The three countries in red are the only countries in the world that offer no paid maternity leave for mothers of infants. Our nation, which I do believe is great, has its glaring flaws nonetheless. Employers are not required to offer paid maternity leave. Parents who qualify may take Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) leave, which is up to twelve weeks of unpaid, job protected leave in a calendar year. My employer, more generous than many, offers six weeks of paid leave concurrent with FMLA leave, but I ended up needing to take six weeks of leave before my children even were born. I eventually used the rest of my FMLA for 2013, and plead with my supervisor, receiving two additional weeks leave of absence. Without this, my children would have been at daycare without as much as a first vaccination against any disease. I have co-workers who have spent more time on leave for foot surgery.
My heartbreak every day as I entrust my precious children to another woman is the least part of this equation. Think of their growth, safety, and mental development – of which my husband and I are the guardians, despite the fact that we spend only about two waking hours of twenty-four with our children. Think of my recovery from the most intense physical experience I have ever had, of gaining nearly seventy pounds within the space of less than eight months, of expelling two human beings from my body and the exhaustion and bodily injuries that resulted from these. Think of the sleepless nights and the resulting problems of sleepiness, memory trouble, susceptibility to illness.
Think of how many women and children have even more difficult experiences: of my co-worker who had to return to work before her son, born prematurely and with a metabolic disorder, was able to go home from the hospital; of an online acquaintance who nearly died from a placental abruption; of a friend who suffered from HELLP syndrome; of women who have even uncomplicated caesarean sections. A C-section is a major surgery!
We must do something to help families in our country, so children can get the best start possible.