This post is so much bigger than me, I am not even sure it is wise for me to weigh in on the topic. This is one of those times I feel it is important to set up the disclaimer what I am about to write are strictly my own opinions.
Yesterday we were at my parent’s house and Todd was watching John Oliver’s show on HBO while my parents and I were playing scrabble. We were listening to the show while we played. John Oliver was talking about how behind the times our country is in terms of maternity benefits for mothers and this started a conversation.
John Oliver highlighted a story of a woman who had one month for maternity leave but then went into premature labor. Because her baby was born early it had to stay in the hospital for a period of time before being able to go home. The mother was then left with an agonizing decision to either take her maternity leave at present to be with her baby while it is in the NICU knowing that she could use up her leave before the baby ever comes home or wait to take her maternity leave until her baby is released from the hospital. She chose the latter which meant she had her baby on a Wednesday and returned to work the next Monday. The mother explained the guilt she felt leaving her baby, only being able to visit in the evenings after work and how difficult it was for her to focus at work because of the whole ordeal. Motherhood is made out to be this wondrous time in a woman’s life but for this woman, the start of motherhood at least, sounded devastating. That’s not right.
When the story was over I looked around and realized my parents and I had stopped playing scrabble a while ago. All three of us were glued to the TV. Todd made a comment about how messed up the story was and this prompted me to share my friend’s story.
My friend works for the same hospital I used to work for. I enjoyed working for that company more than any other company I have ever worked for. They take great care of their employees, their is a clear standard of professionalism and in my experience people cared about the work they did. There were a few issues though and one of the big ones related to the terrible benefits. You can barely call them benefits really. When a person has to pay for having Christmas off out of their own vacation time it is not much of a benefit. I get that there are some companies that don’t offer paid holidays but those companies are usually upfront about that and say, Hey by the way we don’t pay for holidays or Hey you have to work on Christmas. This company would have you believe they pay for holidays, Um no, the employee does.
The way it works is sick time, vacation time, maternity leave, holidays (Christmas, Thanksgiving, New Years.. all of them), personal time, all come out of the same pot. Time off is time off no matter how you use it. Of course like most companies though you only get so much time off in a year so you better hope you don’t fall ill too much in a year or you may not get to take that summer vacation or worse you may not get paid for the Christmas holiday even though the office is closed and you cannot work that day anyway. A few other important points to understand,
1. PTO (paid time off) does not roll over year to year with this company so you have to use or lose it.
2. You are not given PTO at the beginning of each new year, you have to earn it. – When I first heard this I actually thought it was fair, you get like 1 hour of PTO for every X amount of hours you work. – Where you get screwed though is at the beginning of the new year. For example January 1, a holiday in most countries, the office is closed but you do not get paid for this holiday because it is the beginning of a new year and you have not worked enough hours to have any PTO. Not to mention what if you want to take vacation at the beginning of the year? You haven’t worked enough to have vacation time. And you better hope you don’t get sick in the first few months of the year because you don’t have sick time saved up yet either. Pretty messed up right?
Back to my friend’s story. She made the colossal mistake of having a baby towards the beginning of the year. I mean what was she thinking, right? This is poor planning on her part, no reason the company should accommodate her in anyway. She had some PTO saved up but not much. She had a choice, take a very brief leave of absence for maternity leave and get paid, or take a longer maternity leave (approx 2-3 months) and go unpaid for a period of time. She chose to take a longer maternity leave. My friend was fortunate to even have an option because her significant other made enough money to support them while she did not have income.
Here are just a few of the factors that influenced her decision:
1. She had no real help with her baby after it was born. Most of the people in her support system work so she was almost solely responsible for taking care of the baby, which is probably the experience of a lot of women.
2. Once she went back to work she knew her baby had to go into a paid daycare. This meant:
A. That it would cost her and her significant other more for her to be working because of the cost of daycare so it made more since for her to be home longer and save that money. To be clear, even though she wasn’t working it still saved them some money because day care is so expensive.
B. She would have to hand her infant over to a paid care giver (who is not family) for the majority of the day while she was at work 5 days a week. She was in no rush to do that either. Talk about guilt.
3. She was breast feeding. Pumping while at work was not an option for her because of the kind of job she has.
So she got a few months to breast feed regularly, save some money even though she had none coming in and bond with her new born before she had to turn it over to strangers essentially and go back to work. I swear it about killed her. But hey, at least she got that time off right? Some women don’t get that. If that is the upside to this whole situation then WTF? Seriously.
So, here is the real kicker though. My friend is insured through her employer, the hospital. Her insurance covers her, her other child who was a toddler at the time and her infant. A certain portion of her pay check is held out each pay period and that pays for her health, dental etc. Because she was not making a paycheck for a period of time when she did finally return to work she actually owed her employer money! The hospital was nice enough to let her use her health insurance to take her new born to the necessary doctors appointments etc even though at the time she technically was not getting paid but when she returned to work this left her in a deficit and she did not receive a pay check for the first few pay periods until her employer was paid back for the health insurance she had used.
These were her options if she wanted to have more than a few weeks for maternity leave. And again she was fortunate to even have options, some women would not have an option to not receive a pay check and would have to go right back to work. I ask again, how can you really call this way of doing things a benefit? My friend certainly did not benefit from the company PTO program. Maybe it is better than nothing but better than nothing does not necessarily constitute being called a benefit. Not in my eyes at least.
I’ve shared my concerns about this companies benefits with Todd before because even with all this being said I have considered them an option for future employment. I am fortunate enough to be covered under Todd’s insurance which means I won’t have to use the hospital’s insurance but there is no getting away from the awful PTO “benefits”. We agreed if I do find myself working for this company in the future while pregnant we will do what is right for our family, like my friend did.
So after John Oliver finished up the story about the woman with the baby in NICU he went into another story that illustrated our lack of compassion for new mothers/parents. Ironically the next story had to with major league baseball, wasn’t I just calling out sexism in that organization a post or two ago?
Apparently the MLB has a paid paternity leave that gives a new father 3 days off after the arrival of a new baby/child. (notice I said arrival of a baby/child, not all families receive babies/children by going to the hospital and giving birth. Some adopt. I just think it is important to keep this kind of thing in mind when talking about maternity/paternity leave and the rights of new parents.)
Now before I continue I want to be clear that I have done zero research into this story, I am parroting what I heard on John Oliver’s show and I could be dealing with some misinformation. What I will say is this, my opinions are based on the story I heard and could stand to change if I came across further information that disputes any part of the story.
As I was explaining, apparently the MLB gives 3 days of PTO to new fathers as their form of paternity leave. As John Oilver reports it though very few baseball players actually use their paternity leave. In this case though a player did choose to use his paternity leave benefit to be home with his wife and new born and this caused him to miss two games at the beginning of the season. As a result of this decision he received some major back lash. People were angry with him for his decision, which in my opinion is offensive enough, but in one case an announcer or sportscaster ( I have know idea what this man’s actual title was, I just know he was someone with a voice in the industry) actually suggested that the player’s wife should have scheduled a c-section and given birth before the season started.
Um ma’am, your medical condition interferes with our baseball game, could you maybe surgically rip your baby from the womb a week early even though there is no medical reason to do so that way your husband can play with us?
So I guess baseball is more important than the integrity of human life? No, no, it’s totally cool.. Put mother and infant at risk through a completely unnecessary surgery so the boys can play their game. Once again people of society some how think they have a right to tell a woman what to do with her own body. Yeah, that NEVER gets old.
I know I went all angry feminist on this post but this is something to feel angry about. It is ridiculous to me that this is so many women’s lived reality in a country that prides itself on being a world leader.
For more information about our total failure in terms of paid maternity leave compare to other nations check out this ARTICLE . The graph will blow your mind. Get it together America, you are embarrassing yourself.