Four pregnant women sit next to each other at a busy airport. Cara, is from Canada, Mary is from Mexico, Anne is from the U.S., and Irene is from Italy. Like most women that have just met, they are able to form an instant bond about their pregnancies. They shared how much weight they have gained, stories about morning sickness, and more. For the most part, their stories are typical. It’s not until the conversation turns to the topic of maternity leave do their stories start to differ.
Cara shares that she will be at home on a paid leave for almost an entire year after her baby’s birth. She will return to work two weeks before her baby turns one. Mary, who will get 12 weeks of paid leave, looks at Cara with envy. She is worried that 12 weeks of paid leave is not enough time to before she returns to work. Irene is not as worried because she knows that five and half months of paid time off will give her enough time to get the baby on a decent schedule before she returns to work.
But when Anne shares her story, the other ladies realize they don't have it as bad. Anne will stay home with her baby, not because she can afford to, but because she can’t afford childcare. Although Anne has been working as a paralegal for a small law firm for the last four years, she is not eligible for any paid time off when the baby is born. Like many American women, she used all her vacation and personal days to attend her routine pregnancy exams. By the time the baby arrives, she will not have any more paid time off. Anne will work until the baby is born and she will not return to work. She will quit. It doesn't matter than Anne works for a thriving law practice. She is the only paralegal on staff and her firm will not be able to sustain the practice without her. A replacement, a male, has already been hired.
Anne was faced with a problem that many American women are faced with she decides to have a child. What to do when the child is born. Anne does not make enough money to afford child care. So she has been left with the only choice available, to quit.
How is it possible that the leader of the free world, fails when it comes to protecting new moms? There is no reason why the United States is one of only three nations in the world that does not require employers to offer paid leave to new moms.
At the federal level, there is some limited protection for pregnant women through the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, The Family and Medical Leave Act, or Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. But not all women are covered under those laws. Those laws apply only if you work for what is called a “covered employer,” or an employer that has either 20, 50, or 15 employees, respectively. Women are left to try and find protection through any available state statutes that may or may not offer protection to more women.
Some may argue that the U.S. doesn't value family, motherhood, or breastfeeding as do other countries. Who knows. But it’s time for us to get it together. If 178 other nations can figure it out, so can we. Let’s stand up for new moms in this country and require that employers offer paid time off to all new moms.
Image Credit via Ficus/Flickr