“Oh, and one last thing -don’t drink the water here, you will get pregnant.”
That was one of the last sentences my on-the-job trainer spoke (albeit jokingly) during a quick briefing on my first day of work as a hostess in my current location. She wasn’t entirely wrong; pregnancies seem to come in waves in our little work family. When I started, we had one person already out on maternity leave, another about to go out, and one woman had just begun announcing her pregnancy, which prompted my trainer’s comment. Oddly enough, my trainer became pregnant shortly after that too! It’s been nearly two years, and the cycle has started again; one has just returned from maternity leave, another just went out, we just threw a baby shower for a third, and one has just started to announce her pregnancy. Meanwhile, I’m using every method of contraception I can find and still taking pregnancy tests every month “just in case…”
I live in California. If I become pregnant and I choose to terminate, I have options, and there currently aren’t any state legislators looking to remove my ability to seek termination care at a center like Planned Parenthood (never mind federal, let’s hope they continue digging their own grave so that this stops happening). It’s the idea of keeping the child that scares me. Why? I’m not the best at math, but considering how many vacation and sick days I have now combined with how many I might earn in nine months… I’d be able to spend a whopping three weeks with my newborn child. I’m not even considering my own health in the matter; most doctors will tell women who have given birth to take it easy for six weeks post-delivery (depending on the demands of the woman’s job, and whether the birth was natural, cesarean, with or without complications), and they call it a “disability,” but speaking from someone who has gone on state disability pay before, that usually doesn’t put bread on the table compared to a normal paycheck, or one supplemented by vacation and sick pay. Imagine trying to feed another mouth on six weeks of disability pay… that’s financial torture; my disability pay was a quarter of what I was used to seeing -I could barely feed myself relying on that. I can’t imagine adding an extra mouth (albeit small) to the equation.
Unless you work for private companies that offer family leave like Netflix, Adobe, Google, and a handful of others, the American plight is the same regardless of gender. It doesn’t matter if you carried the child or not; male or female, no one’s getting paid time off for procreating. Instead, those that are expecting get to do the mental dance of “I really should take a sick/vacation day… but what about the baby comes…” and attempt to save all of their time for when the baby arrives. Though anyone with vacation and sick pay knows you can use it just about however you want (depending on the company you work for, of course), any parent will tell you, parenthood is anything but a vacation.
A vacation is supposed to be spent with a cocktail in hand lounging by a pool, or on a cruise ship, or trekking around a foreign country. A sick day is to be spent sniffling in bed sleeping your illness away.
Apply “Parenthood Glasses” and the vacation day’s cocktail is now a warm bottle, the pool is a sink for the baby’s bath, the cruise ship is the pediatrician’s office, and the “trek” is you running all over town getting errands done while toting extra baggage in the crook of your arm, on your hip, or in one of those ingenious devices that allow you to wear your child in a harness on your chest so they can see the world they’re growing up to inherit (hopefully with paid family leave so they don’t inherit your hell, just your world). Parenthood and sick days do not compute. A sick day with a family involves you chasing after your children with a tissue attached to your nose, and possibly your child’s, assuming that’s where you got your cold.
The US is behind the rest of the world on Paid Family Leave. John Oliver pointed this out last Mother’s Day, and noted that because we federally do not mandate or offer Paid Family Leave, we are on par with Papua New Guinea; a country that is still a Commonwealth realm, whose largest export is palm oil, who only has five doctors per 100,000 people and still struggles with controlling the AIDS epidemic. Most every other country in the world offers at least partially paid maternity leave, and many offer it to fathers as well as mothers. As mentioned in the video, the “hardship that the Family Medical Leave Act places on workplaces” has been absolutely debunked, legislators have been fighting the sheer idea of acknowledging the need to accommodate those who are not only expanding their families, but who need to take care of themselves a little more often than a sick day here or there. The FMLA (Family Medical Leave Act) mentioned in John’s video was passed in the 1990’s and protects not only those who may need to take time off during or after a pregnancy, but it also protects those with chronic health conditions that need constant management. Did anyone else notice that all of the politicians that spoke out against that bill were Republicans? It’s been 20 years, and it appears that some things never change…
My own mother fell victim to a sort of “pregnancy shaming” that a lot of women are beginning to feel as they save up vacation days to bond with their children and attempt to feed them at the same time. 24 years ago, my mother obtained a new job with new health insurance, and she happened to be pregnant with me at the time. She was denied any and all insurance-based help with her pregnancy and delivery care because the insurance company decided that being with child was a “pre-existing health condition.” Measures that President Obama has put in place now protect women from the prejudice my mother experienced, but we’re still stuck in the Unpaid Maternity Leave cycle. The mother from the video who had her baby early (and could beat everyone’s “what I did over the weekend” story) isn’t uncommon, but they unfortunately can get more tragic. Omaha’s Orozco family is proceeding without their matriarch Kerrie who was shot and killed in the line of duty just days before taking her scheduled maternity leave -she had given birth to her daughter prematurely, and went back to work as soon as she could leave the hospital like John’s example did. Instead of bringing home daughter Olivia, Kerrie’s husband Hector got to bury his wife and become a single father of three, all of which could have easily been prevented with Paid Family Leave that Kerrie could have taken as soon as Olivia was born.
Finland not only gives new mothers a year of paid maternity care, but you even get a sort of “new baby gift box” to help you along the way. In America, you get unpaid leave if you’re willing to call your unborn child a “pre-existing health condition” to get yourself FMLA, and you can burn through your vacation hours to supplement yourself. When I decide to have a family, I’ll ask for two things: the ingenious baby harness, and hope for a world where my child can grow up not having to save up vacation hours to start their own family. In the meantime, I’ll bring my own water to work.
Photo from Pixabay.com.