming at me, welcome to the club. That's essentially what a board member of the Oklahoma education department said last week about a pregnant woman hired as a new staffer.

Board member Herb Rozell was part of a vote to give Jessica Russell, who is due to give birth in April, a position as the State Board of Education's legislative liaison. But just minutes later, Rozell brought up Russell's due date and the state's legislative agenda for the month of May. Said Rozell:

“If she has that baby in April and takes off six weeks, she’s worthless to us."


Oh yes, there it is. The ever popular "but if she's on maternity leave, she's useless" excuse. Of course, the same could be said of the guy in accounting who throws his back out moving that too heavy filing cabinet because he hasn't exercised a day in his life. He'll be out for six weeks, but no one is thinking about that when they hire him.

Feminist bloggers have launched on to Rozell's boneheaded remarks and are -- appropriately -- calling him and his colleagues out for being "sexist douchebags." Jezebel surmised they might simply be trying to give education commissioner Janet Barresi a hard time because she's new, female, and Republican.

But it's hard to ignore the pointed jab at maternity leave and its effects on the workplace. This isn't simply a legal discrimination issue. It's rooted in something much deeper: Americans' failure to understand the point of maternity leave.

I'm a woman. I've been pregnant. I know it isn't simply men who have a problem with it. When my daughter dared to come into this world eight days late rather than on her due date, my husband's (childless) female colleague threw a conniption because his paternity leave bumped up against her wedding. He went to work on his federally protected leave because he just didn't want to deal with the stress of working with her if he didn't. On my side of the aisle, one of my (unmarried, childless) colleagues at the newspaper made it clear that he was put out by my daughter's decision not to give us a clear date for her arrival because he wanted to take a vacation, and my unclear start date for my leave was getting in the way.

I used to resort to explaining this was federal law. We aren't getting some special break from our employers. It's federally protected. And, frankly, it's not all that it's cracked up to be. My "disability" payments barely covered the cost of diapers, and I saw our savings account dwindle in those weeks. I was up every night with a hungry baby, trying to figure out how to do everything for the first time. In short, I was dealing with new motherhood.

Now, frankly, I realize that those obtuse members of the child-free crowd don't see the law or have any compassion for those first few postpartum weeks. They see this as a situation of our own making, and thus don't think we deserve anything. They see only how inconvenienced they are.

And so here's my best argument for them. Think about yourself. You've proven yourself quite good at it. Only it's time to dial it back by 20, 30, 40 years. Think about the day your mother brought you home from the hospital.

Think about her then passing you off on some stranger so she could go to work. Think about her spending 8, 10, 12 hours a day away from you while some stranger gave you a bottle, changed your diaper, and saw you roll over for the first time. Think about those important moments that your Mom missed when you were a kid. Was it your first ballet recital? Your first home run in a t-ball game? All because she had to work to put food on your table.

Think about the first time the school nurse decided you needed to go home early because you weren't likely to stop throwing up any time soon. It was before the Family Medical Leave Act was passed, and your mom took off work anyway. And she told you you'd have to have 99-cent pasta for dinner because her boss was docking her pay. 

Maternity leave isn't about the employer. It isn't even about the mother. Maternity leave is about the child. And while not every American will be a mother or a father some day, every single American was once a child.

So if you don't want to hire a pregnant woman because she'll one day take maternity leave, ask yourself the following: Did you deserve a mother at home when you were a kid? Or were you just an inconvenience?


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