maternity leave

Help me understand how America is a nation of purported “family values” yet mothers do not get paid maternity leave. This abomination is not a partisan issue. If there is one thing unites women (and men) across party lines, it’s motherhood. We all love our children fiercely and value that time at the beginning to bond with and nurture our babies as we grope our way through those sleepless nights and zombie days. The United States is among the world’s richest nations - rich in terms of financial wealth, military muscle, world power, intellectual capital, and opportunity. It’s shameful we don’t value motherhood as much as we value wealth.

Women in America today can take up to 12 weeks leave through the Family Medical Leave Act. My husband, in fact, used the benefits of this act to take off a month when our first son was born. It was a joy for him to have that bonding time. Other women have to use sick days and disability to cover “maternity leave.” Let me be clear here, motherhood is neither a sickness nor a disability. We must not treat it as such, making the whole concept of maternity leave seem punitive.

The modern woman’s Sophie’s Choice is paycheck or baby. There are so many unsavory dynamics that go into becoming a mother in America. When I was pregnant with my first son I was laid off from my job (under sketchy circumstances), bullied by the managers in my new job about being pregnant (though I disclosed I was pregnant in my interviews), and dragged through legal ordeals about health insurance when I left the bullying company. In my second pregnancy, I was dropped from my husband’s health insurance in his new job because pregnancy was considered a pre-existing condition. I was engaged in battle before my babies were even born!

Why do we make it so difficult for people to start a family?

Remarkably, we have legions of people who fight to give more rights to unborn fetuses than to living mothers. It’s not a matter of either/or here; it is a matter of providing support to families and children and mothers. Many issues that ail society and stress out families and marriages are due to lack of support. The issues are complex and gargantuan, but in simple terms, American values, standards, and budgetary priorities do not care about women and families, for which society pays the price. Exactly what standards are we using when we puff out our chests and proclaim to be the greatest nation on earth?

To reiterate, the United States is the ONLY industrialized nation in the world to provide no paid maternity leave. This must change, regardless who sits in the Oval Office.

Image via Think Progress