Many people give women who are expecting a child advice on stretch marks, breastfeeding, sleep training and the like. What's my number one piece of sanity-saving advice to pregnant women? Get a job in California or New Jersey. Not for Disneyland and Snooki, mind you, but because these two forward-thinking states are the only places in America where all working mothers are offered paid maternity leave. Out of 178 nations, the only other countries besides the U.S. that do not offer women some form of paid maternity leave are Papua New Guinea and Swaziland.
This is why we are thrilled to begin Workplace Wednesdays, where every Wednesday, we will spotlight a reader's personal experience as a pregnant working mother in order to shed light on the myriad ways the lack of paid family leave affects women and families in America.
Only a small fraction of U.S. workers have access to any type of paid maternity leave. I was one of them. As an expecting mom in California, where I have lived and worked for over six years, news of a paid family leave program, which I did not hear about until a few months into my pregnancy during a casual conversation with a mom friend, was surprising and relieving to me. Because of this employee-funded program, at no cost to any employer, I was able to take a few weeks before delivery and rest up before becoming a mom zombie (mombie!) with my newborn. I could also take a few weeks after delivery to emotionally and physically heal from pregnancy and birth while bonding with my child and strengthening my new family dynamic. This cocoon of financial security was enough to ensure that when my maternity leave was over, I was refreshed, ready and raring to work even harder than I did before becoming pregnant.
The main option offered to most American women is to take three months of unpaid leave with the promise of one's job still being there when one gets back. However, if they haven't held their job long enough, or if their company has under fifty employees, or a host of other caveats and exclusions to this federal rule, a pregnant woman's only other options are to keep her fingers crossed that her boss is sympathetic to her plight and doesn't find a way to fire her while she scrambles to work for as long as she can, often not getting a break from work until the day her baby is born. Perhaps this workplace stress is one of the reasons that nine out of ten women giving birth suffer complications in the U.S.
For those of you flexing your fingers, ready to let me know in the comments that you think that it is bogus and that your hard-earned dollars are being spent unfairly on some random person's mom-cation, you're not alone.
Admittedly, prior to motherhood, the idea of being able to receive 55 percent of one's pay to rest up during the last month of pregnancy and heal and bond for six to eight weeks after delivery, without fear of losing one's job in the process, might have seemed unnecessary to non-mom me. Many people, including a woman who debated pregnancy rights in the workplace with me on HuffPost Live, love to argue that pregnancy is a gift, and that pregnant women should not look for special favors and should feel honored and lucky to be able to carry a child.
My son is now 14-months-old, and I agree that a wanted pregnancy is a total gift, but sometimes it can feel like a blessing in disguise in those final few months -- not to mention during the first sleepless weeks after birth, commonly referred to as the fourth trimester.
From grossly swollen feet (that never shrink back to their original size!) to perinatal tears and c-section scars that take months to heal after delivery, birth is literally a labor of love. It's how we all got here, after all, and considering that our birth rate is declining to the point that we aren't even stabilizing America's population, it's unsettling to witness the hate and anger with which any attempt to institute a national paid family leave program is quickly shot down, citing unfair expense to businesses that will kill jobs.
This sentiment is especially frustrating since, as Cali Yost so saliently points out in his Forbes piece, it is not employers, but employees themselves that fund paid family leave in the two states it is available, to the tune of around $3 per month. This amount funds a temporary disability insurance system that enables workers to receive paid leave for multiple short-term reasons. In CA and NJ, the fund just happens to also offer new parents a bit of time to heal and regroup after birth, without the financial disaster that many families experience when one of the family earners is completely knocked out of the workforce for a few months during a difficult pregnancy or birth.
Workplace Wednesdays will shed some light on what it's like to be pregnant and working in America: the good, the bad and the inspiring. From the Virginian teacher who felt forced to return to work days after birth, bleeding and leaking, because she was terrified of losing her job, to the Midwestern mama whose lack of paid maternity leave stimulated her to quit her job and start her own successful company, we want to hear from you, dear readers. By attaching faces and names to this pressing national concern we can make paid family leave an issue not for the 'other,' but for everyone's mother.
If you'd like to have your story featured on a Workplace Wednesday, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.