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.

Sick.

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!)?

THE. MOST. ECONOMICALLY. COMPETITIVE.

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.

 

 

 

Driving Away

Yesterday I paid the registration at day care and, as I was driving away, I got a little misty-eyed. And I didn’t have the baby with me, didn’t leave her at ‘school’ and don’t have to face that down until January 9.

But I still cried a few tears.

And then, there I was tonight, putting Elle in bed (her bed, by the way, which is where she is currently resting peacefully. I’m listening on the monitor. Sometimes, she doesn’t go down this easy, but it was a big day for her at Aunt Jill’s house!).

Anyway, tonight I put her to bed and was sitting on the floor next to her bed, staring at her through the slats in her crib (yup, I do that some nights) and it hit me (once again) how amazing she is, and how I know all her favorite things and how she likes to be held to fall asleep.

And I know that that doesn’t end just because she’s going to school three days a week…but, well…wait. Do I know that?

So, I cried again staring through the slats in the crib.

And I’m doing it again now.

What. The. Hell.

I’m struggling with – I need to be a strong, feminine, smart role model for my daughter so that she, too, will be all those things and more. And yet, how can I be that role model and IMPART the importance of that to her, when she’s with OTHER PEOPLE all day long?!

When I got to Aunt Jill’s today to pick Elle up, she was crabby. As I drove home, I realized that I saw her in the morning, got her ready to go, headed out the door, dropped her off, and then did what I had planned for the day. I picked her up in the afternoon, and headed home.

On the drive, it struck me that when we got home, she would be ready for a bath and a bottle and bed. And I realized that my life will soon be a string of days like that, when I see my baby girl for all of an hour or two each day before she sleeps again.

So, I relished bath time and dragged it out awhile longer. I took a longer time drying her off and rubbing some smell-good into her feet.

And then, I held her and fed her and rocked her good night.

So now, I have time for me. But I don’t want it right now, not when I missed a whole DAY of her little life.

In some ways, having the time off at the holidays has been great. It has allowed me to do all the things that I want to do and get ready for the holidays without the stress of having to worry about work…but yet, I feel like we’re overwhelmed with holiday plans (which I made, keep in mind, before I had this epiphany hit me in the last two days) and as a result I’m sacrificing my one-on-one time with my girl.

So, tomorrow, it’s all day.

And I’m already in my head thinking about all the ways I can spend Saturday with her without the distractions of other ‘stuff’.

This is what having a Baby Brain (hence, the blog title) does to a woman. Driving away on a random Tuesday afternoon in tears, the mere thought of getting left behind by the details of my daughter’s life choking me.