Thanksgiving weekend of 2017 my boyfriend of three years and I found out we were going to be welcoming a baby boy into the world. My pregnancy flew by and soon I was trying to figure out how long I got to spend with my little bundle of joy before returning back to work...and more importantly if I was going to be getting paid or not. Being 19 years old, working an $11/hour job at just under 40 hours a week AND having bills to pay doesn't leave you with a lot of money left over to save. So I got onto my company's list of policies to have a look.
"Beginning Mar. 1, 2018, as part of short-term disability coverage, birth mothers can receive up to ten weeks of pay at 100 percent for maternity leave." Okay! Awesome! But am I eligible? I had just recently moved and had only been at my job for 8 months. The policy states that full-time associates are eligible for paid maternity leave. I was working around 36-38 hours a week which would make me a full-time associate. Still, I decided to ask my managers to be sure.
Every. Single. Manager I talked to, said they weren't sure. How can you not be sure? When one manager said I would, the next said I wouldn't because I haven't been an associate for a year. I didn't remember reading about a specific amount of time you had to be working on the policy sheet. Why is everything so unclear? At this point I was 8 months pregnant, I was frustrated, impatient, and tired. I decided to forget it and assume my 10 weeks of maternity leave was unpaid. I knew we would barely be able to afford 10 weeks on one income.
I had all the paperwork filed and was due to start my unpaid maternity leave on the 3rd of August and return on October 13th, or so I thought. A week later I received confirmation that my leave request was approved from August 3rd to September 17th...what?! 6 weeks. 6 weeks is all I was approved for. I was angry and shocked and began to sob on the couch. How am I supposed to return to work when my breastfed baby boy would barely take a bottle? He could barely be set down because he just wanted to be in his momma's arms (yes, he is a little bit spoiled). Sadly, I realized this wasn't just a problem for me.
The good ol' USA is the only country to not offer paid maternity leave on a federal level, they leave it up to the states; the only states to have a policy in effect are California, New Jersey, and Rhode Island. New mothers in Finland are entitled to up to three years worth of paid leave. The U.K. gives new mommas up to 39 weeks, while Norwegian moms get 91. I was amazed to find that there aren't more people talking about this! Newborns require a lot of care. They typically don't sleep through the night until they're 5-6 months old, it's recommended that you don't let them self-soothe until at least 4 months, and breastfed babies typically aren't supposed to be introduced to a bottle until 6 weeks. So why don't new mothers get more time off work?
I, like a lot of women, didn't think too much about maternity leave until I was expecting, and had to face the issue. It was a huge slap in the face. Something needs to change at the federal level. It shouldn't be left up to the states to figure out. The government should find it necessary to take care of new moms and babies.