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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Proud... ProudSingleMum

Well, in some way it MUST be about the mother...otherwise all mothers would get the same amount of leave...but they don't.

ThatB... ThatBoysMom

That is so irritating. I think this society don't give us adequate time to be out sick let alone accomodate to children. I am not even announcing that we are trying. When I mentioned it once, people acted like it was a bad thing. When women randomly keep having babies and not working, it's cute. Plan one with a schedule and you're considered crazy.

gj28 gj28

I had been through this. This is the MAIN reason why I divorced my husband.  My husband was hired at a hospital and one of the benefits was free maternity care etc. When I went in to give birth to my daughter they kept calling my husband (he is just a registrar aka takes your info for the hospital) finally my husband left me ALONE while I was giving birth. They threaten my husband that he would lose his job if he did not return to his job in two days, when his policy stated he had 6 weeks to stay and help me. Now his bosses were women with children and called me weak plus told him that he would raise his salary for whatever happened. This didn't matter to me the damage was done. I was at my mother's most of the time with our son and the new born. He never apologized and he agreed with the woman that I was weak and couldn't handle motherhood or childbirth.  My mother gave birth in Germany and was able to relax and enjoy her time with my brother plus us.  They knew how important motherhood its.  People need to get a check on this in America.

Bree1984 Bree1984

You choose to get pregnant and add to an already booming population. Don't expect perks.

katie... katiecat87

Well then I guess I am worthless right now... I work full time for a medical record department. It's not that I don't like my job but am currently looking to transfer to a part time evening position because the cost of daycare will pretty much take my whole paycheck after this baby. So is this next employer going to look at me and be like well what good will she be she will be out soon for 6 weeks and I am going to have to find someone to coever for her? I hope the hell not. Can they really not hire someone because they are pregnant? My husband works in the housekeeping department at the same hospital and there is actually another guy whose girlfriend is due the same time I am. So I don't know what the housekeeping supervisors plan on doing because I know my husband and this guy plan on using their FMLA for 2-3 weeks. Good luck.

nonmember avatar Anon

Well I don't really know all the facts here, but if the main reason for the hire was for something that needed to be done in May, DUH!? Is it even responsible to apply for such a job knowing you will not be able to do what you are basically promising to do? ... Women should be advised to not seek new employment while pregnant; it just isn't smart, regardless of how other people "should" view pregnancy. ... BTW, yes, this is a problem of our own making - we chose to do whatever caused us to become mothers, and now, how many of us can honestly say we are able to work as hard as ever? I guess it depends on whether you ever really worked hard before. ... Also, I agree that women are wimps if they "need" their hubby to take FMLA, unless they had an extremely bad birth experience.

starr... starrsitter

We bought our house when I was on maternity leave and even though I had a copy of the policy from the school district I worked in, a letter from the superintendent regarding the date and conditions of my return to work, and a letter from personnel about my raise that took effect when I returned from obtaining my Master's degree my job/income didn't count.  You can bet my credit rating (fortunately, a good one) did, though.

PonyC... PonyChaser

They are looking to hire this woman NOW, right?  Today is Feb. 1.  They were looking toward legislative matters for the month of May.  If she was hired today, she'd get two months (minus any "learning curve time") of solid work in before leaving for six weeks, including two weeks of that legislative session during May.  So, yeah... she IS rather useless to them for that position.

It doesn't mean that she, as a person, is useless.  It doesn't mean that she is incapable.  Doesn't mean that, at another time, she wouldn't be perfect for the job.

How do you not understand that jobs do not exist to pay you?  Employees exist to serve the businesses they work for.  Without that business keeping its doors open to make profits, you wouldn't have a job to complain about.

Try looking at BOTH sides of an issue before you go screaming about discrimination and the evils of the workplace.  That business is trying to stay open so you have a place to come back to when your maternity leave is over.

And as for managing to pay for the child that you are planning to bring into the world, how about planning for it?  Plenty of people do.  They figure out how to live on one salary (even if it's a small one), and figure out how to keep one parent home so they don't have to pay someone else to nurture their child.  Some of them even figure out how to have multiple children in that atmosphere.

stacy... stacyrob17

I have been punished for taking maternity leave. When I came back my boss refused to give me my work back then docked me at the end of year making me unable to get a bonus. Then told me what a great job I had been doing since I returned.  I think working mothers make better employees cause we have to work harder just to prove ourselves. I know the single employees basically do little to nothing and get more recognition.

starr... starrsitter

@Ponychaser...Because no one EVER has an unplanned pregnancy, right? 

My son was a happy surprise while I was on birth control.  I guess I should have been penalized by prospective employers for having sex with my husband. 

Maybe no women should ever get jobs because they MIGHT get pregnant and then where would that leave those businesses?  Or maybe we should just stop having sex...because, apparently, the only reason to do that is to get pregnant?  That seems to be the rationale behind some of these responses.

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