Last fall, I took a class called “Writing for Social Change.” Our class focused on writing for a Baltimore nonprofit to those whose family members had been victims of gun violence. For our final project, we had to pick an issue we were passionate about and write about why it was important and what change we wanted to see. I picked an issue that I was passionate about at the time but did not affect me personally: maternity leave. That would change in just a few months. Less than a year later, here I am, six and a half months pregnant, facing the silent dilemma of many working American mothers: how am I going to take maternity leave?
In my project, I mentioned that access to maternity leave would likely determine when I could afford to have a child. I wrote in my project that I would likely have to delay having children long enough to have more savings or find a job with paid maternity leave. I was touched when my professor told me she was sorry to hear this. Fortunately, I do have more savings than I did when I completed that project, but now I worry about doing this all over again to one day give my son a sibling.
Two summers ago, I looked through my company handbook and was shocked to learn that there was no paid maternity leave. I work in healthcare, where young, female employees are abundant, so it surprised me that this was the case. I looked for companies that had paid maternity leave, but most of what I found were IT companies, and I have no experience or education in IT. I still work in the healthcare field, for a company that is generally thought of as a better place to work, yet I’m stuck in a similar boat. My current company offers an unpaid “leave of absence” (I haven’t worked there long enough for the Family and Medical Leave Act to apply for unpaid maternity leave). There is a chance I can use the ADA for some time off as well, but I will have to wait to see how I qualify and whether I can still be paid.
Some of you are probably thinking, “What does she want? She got herself into this mess!” Well, yes. As much as children can be, our baby was “planned.” He was our every wish, prayer, and dream. Although we’re both in school and not as “settled” as some parents are, we trusted we were ready for a child. But what about those who face unplanned pregnancies? I have a loving, supportive husband and extended family, but what about those on their own? Are these people too much of a drain on companies? Is it too much to ask of employers to accommodate growing families?
This is what I set out on my project to uncover, and I want to share my findings with all of you! In my next three blog posts, I am going to report on the state of maternity leave in the US (hint: it’s bad), how important maternity leave is (spoiler: very!), and how viable paid maternity leave is (good news on that one!) Stay tuned!