The United States is a country based on family values. We preach loudly about the children being our future, and about how important it is to make them our top priority.
Yet the sad fact is that we’re the only industrialized nation in the world with no paid parental leave. The only one. And in the bottom three of every country worldwide that does not mandate paid time off for new parents.
But wait – there’s more! We have little support systems in place for new parents, and even fewer for the children themselves. Physically, professionally, and financially, many American families struggle once having children.
It’s no wonder that my Canadian cousin once called the prospect of having a child in the United States “barbaric.”Having a #baby in the United States is not for the faint of heart. #pregnancy #parenting #birth Click To Tweet
For a nation that touts family values, this is shocking. Appalling. And, for the parents who live it, incredibly difficult. Here are just a few reasons why.
Pregnancy is considered a disability.
You heard that right. In the great old US of A, new working mothers are put on Short Term Disability for either six weeks (vaginal delivery) or eight weeks (cesarean delivery) postpartum. Salaries – or portions of salaries – are paid by Short Term Disability insurance during this period.
After the 6-8 weeks are up and assuming she is recovering normally, the new mother’s Short Term Disability insurance runs out and in most states she’s now left without pay unless she – wait for it – returns to work. Never mind that she’s still waddling around the house in pain. If she wants money to buy new baby necessities (or simply pay the bills), she’ll need to get back on the job STAT.
Breast is best in theory only.
We talk the talk but don’t exactly walk the walk. Considering the fact that a mother’s milk supply isn’t even fully established until up to 12 weeks, we are sending her back to work long before there is a chance of that occurring. Once there, she has to contend with meetings, schedules, and discouraging bosses while trying to find the time and a good area to pump. It’s no wonder most American mothers aren’t successful over the long term.
We care more about Mom fitting back into her skinny jeans than the physical ordeal she’s just been through.
Other countries focus on nurturing and caring for new mothers after the births of their babies. In China, for example, new mothers are expected to rest and concentrate on eating and nursing for 30 days – while family or friends (or even hired helpers) care for them and the needs of their families. Mexico has a similar tradition, and even France keeps new mothers in the hospital for close to a week.
But here, new mothers are sent home a day or two after giving birth. They’re then expected to not only jump back into everything they were doing before, they’re expected to do it with raw and leaky nipples, sore and tender nether regions or tummies, and brand new babies.
Oh, and the minute Mom arrives home is the minute the clock starts ticking for her to get her “pre-baby body back.” Even a simple trip to the market can be misconstrued as a planned “debut” of her post-baby bod.
Many employers are not supportive.
Granted, you can’t blame them with the limited laws (often ignored) protecting pregnant women and mothers. While more employers are becoming more open to the fact that – gasp – a pregnant woman or new mom CAN remain a committed and valued team member, there are many that see it as a stark disadvantage.
From being asked about whether she plans to have children to the anxiety of telling her boss she’s pregnant to having to fight for maternity leave rights to being mommy-tracked once she returns from leave, new mothers have seen it all in the workplace. And it ain’t pretty.
Having a baby is excessively expensive.
And you better believe that medical facilities upcharge every chance they get. We’re talking thousands upon thousands of dollars for prenatal care and delivery – and this is WITH health insurance. I often wonder how families can even afford to have babies anymore.
I recently reviewed the medical receipts from the birth of my third child and was blown away. In addition to the exorbitant fees I was charged for a natural delivery that occurred 11 minutes after my arrival to the hospital, I was additionally charged for a can of Dermoplast at 25 times the listed cost on Amazon. Better yet was the daily “bassinet rental fee.” Yep – you read that right – the bassinet that my baby was placed in at the hospital was later billed to me at a daily rental rate.
No wonder more and more women are considering home births.
Mothers commonly work right up until they give birth.
Imagine it. You are nine months pregnant, sore, uncomfortable, and ready to give birth at any moment – and still working. While the federal Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) does provide job protection for up to 12 weeks, it is unpaid and must be due to an approved reason – such as pregnancy complications certified by a doctor. Even if a mother DOES qualify to begin her FMLA prior to birth, it shortens the period of job protection she is eligible for after birth.
So you have a choice – use it before the baby is born (unpaid), or after (and combine it with Short Term Disability to receive pay for the first 6 or 8 weeks).
Given these options, no wonder mothers work until their waters break. Every penny of salary is needed before a new human being is brought into the world, and every postpartum minute counts in a country where new parents are given mere days to bond.
We don’t prioritize affordable quality childcare.
Do “affordable” and “quality” even belong in the same sentence? After paying thousands of dollars to merely have the baby, working parents then struggle to find reliable childcare that won’t break the bank.
There aren’t many options available. Parents can opt for a traditional childcare setting, an in-home childcare, or pony up to pay a private nanny (or au pair). Childcare licensing leaves a bit to be desired, and nannies are not regulated at all. So no matter what, parents are taking expensive leaps of faith when they return to work and leave their tiny six or eight week old babies with hired help.
So where do we go from here? Change is necessary, and it is long overdue. There’s not a single right answer, but I do know that prioritizing our nation’s family values, as we say we do, would be a helluva start.
- 7 Reasons the United States Needs Paid Maternity Leave
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- What You Really Need For a New Baby + Free Printable
- Can Mothers Really Have it All?