Last week, I took my kids (sans husband) to Los Angeles to visit family. Our first flight was a puddle jumper from Pittsburgh to Cleveland, from there on to LA. That itty bitty plane had just one wonderfully attentive flight attendant. Her name was Marie and she was from Haiti.
Marie took a liking to Elaine, my 3 yr old. She commented that she was looking forward to when her daughter started talking. I asked her how old her daughter was.
“Two months”, was her response.
“Oh, wonderful! Congratulations! When did you return back to work?”
“Well, I was supposed to be off for four months, but they (the airline) called me back in at six weeks. I was supposed to be on a day shift: Newark, Pittsburgh, Cleveland and back in one day. Instead they have me away from home for three days straight. So, I don’t get to see my daughter. It makes breastfeeding impossible. There’s nowhere to pump in this little plane, and I have no time anyway.”
“Ugh. I’m so sorry. Who is with your daughter?”
“My husband and a cousin, but it isn’t the same. I’m her mama and she should be with me.”
So, I stood up and gave her a hug and she showed me pictures of her daughter.
Folks, this ain’t right.
The United States is the only first world country that has NO national paid maternity leave policy. None, zero, zip, nada, nothing. Click here to see how the rest of the world stacks up. Uganda has the next lowest at four weeks. Iceland gets a whole year.
Over 50 countries also offer paid paternity leave so dad can have time with the baby too. TheU.S.? Nope, no paternity leave here either. More information here too.
The closest we get is the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). However FMLA is only 12 weeks unpaid leave and only for those companies who have more than 50 employees. That excludes many, many employers from having to comply. It excludes many women from the benefits. In fact, that’s almost half of all mothers.
Employers, in most cases, will not make accommodations for new parents. Why? It costs them money. It’s a short-term benefit for long-term loss. Parents need to have the ability to raise their babies. Women need to be given ample opportunity to breastfeed.
When the AAP tells us “Thus, infant feeding should not be considered as a lifestyle choice but rather as a basic health issue.” We need to listen.
And this: “A mother/baby-friendly worksite provides benefits to employers, including a reduction in company health care costs, lower employee absenteeism, reduction in employee turnover, and increased employee morale and productivity. The return on investment has been calculated that for every $1 invested in creating and supporting a lactation support program (including a designated pump site that guarantees privacy, availability of refrigeration and a handwashing facility, and appropriate mother break time) there is a $2 to $3 dollar return.”
Employers, are you listening?
When I taught at an institution for economically disadvantaged women, I heard many stories of women who had to quit their jobs because they couldn’t afford childcare. Being at home, on welfare, allowed them to raise their kids, have food on the table and pay rent. Having a low paying job would only allow for 2 out of 3.
Way back when I was a bank teller, at the tender age of 21, one of my fellow tellers had 2 year old twins. She had a full time job in a bank that netted her $15,000 a year. After paying rent and daycare for two, she had only $85 a month for food and clothes. I bought her lunch once a week because she would often go without.
A past student of mine, who had a very high-powered job, was required to go back to work four days after giving birth. Yep, you read that right – four days. She told me that there was no one else who could do her job, so she had to go back. She hoped to pump but wasn’t sure how it would work out.
I met a teenager who was working at Subway. She had her baby with her at work because she couldn’t afford childcare. Her manager was, thankfully, understanding, so she was able to do this.
Stories like this are all too common. We need a national paid maternity/paternity leave policy. We need it for all women and all families. Our system is broken. We need our legislators to bring us up to par with the other 181 countries in the world who have national paid maternity/paternity leave policies.