Like a lot of people, I was happy to hear that Marissa Mayer was named the new Yahoo CEO last summer. She has experience, skills and she is a young woman so seeing her named to such an impressive position felt like great news. Given she was 6 months pregnant was just icing on the cake. Impressively, she was the first pregnant CEO of a Fortune 500 Company. Can we all see a large crack forming in the glass ceiling? When the news broke, I was also pregnant and wondering myself how building a family will impact my career. At first it felt so refreshing to have such an obvious role model to look up to. Until I heard her speak about the pending birth and I immediately heard the tires screech on my optimism. She told Fortune that she expects her maternity leave to be “a few weeks long” and that she’ll “work throughout it.”
I think moms everywhere did a double-take and a collective “Whaaaa?”
To hear a top executive, let alone a woman, let alone a pregnant woman talk about their maternity leave like this was surprising. Making the decision to work during your intentionally and dramatically shortened maternity leave is a personal one and she is entitled to make it. However, when you are such a public person with such a ripe opportunity to set the tone for the ultimate balance between work and family, it felt like a huge miss.
In the background of this news, I was learning about the maternity leave options available to me through my employer. I was shocked to learn about the few benefits that were available to me and having worked for this company for 8 years and always feeling pride in its integrity, leadership, and performance..I was totally let down. They do what most companies do, they follow the federal law and do nothing more…nothing less.
So while I think my company could step up and gift employees additional time off, I guess my disappointment ultimately lies with the U.S. maternity leave policy, affectionately called the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) which gives employees up to 12 weeks unpaid, job-protected leave. But it is important to note, the time off with (partial) pay, is only 6 weeks for most (short term disability). Obviously most people can’t afford to go months without pay, especially after having a baby which clearly brings new expenses to a household. So women in the U.S., return to work 6 weeks after giving birth.
My baby just turned 6 weeks old and I hate that most women have to go back when their babies are still so young. At 6 weeks old, Rose is still a newborn. She needs to eat (breast milk) every 2-3 hours, and is only truly relaxed when she is being held by me. Not to mention how quickly she is growing and developing which makes each day so important and valuable, for her, for me, and for our family. I’m sure there are wonderful childcare options available for this age but the cost and sacrifice feels excessive and I just wish it wasn’t necessary. Or that it was more of an active choice for women instead of something they really have to do.
If we look at other developed countries and how they handle their maternity leave policies, it is easy to see how low the U.S. falls in comparison. Out of 178 nations, the U.S. is one of three that does not offer paid maternity leave benefits. Disappointing, don’t you think?
Why don’t we value our children more? Why don’t we respect the intensity of birth and the need for mothers and babies to spend the formative months together? In a country where family values seems to be a frequent political topic, why aren’t we demonstrating that we value families right from the beginning, when families are newly formed? While other topics that fall under the ‘family values’ umbrella might be controversial, I can’t imagine the mother-baby bond being one that would have too many opponents. On the right or left. Do you?
I keep thinking about the fact that every American has at one point, been a baby. Can’t we all recognize the importance of this universal situation and give other babies the benefit of being with their family? Should we, as a country, change the policy to allow women to spend at least 3 months…no, make that 6 months with their new babies?
Now that I’m a bit more educated about maternity leave policies and of course a hopeful recipient of benefits, I am clearly very passionate about this issue. I know these types of things are more complex than you often realize but I hope more people in the public eye, like Marissa Mayer, help to move things in the right direction, to increase the benefits available to our fellow American moms.
– Mumsy Sus