By Stephanie Cook Broadhurst / The Mother List
Here’s a TEDx Talk given by author Jessica Shortall that addresses an embarrassing truth about working women who have babies in America: The US is woefully behind other countries when it comes to offering paid maternity leave and supporting new moms and babies. America is the only industrialized country in the world that does not offer any mandatory paid leave – at all — for new moms. Every other country has found a way to make some level of national paid leave work.
In her TEDx Talk, “The American Case for Paid Maternity Leave, ” Shortall points out that women make up 47 percent of the US workforce, and in 40 percent of US households, women are the sole or primary breadwinners. They are a huge part of the US economy, but once they have children, they often are left to struggle. Another startling statistic: About 88 percent of working moms do not get one minute of paid leave after having a baby. They either take unpaid leave or have to save for time off on their own. When it comes to unpaid leave, only half of new moms are eligible for The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) because of loopholes, Shortall says. For those women who do have access to unpaid leave, most cannot afford to take it at all.
The attitude of “women choose to have babies, so they should bear the consequences of that decision” makes no sense, Shortall says. Babies born today will one day fill our workforce, protect our shores, make up our tax base, and help sustain our economy. If a country is to thrive and survive, procreation is not optional. We need women to work, and we need women to have babies, so we should support them.
The birthrate required in the US to keep the population stable is 2.1 live births per woman. Today we are at 1.86. It would hurt our GDP if women did not have children, so there need to be better incentives put in place.
Shortall talks about a mother who adopted a newborn son, then had to take a day off work to pick up and meet her new baby. That mom lost her job for taking time off.
Shortall also shares stories of women who were forced to go back to work way too soon. One woman told her: “I gave birth to twins and went back to work after seven unpaid weeks. Emotionally I was a wreck. Physically, I had a severe hemorrhage during labor, and major tearing, so I could barely get up, sit or walk. My employer told me that I was not able to use my available vacation days because — it was budget season.”
The illusion of a happy working mother shrouds a hard fact about working moms in America: Every year, we send them back to work horrifically too soon after they give birth. In fact, 23 percent of working moms are back on the job within two weeks after giving birth. This has serious physical and psychological implications for mothers and also for their babies.
Babies who spend at least 12 weeks at home with mothers are more likely to receive their vaccinations and well-checks over the course of their first year. And they avoid having to go to day care when they are only a few weeks old.
Shortall’s bottom-line message is simple: “We have to stop framing this as a mother’s issue or a women’s issue. This is an American issue. It is long past time to offer national paid leave to the people doing the work of the future of this country and to the babies who represent that future. Childbirth is a public good. Maternity leave should be subsidized – with no exceptions.”
Jessica Shortall is author of Work. Pump. Repeat.: The New Mom’s Survival Guide to Breastfeeding and Going Back to Work
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