Maternity Leave

On Sundays, our newspaper prints responses from readers about various topics. This Sunday, the topic was on the question of maternity leave, as it was noted that the US is one of the very few developed nations that doesn’t provide maternity leave (women are entitled to 6 weeks’ unpaid maternity leave).

21 responses were printed, from men and women. Not one person who wrote in said that maternity leave should be provided! None! One wasn’t as opposed, and thought maybe it could be provided for low-income families, but not for all. One person excoriated a person she knows for daring to complain that she wouldn’t get maternity leave, saying the person was obviously “entitled.” Others said similar things, complaining about entitlement, saying it leads to people having babies just to abuse the system (such things are quite rare, but that’s unfortunately the stereotype), and that having a baby is a personal decision and so should receive no benefits.

Where do I even begin?! I’m floored by such responses! My first thought is to wonder how many of the responders consider themselves to be pro-life. I’d wager more than a few. Unfortunately, most equate being pro-life with just being anti-abortion. While opposing abortion is, of course, a large part of being pro-life, it is not the only part. It does no good to tell a woman she can’t have an abortion, but then say that no help will be given. We must do both, or else calling ourselves pro-life is meaningless, in my opinion. (Note: I’m absolutely against abortion, and absolutely for maternity leave).

There’s also the health factor. It takes at least six weeks for breastfeeding to be truly established. It can take at least that long for the mother to truly recover from birth, too. Breastfeeding once returning to work is much more difficult, and pumping is also difficult. While most women can successfully breastfeed, pumping is completely different and some may find they cannot produce enough milk that way. The babe is also likelier to wean earlier. There are also numerous health benefits for the mother. Breastfeeding rates in this country are abysmal, and I’m sure the lack of maternity leave is a factor. Think this only affects that mother and baby? Think again. Breastfeeding is a matter of public health, and if breastfeeding rates rose, the entire country would benefit.

My first two were born in England, where you can get 12 months of maternity leave. You don’t receive your full salary, but are paid for most of that time. Yes, taxes are higher, but the benefit is worth it. I’m ashamed that my country doesn’t even pay women for the 12 weeks the federal government allows. This must change.

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