Maternity Leave is Not a Handout for Whiny Bitches

But it’s also true that these companies are capitalizing on a serious weakness in our social contract. The United States and its corporate structures were built with one kind of workerfrankly, with one kind of citizenin mind. That citizen wage-earner was a white man. That this weakness is being addressed by employers faster than it is being addressed by Congress contributes to the widening of the class chasm. Policies that account for the fact that women now give birth and earn wages on which their families dependand, for that matter, that men now earn wages and provide childcare on which their families dependshould not be crafted by individual bosses or corporations on a piecemeal basis that inevitably favors already privileged populations. They should be available to every American. But until we see a large-scale, national refashioning of family leave, the economic fates of childbearers will be left in the hands of the private entities that employ them.

You can read more of this article here.

These are the facts of my maternal/working life:

  • When I got pregnant with Gabe I was accruing sick leave and vacation pay, both to be exhausted during my unpaid leave, for any sick days due to pregnancy (which there were many because oh god) and doctor appointments etc.
  • There were times during that pregnancy that I worked more than 40 hour weeks in order to make up time, pre-approved, so that I wouldn’t have to use my accrued time off for doctor appointments. As a pregnant woman working more than 40 hours a week fucking sucks.
  • About half way through my pregnancy the company changed policies and my sick leave stopped accruing, so my plans for a do-able time off were chopped in half. That sick leave was quickly drained with monthly doctor appointments and actual sick time. I actually cried at work when this new policy was announced. The official reasoning was: people were using their sick time too much. (Imagine that, people using sick leave instead of coming to work and/or using their PTO that is being squirreled away for other plans. Once this stopped accruing for people, we got the NORO virus at work and people were dropping like flies.)
  • By the time I had Gabe I had accrued 10 days of vacation which covered the first two weeks of my leave. I had also applied for disability with the state of CA which would cover me for 6 weeks at a certain % of my pay that I can’t remember right now. Because CA government offices were on mandatory short weeks due to budget restraints, my claim was not processed for a month, where I received no pay and needed to ask my parents for money to pay my student loans. After being on the phone, on hold, for hours while trying to feed and comfort a new born baby, and refaxing and remailing various documents I finally was awarded disability pay.
  • I had job protection during my leave because of FMLA, but I had no financial benefits. After 7 weeks I went back to work. Kamel took over baby-wrangling for a month of his own FMLA leave and used his vacation time with the option for actual paternity leave (at a certain % of his current pay) once his vacation was used up that we opted out of because the cut in pay would not have been sustainable.
  • With baby number 2 I got pregnant once I had been with a company for an amount of time that would have put me over a year with them once I gave birth, just like I had with Gabe.
  • The problem is I’m a contract worker. So even though I work full time for 1 company, I’m actually paid by another. I receive no PTO, no sick leave, no holiday pay, and no job protection.
  • If I got hired at any time after becoming pregnant full time at the company I show up to every single day I would still not be covered under FMLA because I wouldn’t have TECHNICALLY worked for them for a year. Because I had spent all my previous time actually being paid by the company that is contracting me out.
  • If I had applied to full time work elsewhere after finding out I was pregnant I would also not be protected by FMLA and may not qualify for any leave benefits imaginary company would hypothetically offer.
  • My contract ends at the end of April, at which point I will be leaving my job and the money I make here. I am lucky and full of privilege because we can afford our rent and our daycare and our bills on Kamel’s salary. To an extent. We cannot afford those things with 2 children, so about a month postpartum I’ll be job searching like mad.
  • I haven’t even approached my boss about a possible leave allowance or job protection. Why? Because I don’t want to fucking have that conversation where either they tell me “no, sorry” or they offer me 6 weeks and I have to act grateful. I am not grateful. I’m not doing 6 weeks again. 6 weeks fucking sucks. I want to take the time I need to breast feed my kid successfully and not dry up in a pumping room that’s actually a normal overly used conference room where people try to bust in while my tits are out. I want to bleed in peace. I don’t want to be rushed. Yes I’m applying for jobs a month out, but those things take time, interviews take time, it’s all on my clock anyways.

Not having children is an excellent life choice. It gives you freedom and extra money and lots of positives. But! Technically speaking, if people just stopped having kids the human race would cease to exist. Life as we know it would end, the economy would shrivel up and die, and the earth would rejoice because we would finally stop trying to kill it.

But that’s not my point… my point is, having real time off to heal and recoup after childbirth (And 6 weeks for vaginal and 8 for C-section is an absolute JOKE as my hair is falling out, as my nipples are cracked and scabbing over, as my body is a giant squishy sack of pudding and nothing except yoga pants looks appropriate), having the ability to nurture an absolutely broken human who doesn’t even have control over moving their own limbs initially, who has to eat every 2 hours regardless of whether it’s the sun or the moon pouring through my bedroom window, and yes also having the grace to afford two horribly sleep deprived people the chance to figure out what the fuck they’ve got themselves into is not an ENTITLEMENT. It is human. This is a human thing. It’s as human as helping an elderly person cross the street, it’s feeding the poor, it’s community, it’s the village we all came from at some point in our human history. When is policy going to reflect that?

40 thoughts on “Maternity Leave is Not a Handout for Whiny Bitches”

  1. In the UK, parents of babies born after April this year will be eligible for Shared Parental Leave, wherein they (if they qualify) they will be able to share 52 weeks of leave and still have a job to go back to. With my first child I didn’t quite qualify for my work’s maternity leave policy, but I still had 39 weeks of statutory pay from the Government and was able to go back to a better job. When we have a second child, I will receive 6 months full pay, will accrue holiday while I’m away from work and would hope to share the remaining 6 months leave (some of which will be paid, some not) with my husband – we might do the first 6 weeks together then he take 2 months when I go back, that sort of thing.

    I feel incredibly lucky to work for an employer that doesn’t even flinch at the idea of their employees taking maternity leave and I can honestly say that it hasn’t impacted on my career at all. However, I still don’t think the UK in general does enough to support returning mothers or fathers who want to take more than 2 weeks off (the legal paternity leave). I cannot even begin to imagine what it would be like not to have these options and it makes me sad to think that my American contemporaries are having to make choices like returning to work after a couple of weeks. WHAT??!! My son didn’t stop feeding every hour until he was 5 months old!

    I do think the general approach to maternity leave I see on American blogs is that new mothers should be back to doing everything asap – this is not the case in the UK, although it is changing. Sure, some mothers can do everything, but most of us humans need a lot more time to recover and actually enjoy our new families.

    I don’t really have a response other than the answer is obviously that you need to move here! I’m sorry that you’re going to go through all of that and I will be cheering you on like a mad woman.

  2. Yep to most everything you said. I’m in Illinois so we get nothing from the state and my company doesn’t offer short term disability so I get nothing there. Luckily I can use my sick leave after baby is born and I talked to my employers and I just get paid for the hours I work so if I don’t work 40 they are fine with that and just pay me accordingly but I can only do that because my husband makes way more than I do and he balances out the fact that I haven’t worked a 40 hour week since I was 35 weeks pregnant with my son in August 2013, luckily he knows that a) I need the extra time off bc carrying a child sucks b) my flexible schedule benefits him bc he can always make it to meetings bc I can be home and c) something had to give both of us can’t work 40 hour weeks. All that to say I feel ya

  3. Preach. I saved up vacation time for almost 5 years at my job so I could have 7 weeks paid when I had my baby. I was determined to take the full 12 weeks off so I took the next 5 weeks unpaid (privileged, i know). I came back to work with no sick or vacation time left. If/when we have another baby it will be almost all unpaid, since I will not be banking it all for 5 years. And I work for a major Big 10 university.

    1. Universities are the worst at this kind of stuff. Even here in Australia where we have government paid maternity and paternity leave, there’s still a lot of problems for women staying in the university system – because academia is set up on the ability to get grants as an individual. So even when we have spaces on grants forms to explain career breaks and they ‘say’ they look at track record relative to opportunity, the reality is a person with a six month or twelve month break with no publications gets fewer grants than someone without the break. Good op-ed about it (with regards to women in STEM fields) in The Australian today – not sure if you’ll be able to access it in the US or elsewhere – http://www.theaustralian.com.au/higher-education/opinion/momentum-may-carry-stem-gender-equity-carroll/story-e6frgcko-1227202131747

  4. I could go on and on about this. I had to take four weeks of my unpaid leave on bed rest before I delivered
    this left me with only 8 weeks of fmla time (job protection but unpaid). I still had 4 weeks left before my due date and my boss wanted me to just stay home until then because it would be too complicated to put me back to work. Since I didn’t deliver until a week after my due date this would have left me with 3 weeks of postpartum leave (after what ended up being a v-section). Thankfully I demanded to be allowed ba k for those four weeks (which didn’t earn me any points because M desk had already be given away and I had to ask for that back too!). So, I’m currently on week 3 of 8 of leave. I’m already worried about going back, when I should just be focused on being a mom to my newborn. Fortunately the fact that all this time is unpaid hasn’t broken us financially, but it still isn’t easy. And the best part is my boss somehow having no clue about how actually works and making comments like, “we’ll still get our moneys worth out of you.”

    Ugh. Ugh. Ugh.

  5. And the fact that working in healthcare, my colleagues should understand, right?? No way. I’m thankful for the job protection for the next five weeks because honestly I think they would let me go otherwise (there are no other women of childbearing potential in my department, but 11 men who I think would prefer another man instead of someone who “as a mom I going to have unpredictable scheduling needs”)

    1. You know what bosses/colleagues don’t get? The more stress free time off to spend with baby the more focused and on top of my shit I will be when I get back. If I’m stressed about my tiny baby being at daycare or having to find a caregiver that makes me a crazy person. But just because I have a kid does not mean I’m not laser focused at work. That is 100% what’s wrong with not wanting to accommodate families professionally. Women are seen as a liability and at the same time expected to be all the things. don’t treat me like a fragile flower, but give me the time I need to handle my shit. UGH.

      1. This is so, so true, and a point I made when requesting additional leave from my bosses. It actually worked out in my favor, because they had seen women come back early and ask to go part time to manage home stuff and work stuff, so I reassured them that I’d be coming back full-time at my normal schedule and that it would be much easier for me to do that with the additional time off. Having that extra time to heal, establish breastfeeding, establish a reasonable sleep schedule, and figure out how to function as a family was absolutely crucial to my success when I came back to work. I recognize that I’m super lucky to even work in a field where paid leave is even offered, let alone on a flexible basis. Most women aren’t in a position to have those conversations with their bosses.

  6. I’m starting to think that other countries should start offering asylum to women from America. Between this and anti-choice legislation and pay inequity and nonexistent rape prosecution I think we could have a pretty solid case.

    This just makes me so angry. I can’t believe that our legislators have the gall to ever suggest they are “pro family.”

    1. I have a recurring thought lately, it just keeps flashing in my head over and over and over again: The United States is no longer the best country to live in. Maybe it was at one point with freedom and a unique voting system and opportunity for immigrants, but no longer. We are completely run by big business, have no TRUE representation, and as a woman or minority you are invisible or seen as a charity case to be scorned at or WORSE you’re seen as a combative enemy. I feel very conflicted about living here.

        1. It’s hard and complicated. And also I love Seattle. And I don’t want to leave my family. But I don’t want to be giving my money to a system that fucks me over. Vote with my dollars except i have no control over my dollars. THIS SITUATION IS SO FRUSTRATING.

      1. 100% yes. It is not the best country to live in if you are not insanely wealthy. Our politicians still talk about us like we’re the country we were after World War II, when there was, arguably, a lot of opportunity and dynamic changes happening. But it’s like a rich CEO (or a RICH POLITICIAN) thinking they are still a scrappy, hard working twenty year old, instead of acknowledging that the reality of people today looks nothing like it used to.

        1. YES. This is a huge pet peeve of mine. I will say that obviously post-WWII, things were not all sunshine and roses, but things are seriously very bad right now and people of a certain generation refuse to acknowledge they played a role in that.

      2. YES to this. I have recurring moments of really considering moving to Canada or Europe before having kids. I am so over hearing declarations of American exceptionalism. We have some great things here and this is my home so it would be incredibly difficult to actually leave it, but the idea that the U.S. is still unquestionably the best country in the world increasingly seems delusional to me. And I think the pervasiveness of this idea is really damaging because it makes us not look seriously at what other countries are doing that we could learn from.

        Also, I think that that the term “maternity leave” *sounds* like paid time off to have a baby. But its not, except for in very rare situations, which are usually the businesses that need to retain very sought-after talent. And the thing with FMLA is (as I understand it), they don’t even have to give you YOUR job back! Just *a* job. It’s absurd. It really is a non-human system. You should be able to choose to take care of a family member who is ill or properly heal from a major medical event without having to go broke. These things are the fabric of a community and a society. The whole idea of taking care of your fellow man/woman through a communal support system that we all participate in feels like it’s almost entirely drowned out in the noisy ra-rahing about freedom and individual choice. I love freedom and choice! But it’s not the ONLY value a society should have. I feel like it has a stranglehold on the American consciousness right now and other values can’t get a word in edgewise. Whew…this post got real philosophical. Anyway, yes. This isn’t the best country anymore. I love it, but we have got some real work to do.

  7. Brava. Thanks for being willing to put it out there why maternity leave is necessary in all its gruesome detail. Also, I LOVE the title of this post.

  8. This makes me crazy rageful; I’m glad you shared the article & how it impacts you. People need to understand that having a decent amount of time post-childbirth isn’t some unnecessary entitlement.

    My husband works for a small tech company (<50 people), and has brought up making changes to the company's owner and HR person (and other coworkers), and he frustratingly can't get anywhere with any of it. He's questioned the policy of making women use all of their sick & vacation time first, but since only one employee is a woman of child-bearing age, and legally they don't have to provide anything, it went nowhere. Likewise when they were planning an office expansion & he suggested incorporating a small area off the kitchen for nursing moms, he was ignored because the nursing mom they have was doing just fine borrowing someone else's office to pump. He pointed out that they might, you know, want to attract *new* tech employees who are young women, and/or that one day the very young daughters of their current employees might appreciate a more welcoming environment in the tech industry, but that also went nowhere. The HR person literally cried when he brought it up, claiming it was as though he was attacking her personally. (FWIW, she's a Kansas Republican, and he's *very* diplomatic so the notion that he said something so upsetting is unbelievable.) It's so frustrating to me, because we're doing our darnedest to STEM it up with our kids (including our 4.5 year old daughter), but what happens if she follows through and finds out there's not really room for her in those industries with good-paying jobs?!? (Probably the same thing that happens when she realizes that me telling her since before she could understand that she's in charge of her body is not legally true.)

  9. What an excellent perspective. I’m teaching a class on Gender and Work right now and we’re a few weeks away from finishing up the unit on “Paid Labor” before we switch to the second half of the class on “Unpaid Labor.” As we make that transition, we’re spending a week talking about policies at various levels (federal, state, company) that help (or are intended to help) parents manage both work and family. I’m having my students go find policies and we’re going to discuss if they help and how or what unintended consequences they might have. I may use you as an example, if that’s ok with you. Ya’ll are an example of the policies and laws we currently have in our country just simply not addressing the needs of new parents. Today we talked about the Motherhood Penalty and these 18-22 year olds were SHOCKED (you know because it IS shocking that the pay gap between mothers/non-mothers is larger than between men/women under age 35) but also felt like they understood a little better some of the decisions their own families made. And as I say pretty much every class “Children are a public good.” Keep fighting the good fight. I’m cheering for you guys!

    1. Absolutely you can.

      Also, fascinating they are out rummaging through policies. Actually finding the policies at my last job was incredibly difficult. I asked about it in my initial new hire training and the HR lady was vague and unclear. I’m not sure even she knew. Then, getting information about it when I was pregnant was a nightmare. I continually received conflicted information, HR refused to even GIVE me the paper work I needed the doctors to fill out and fax over until a month before my due date, and then I couldn’t return that paperwork until after I had had the baby. At which time my HR contact was on vacation which had not been told to me and the paperwork she needed to send off was sitting in her inbox with no one to cover her. And I was the first person to go through pregnancy in my office but towards the end of my pregnancy more women got pregnant and were absolutely surprised to learn there were no benefits. People just don’t know. They don’t realize it is not required, that companies have no obligation beyond holding your job and only if you fit a certain criteria.

      1. Awesome, thank you so much. I AM going to use this because it illustrates so well how many cracks and holes we have in our current system that families (and, more specifically, the child-having-women-in-those-families) get caught in. Even among egalitarian couples who are trying to find solutions for splitting housework/childcare and paid labor, those solutions often result in gaps in employment that harm the mother, long term. What a nightmare.

        The assignment is to find the policies that relate to “work-family balance” and explain how well they actually address parents’ issues and the freedoms and constraints they actually offer parents (and people with other forms of caregiving responsibilities). They also are going to create their own policies – what would be ideal. It’s actually pretty hard to craft a policy that accomplishes the intended consequences but the act of trying is pretty eye-opening. Here’s hoping some of these students go on to positions of power to make these changes!

  10. One point that truly sets me off is that we are required to be at a company for X amount of time before we can expect even the most minimal of benefits, and at least 3 or more years to have enough saved up time off to be useful (while also not using that time off as we should be,) but changing companies is often a huge part of growing in your career, and climbing the ever elusive corporate ladder.

    I’m supposed to stay at a company long enough to be able to use my benefits and even think about starting a family, but not so long that I hit a rut or plateau in my career (that would be 2 years, according to Forbes.)

    Piece of cake.

  11. Thanks for laying this out so thoroughly. I don’t plan to have children in the next couple of years, but I guess I better start planning for this struggle now, or hope the country is in a better place with respect to maternity leave when I do have children. Thanks for sharing.

  12. Thanks for writing this, Lauren. Expecting my first child in August, this is saddening and scary and overwhelming.

  13. Thanks for this post, Lauren. Definitely one of the factors in us not having had a kid yet is because leave policies are similarly opaque in my department, especially when so many of us have our funding tied to teaching. Most of the female grad students I know who’ve had babies have taken a semester off (unpaid) or tried to time delivery for the summer. Women on tenure track are pretty much advised *not* to have kids, and many of them don’t, despite how lots of universities have parental leave policies that look pretty good on paper. (The difference is women take maternity leave to have babies, men take paternity leaves and publish — now whose CV looks better?)

    Anyway, I wish we lived in a country where the only consideration I would need to make in terms of timing a baby is whether or not I want to have a kid. Not “do I have to stay in this crappy job for 2 more years so I get benefits,” not “will having a baby now derail my career forever,” not “can we afford to not have my salary for 2 months if I take unpaid leave?” and so on. RAAAAAAAGE.

  14. I really appreciate you posting this. I honestly don’t know how families are supposed to have children unless you’ve been making mad cash for awhile before hand or have one parent with a super high income, let alone single parents. It makes any sort of career transitions in your childbearing years even more stressful, don’t want to start a new job when you could potentially lose it when getting pregnant if you’re under the 1 year mark. I work at a small company and I’m sure there is no maternity policy, even though the owner is a woman with kids. I can’t even accrue more than two weeks of holiday pay so that wouldn’t even help me. The whole thing is frustrating. My mom had me via C-section and went back to work the next week (they let her take me with her to work) which has always struck me as flat out crazy. Anyway, thanks for your transparency.

  15. I was contract employed when I was pregnant too, with my contract ending when I was 7.5 months pregnant. And who’d hire a 7.5 month pregnant lady? I was so, so lucky to get 18 weeks mat leave from the government program (on a minimum wage level, but I certainly wasn’t going to complain) and then I self-funded the rest from my savings so I didn’t have to go back to work (find a new job) until my boy was six months old. This wasn’t too much of a hardship because as a casual in a university that likes to hire teaching staff on nine-month contracts so they don’t have to pay over the summer months, I essentially would self fund 3 months of every year anyway. I timed the pregnancy so it fit with the semester schedule, so I’d be available to return at the start of a teaching period. Good thing my body accommodated me or we would have been screwed.

    There’s a work/life balance poster at my work that I want to tear off the wall and ram up HR’s butt.

  16. I work for a public university which is widely considered a “cush” job with strong benefits. Those benefits come to a grinding halt when it comes to maternity policy. Set aside for a moment all the researchers and residents that are paid on federal grants as their world is even more upside down. Instead, let’s consider the overwhelmingly female workforce that makes up university administration, in all it’s various facets. My employer has over 10,000 employees, receives over $1b annually in research funding, ranks among the best public universities in the world’s richest country and we have to use our accrued sick leave to cover an post-partum leave. This is insanity.

    It is heartening to see so much being written about the awful situation most women and families are in. In some respects, I think taking a page from the abortion rights movement and having folks share their stories is incredibly powerful. The charts and facts are empowering but bringing these stories out from behind the closed door meetings could be incredibly important.

    Despite not having children myself, I deeply resent the idea that children are a choice so parents should have to bear all the burden of caring for them. It’s fucking sexist as shit. But moreover, we live in the richest country in the history of the world. We have the most productive workforce in history. We have all the resources we need to provide free, 24 hour childcare and pay those workers a living wage. We have the resources to provide paid maternity leave and probably even subsidize children’s expenses. It’s a question of priorities and history has shown us that change only happens when we demand it. Smash the patriarchy!

  17. I really feel for you Lauren. I had it so lucky. While I was pregnant my manager allowed me to work from home at least one day a week (to give me at least one day’s break from the 2 hour daily commute) and was totally fine with me taking an hour here or there for those endless doctor’s appointments (I didn’t push my luck and scheduled them during lunch breaks). I had been with my company for over a year when I fell pregnant, so I was eligible for their full maternity leave benefits, which was either 6 weeks leave at full pay or 12 weeks at half pay. I then took unpaid annual leave and applied for the Australian government’s paid parental leave scheme, which gave me the statutory minimum wage (around $500 a fortnight) for 18 weeks. In other words, I ended up with 6 months of paid (to some degree) maternity leave. I was also accruing annual leave and superannuation (401K) during those first 6 weeks to be used if I went back to work, or to be paid out if I left (the latter). And whether I choose to go back to work or not, I get subsidised child care. The only “negative” I encountered was that I had to work through to 36 weeks (which coincided with the office christmas break) because I had used up all my annual leave during the year with mandatory leave and trips back home, but thankfully I had an easy pregnancy and totally could keep working that long. I cannot fathom the stress and injustices you went through with Gabe and that you’re going through again. I get so mad that a country that is supposed to be so great treats its female citizens so crappily. I really hope that the stars aligns and karma kicks in in your favour and everything works out for you…….but I wish that I didn’t have say “fingers and toes and legs and everything crossed”. I wish that it was a given.

  18. Hey Lauren, just wanted to let you know that if you were hired full time by your employer, I believe your time as a temporary employee would count to your one year of service. Sounds like you have a plan that works best for you, but just in case your plan changes or this applies to one of your readers, I thought I would send the following link with more info.

    http://www.fmlainsights.com/fmla-faq-does-temporary-employment-count-toward-fmla-eligibility/

    1. Thank you for this information! Everything I had read during my research into this had said it doesn’t count because it’s about the company you are paid by. Very interesting.

  19. Ooooooh how I feel for you all! As a new mom, it pains me so that you have to go through this. Reading your stories just made me feel so incredibly grateful that maternity paid leave for a year and job security after going back is such a given where I live (Québec, Canada). Like it wasn’t even a concern when thinking about having a wee one. I’ll have a special thought for you all and a moment of intense gratitude when I start to get a tiny, bit bored with parenting duties. HUGE hugs! The mamas of the world are all rooting for you.

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