On Being a Woman in America

Trust me, I know I don’t have it rough.

But, I’m battling how America views mothers and women more now than ever before.

I am beginning a new job in a few days and even if I were in a position to WANT to have another baby — I simply CAN NOT think about it until I’ve been with any company for at least four months – Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) only covers you once you’ve been working at a job for at least one year. Do the math, and that means you’ve got 3-4 months that you can absolutely not get pregnant and keep your job.

And if you think it doesn’t happen – I WATCHED it happen to a co-worker. When she came back from maternity leave, and she’d only worked for the company for 10 months, she was offered a crummy job on third shift after formerly being my counterpart. It never did feel right and she obviously chose to pursue something else — which is what the employer wanted. So yeah, it happens.

I wasn’t sold on breastfeeding and I stopped after three and a half weeks. I was struggling with it, I was tired and I wasn’t enjoying motherhood and my child in the ways I wanted to be. So, I stopped. But if I’d had more time off work, that would be a different story. My friend in the United Kingdom had months and months off work (I’m not going to say it was a full six/nine/12 months because I’m not precisely certain). She did not have to worry about returning to work within exactly 12 weeks of birthing her child – she had at LEAST six months (the length of time the American Academy of Pediatrics suggests you should exclusively breastfeed). That would have given me a bit of relief. But, with just 12 weeks of leave (which I had to drain my entire vacation bank to get paid 80 percent of my pay) I wasn’t willing to battle breastfeeding’s challenges knowing I wouldn’t be able to pump and/or breastfeed once I returned to my travel-heavy career.
I’m all about the power and potential of women in every career field imaginable. I’m all for empowering women. But I will say this: we have it horribly, terribly wrong in this country.

J. Ronald Lally at The Huffington Post wrote this in May of this year:

“In the United States, 70% of working women are mothers, and yet we are one of only three nations (out of 181 studied by McGill and Harvard Universities) that don’t have paid parental leave. It’s a fact we don’t talk about very much, and through our silence, we’re failing families. It’s about time we stand up and advocate for a nationwide policy providing paid maternity leave in this country.”

(Read the entire article here).

And here’s one from kellymom.com that captures a quick math approach to what it might cost the U.S. to take on paid maternity leave.

And every site I’ve searched to find information tries to frame the conversation differently – that it’s really family leave INSURANCE – as it would be something paid for just like social security. Which may make it less attractive to others but…well…it’s just the direction this country has GOT to head.

Well, and here’s an actual scholarly, researched study that touches on paid leave. Yes, it’s from 2007, but I don’t think that there’s a ton being done to push this particular issue in any meaningful way. But let me tell you, it’s meaningful to me and all my mothering counterparts out there.
Here’s a little taste of what the study says ON PAGE ONE:

“Out of 173 countries studied, 168 countries offer guaranteed leave with income to women in connection with childbirth; 98 of these countries offer 14 or more weeks paid leave. Although in a number of countries many women work in the informal sector, where these government guarantees do not always apply, the fact remains that the U.S. guarantees no paid leave for mothers in any segment of the work force, leaving it in the company of only 4 other nations: Lesotho, Liberia, Papua New Guinea, and Swaziland.”

Yeah, I thought it said Switzerland at first, which made me feel like at least as an American I had some respectable company. And then I realized it said Swaziland. Not Switzerland. No offense to Swaziland but I had a discernable not so good feeling after that realization.

The report goes on to say that paid leave for childbearing and childrearing, “improves economic conditions of families by increasing the long-term employment and earning prospects of working parents, especially by eliminating the wage “child penalty” mothers often pay, thereby increasing job security and ensuring consistent income.”

Hmmm…this paid leave sounds like it’s a good gig if you can get it. But not to worry, in the U.S., you can’t. And probably won’t. Maybe if I try hard enough, my daughter could enjoy those benefits when she chooses to have children of her own. Or, we’ll go the way of Swaziland.

And you can get paid family leave – everywhere but here and those four other countries I listed further up the page.

I recall a time a few years ago when an employee called in sick because he had to take his daughter to the doctor. I do not kid when I tell you that he had to take the day unpaid because it wasn’t for HIS care, so it wasn’t covered by his sick days. He was told that the next time that happened, he needs to say that HE is sick so that he is eligible to use his sick days.


And wrong.

More from the McGill/Harvard report:

“Globally, the most economically competitive countries provide, on average, longer parental leave, as well as more leave to care for children.”

Hear that nay-sayers (who ARE the nay-sayers to this – doesn’t this just make good practical, common sense!)?


That’s not the United States, in large part. Not saying that paid leave would instantly make us more economically competitive, but it would make us a more attractive place to live.

Oh, and don’t get me started on the fact that I was NOT able to refer to my leave as ‘maternity leave’ but instead as ‘short term disability’. I’ve ranted on this before, but being pregnant, birthing a child, and being expected to then breastfeed that child hardly rates as anything nearing a ‘disability’ but instead proves the very CAPABILITY of women in this role.

Heck, the Bureau of Labor Statistics from the U.S. Department of Labor DEFINES short-term disability by stating it is “also known as sickness and accident insurance, short-term disability plans provide full, partial, or a combination of full and partial pay to employees who are unable to work because of a non-work-related accident or illness.”

So, the U.S. government defines pregnancy and the resulting child as an accident – at least the ways in which an employer must handle the paperwork? Classic. Just…classic.

Here’s one from Forbes.com opinion column why “Card Carrying Capitalists” should back paid family leave. From that article… “That means 42% of mothers and 86% of fathers with employer supported leave received no income at all.”

And here’s a great resource on moving the agenda forward in paid leave from Family Values @ Work.

I don’t know – I’m exhausted just thinking about how challenging it may be to move the needle on this particular issue. But it needs to be moved, and rapidly. It’s craziness. And it’s got to stop.
Pregnancy and childbirth should not be classified as short-term disability. Employers should have some sort of contingency plan in place for the development of families, right? It’s not like anyone is ever surprised that people want to have children – so why do employers not plan better for it? We as Americans should not be listed with Swaziland for any reason. That is an embarrassment. And we should certainly, if we want to make women feel guilty for stopping breastfeeding, make it easier and less pressure to accomplish that task.


That’s all from the soapbox.




3 thoughts on “On Being a Woman in America

  1. Linds, great post! Just to add/clarify – in the UK the legal rule is that you get one year of maternity leave (there is also adoption leave which does have slightly different rules, but I won’t go into that part for now) where the employer has to guarantee your role on the same terms you had before. I took 8 months maternity leave and then had a 9th month off by using my prior year vacation days that continued to accrue while I was on maternity leave and any holidays that I missed (i.e. if I was on maternity leave during the UK’s equivalent of Labor day, then I got to take that day off at the end of my maternity leave).

    In terms of pay, the statutory minimum is 6 weeks at 90% of full pay or a calculation that works out to be effectively full pay (I got more than full pay because the timing of my pregnancy meant that my year end bonus got added into the calculation – woo hoo!). Then from 7 weeks to 39 weeks (of the 52 weeks you can take) you get £128 per week as a minimum. 40 to 52 weeks you don’t get anything. That is what every employer has to pay as a MINIMUM. Many employers supplement this. It is quite common to see employers give you effectively full pay for the first 18 weeks and then go down to the £128 per week.

    While you are on maternity leave you get free dental care and free prescriptions. And, of course, lets not forget that I had pre-natal, delivery, and post-natal care for free on the NHS as well (and the care I received was excellent).

    For paternity leave, the statutory minimum is 2 weeks off at a rate of £128 per week. Many employers will supplement by giving full pay for the first week.

    There is a new law coming into effect where the father can take the second half of the mother’s maternity leave if they want to switch roles (father/mother references used for ease; it applies to same sex parents as well).

    The UK has one of the least generous countries in Europe.

    The combination of maternity rights and nightmares with insurance whilst pregnant in the US are the two reasons why I will NOT be moving back to the US before I am finished having all of my children.

  2. First – I stopped nursing my first son for the exact same reason (kind of hated it, he preferred the bottle, and I only had 9 weeks left before going back to work). I didn’t even bother with the twins because TWINS! But that said – my best friend worked and nursed her twins for almost a year – so I guess I’m kind of a wuss.

    Anyway…. I’m a stay at home mom now because our oldest is special needs and between his therapy/IEP meetings/etc. and the fact that it seems like one of my kids gets sick with a fever every other week, SOMEONE in this house had to be available to drop everything at any time. Office jobs just weren’t conducive to that. I became a SAHM when the twins were 2.5 and Oliver was 4.

    In September, all three will be in full time school, and I have to find some way to start making money again. But a full time office job just isn’t realistic.

    Who knew this would be so complicated!

    Such an interesting post.

  3. Hello! Canadian mom here, currently on my second year-long maternity leave, receiving 80% of my pay, loving my three-month old son. So sad for the moms who don’t get this special time:(

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