17 different women, 36 crazy children, 0 babies in utero
Adventures, Advice and Questions from a group of Mormon women who met in Queens, NY and have now scattered all over the place.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Birth and the Workplace

I work for a university in NYC, and they provide no maternity leave. NO MATERNITY LEAVE!!! When a living being is delivered from your body, if you want time off, you can take your “sick” days to do it. Giving birth is, therefore, likened to a disease or other illness. What an enlightened way to think about the miracle that is birth!Things have certainly gotten better for women who work outside the home and have children. But it still ain’t great. The U.S. falls far behind Europe and other industrialized nations in supporting women who give birth.

My friend in California has it a little better; I think she said she’d get a few weeks paid leave plus extended time off without pay. My friend in Australia just wrote that she gets 14 weeks paid leave plus two years before she has to return to the job, a standard that most nations have adopted. Why are things so crappy for us here? There are as many women as men in the workforce; why don’t we demand that the federal government support us if our individual employers choose not to?

When I went to tell my Chair (my supervisor) that we’d received word we’d be adopting soon, she threw her hands up in the air and said, “Well, who’s going to cover your classes?” She later apologized and wished me luck, but the stress of (very) suddenly becoming a new mother and putting together the money it takes to adopt was compounded by the fact that I would have to find someone to cover for me if I had to leave suddenly, which—as is almost always the case with adoption—I certainly had to.

When Human Resources informed me further that if I took any time off, I wouldn’t get paid, I was blown away. I’m the primary source of income in my family; we cannot live without my income for any extended amount of time. As it was, my husband had to quit his job to take care of our baby. I’m glad he was able to do it, but that cut in our income hurt, too.

Few other women at my college have children, and I’m starting to understand why. It’s more than just juggling your time and your energy: you have to worry about the lack of economical support you’ll get. In my department, the people most likely have children are the married men. They have someone else to be the primary care provider. Women in my department have learned you can’t do it and have a successful career. Women my age are putting having children off for that very reason. I’m definitely starting a new trend: either as a career mom or as an unemployed mom.


  • This one is tough, because although we'd love to receive the deserved benefits for bringing human beings into the world, companies and organizations can't always afford to pay, nor is it their obligation. They need to make a profit, and what company wants to pay for someone to NOT be working for them? If I were to choose between hiring a man or woman of equal qualifications, I'd choose the man because he'd more likely have the time to fully devote to my company. It's just plain business sense.

    Motherhood -- whether through your own body or adoption -- is the most underpaid and underappreciated job in this world. Raising a child to be an upstanding, productive citizen is of immeasurable value to the community, even economically. We should get paid lavishly!

    But personally, I can't feel right expecting the government or my employer to pay me for doing this invaluable work when it does not benefit them. If I'm so valuable and irreplaceable that they WANT to pay my maternity leave, then wonderful.
    posted by Blogger Squiddy at 2/08/2006 11:42:00 AM  

  • I am grateful that I have such a strong testimony of motherhood and my divine roll. without it, the messages of the world and lack of support for mothers and the family in general would be very discouraging. Hopefully I can instill this same understanding in my children. Anwen calls every woman she sees and every man she sees--in real life, picture books, or magazines, a mommy or a daddy. And that is so true. Our most important work is parenthood.--I agree that a lot of countries are more progressive as far as work/life balance and I would be more than willing to sacrafice money and things and "standard of living" in our country to trade for some of their ideas.
    posted by Blogger Brandolyn at 2/08/2006 01:36:00 PM  

  • I am horrified by this. I cannot believe that you could only take sick leave. I hope that your horror story is in the minorty. Good things I have heard recently: a friend's insurance covers $10K PER adoption and only $10K lifetime for infertility treatments. I think that amount per adoption is so nice.
    Also, MA has great infertility insurance...I heard a rumor once that it is like 5 bucks per IVF...but I also told you your adoption would cost 500 dollars, so I could TOTALLY be wrong about that.
    posted by Blogger Kage at 2/08/2006 03:01:00 PM  

  • This really gets under my skin. I can't believe there is NO MATERNITY LEAVE at all at your university. But then I guess it's only been since the early 90's that the federal gov't passed the Medical and Family Leave Act, guaranteeing that you can take up to 12 weeks leave (but unpaid, and not in companies that have less than 50 employees.) I feel like universities should be at the cutting edge of these kinds of issues. We are light years behind many countries when it comes to family work policy.

    Leeann, you say that companies need to worry about the bottom line. Yes, they do. But, when they have such unfriendly policies for families and especially for women, they are shooting themselves in the foot. The costs of turnover and training new employees when mothers leave their jobs are astronomical. It makes a lot of financial sense to help mothers and fathers balance their family life with their work life.

    What you describe (choosing a man over a woman with equal qualifications) is illegal. Just because women *in general* are most likely to be "unstable" in a job because of family (and let's have another conversation about why this is the case--why women have to bear the brunt of parental responsibilities in a way that I feel is detrimental in some measure to mother, father, child, and employer), that's no guarantee that the woman sitting in front of you for the interview is going to be the one asking for time off to take care of a sick kid, or need a flexible work schedule.
    posted by Blogger Michelle at 2/08/2006 04:18:00 PM  

  • Michelle, what is the name and author of that book we talked about earlier that discusses why the US is so far behind on these policies? I tried to look it up... I have read an excerpt, but not the entire book. That book tries to answer some of newmom's questions...

    The book's message is essentially that we are so behind other countries because women haven't come together to fight for family-friendly work policies. She says that only when we organize and fight hard will changes occur.

    The reasons why US women haven't organized include: 1. We're too damn busy trying to balance family and work 2. Our individualistic society tells us we should be able to "do everything by ourselves"... we're basically killing ourselves trying to work within the system rather than trying to change the system to accomodate our personal needs like more flexible working hours and, of course, paid family leave time. 3. A reaction against our parents (well, not MY parents), who held demonstrations, etc. etc. during the 60's to promote change.

    I think Leeann's comments show how divided women really are in this country. Hell, we can't even agree on whether women should be hired for a job they are qualified for because they "might have a baby." We are creating our very own glass ceilings.

    Anyways, the author makes some really interesting points, but I keep getting stuck on...how do we even begin this revolution?

    Newmom, I'm so glad you persevered through the nonsense policies and found a way to have your family and career...however challenging it must be every day. Maybe you will inspire other women at your university to do the same and...maybe...changes in those inane policies will occur as the numbers increase.
    posted by Blogger Jen at 2/08/2006 05:07:00 PM  

  • I know I was lucky, when I had my son I worked at a children's book publisher with a very generous leave policy (3 mos. paid, 3 additional months part-time work at full-time pay). I was at that job for 5 years, and one of the reasons I took the job and stayed there was because I knew it was a good place to have a baby, even though I didn't know how soon I'd be doing that. I put in 5 years of well-respected, incredibly dedicated and hard work, and showed loyalty to my company and stayed there through things I would not otherwise have put up with, because they were family-friendly. And I know many of my coworkers did the same. I would argue that the monetary rewards for these kinds of policies (maternity leave, "sick" leave for taking care of your kids, paternity leave, benefits that cover fertility treatments, money towards adoption) are difficult to measure, but far outweigh the actual costs of putting them in place. But the problem is just that - to a bottom-line world, if you can't quantify the benefits, it's difficult to justify the expenses.
    posted by Blogger marian at 2/08/2006 05:51:00 PM  

  • I think it all depends on the company and how they can handle the situation financially and whether they can cover your position easily. . .I think a University would be one of the hardest places to do that. I work at a Dental Hygiene Instructor in a University setting and when one of us is out, the rest just have to pick up the classes/clinics. I'm lucky that most of the other instructors are understanding moms.

    My brother in law works for Microsoft in Seattle and actually got 2 weeks paid paternity leave and could take up to 4 more weeks unpaid if he needed to. Obviously, Microsoft is a company that can afford to do this and his job was such that he could do some work from home if needed. It's too bad that all companies/jobs can't work that way.
    posted by Blogger wendysue at 2/08/2006 06:39:00 PM  

  • Jen, I think the book we were talking about was Perfect Madness: Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety by Judith Warner. I'm impressed by all you remember from the excerpt. She starts out by describing her life in France where her child was born, and then the differences she found in society after she moved to the US. It seemed that her argument had to do with pressures that we and our culture put on ourselves--sacrifice everything and focus all energy on your child. Her examples are things like spending hours making costumes for your 4 year old's preschool play, getting your child into the best preschool, etc.

    Another great book is The Price of Motherhood by Ann Crittenden. She dissects all the ways mothers are penalized in financial terms (divorce law, child support, tax policy, and on and on). She discusses the idea of "choice" in the decisions that mothers make about work and she has policy recommendations.

    Jen, I have no good ideas about starting a revolution. I am so conflicted about my own life and the decisions we're making. I do love to see women who have successfully combined work and mothering in some way. But, given the structural constaints of the labor market, I think it's really hard to do. But when dh is a CEO (ha ha) his company is going to have awesome work/family policies!
    posted by Blogger Michelle at 2/08/2006 08:18:00 PM  

  • michelle, how about when YOU are a CEO?
    posted by Blogger Kage at 2/09/2006 04:50:00 AM  

  • That is really too bad. For some reason, I always envisioned schools/universities as a "mother friendly" environment across the board. No maternity leave at all is extreme - even in the States. Good luck with your new trend.
    posted by Blogger Melissa at 2/09/2006 07:36:00 AM  

  • A lot of universities are becoming much more family friendly - I interviewed for tenure track positions at 13 universities last winter and all but 1 granted new mothers a 1-year extension on the tenure clock and no teaching for at least one semester. The university where I took a job allows me to take a year off from teaching and add a year to my tenure clock while receiving full pay. They will do the same for a man if he is the primary caregiver for the child.

    It's an extremely generous policy, but at the same time many universities are finding it in their best interest to implement these types of policies so that they don't lose all of their female faculty during their child-bearing years (which often coincide with the five years in which they are trying to get tenure).
    posted by Blogger Nikki at 2/09/2006 09:04:00 AM  

  • its so aggravating to keep seeing companies think they are managing their money SOOOO well, by not taking care of their employees. Those worker bees are almost 80% of your costs and why oh why do they throw it all away in rehiring/training etc just because they are unwilling to invest in their current employees. Just more proof that this blasted country buys more into the "disposable" life style more and more. I personally see this in the same light as how important women are in the home. We need strong role models in the office too. I dont know about you, but the offices I work in are full of filthy mouthed men that party by night and degrade women by day. And the women that laugh and support them in their activities. I'd much rather work with a woman that may need a sick day or two for her kid than deal with all the other crap.
    Boy ... i now realize i have been torturing myself by where Ive worked. YIKES!
    posted by Blogger ksl at 2/09/2006 11:18:00 AM  

  • I worked for a university as well, but had a wonderful supervisor. She was so understanding. I had paid leave and was able to work from home until the baby was 6 months and after that could work on a flex schedule. It took my boss, seven years to get pregnant so whe was really supportive of my new role as mother. I am eternally grateful for such a wonderful supervisor because having time with your newborn is so special and its stressful enough withought worrying about how you are going to support your family. Sometimes the choices an employer can make are not just about dollars, but ultimately about the quality of life for the employee and their family.
    posted by Blogger Tri Mama at 2/09/2006 12:20:00 PM  

  • Sorry--this is the life in education. I have never worked for a district that offered paid maternity leave--it is always sick days. It is no coincidence that the children of teachers are by in large June babies. Gotta love America--they know how to treat teachers right.
    posted by Blogger a spectator at 2/09/2006 04:53:00 PM  

  • "United Nations Economic and Social Council
    (ECOSOC) figures indicate that the vast majority of the
    world’s countries offer paid maternity leave, often with a
    guaranteed wage of 50-100% of salary. Interestingly,
    the United States offers women 12 weeks, but with no
    pay whatsoever, putting it in league with Lesotho,
    Swaziland and Papua New Guinea."

    From the World Economic Forum

    In Denmark where I am currently living, I know a man who took his wife's maternity leave because she wasn't working. But then again, Denmark ranks #1 on Women's economic empowerment and the US 46 out of 58 countries... Thats a big difference!
    posted by Blogger sarah at 2/16/2006 02:19:00 PM  

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