Imagine this. You open your eyes from your first nap after giving birth to a beautiful new baby. To the side of your bed, bundled up in a soft blanket, your newborn sleeps peacefully. While your lips slowly curve into a smile, tears fall on your paper-thin hospital gown. You’ve begun to wonder whether you should call your boss to say you need to go back to work or stay at home to welcome this new person into your family and heal from the delivery. No mother should ever have to decide between these two choices, but many do. According to the National Partnership for Women and Families only about 13% of women around the country have access to paid maternity leave. Although it is the law in the United States for women to be granted 12 weeks of unpaid maternity leave (for companies of 50 employees or more), the U.S. along with Lesotho, Papua New Guinea, and Swaziland are the only countries in the world that that do not mandate paid maternity leave. My question is this, how can the United States of America, the supposed “leader of the free world” and home of “liberty and justice for all”, lag behind countries where the average income is about 10$ a day in supporting new mothers heal from both vaginal and c-section births and being present at a time when critical development occurs for their babies? In addition to this question I believe we already have the answer. We must look at the inaccurate facts provided by the opposition within this domestic debate and debunk them with proof that comes to us from countries around the world in how paid maternity leave can have not only a positive social impact on a country but also economic benefits.
Perhaps, all of this debate in the U.S. is part of the legacy of our “Wild West” days when every “man” was for his own and pioneering unconquered lands (whilst ignoring Native American rights and their existence) was the best triumph one could hope for in their lifetime. But this is not the time to keep these types of sentiments (that fueled slavery and genocide against indigenous populations) alive. It is important to look beyond our borders at other places where, despite major differences in access to funds, almost all countries, both poor and rich have managed to provide this important social safety net for the women giving birth to future generations. According to the International Labor Union Organization, Iran mandates that mothers receive 100 percent of their previous earnings up to 12 weeks after giving birth. To give an example of a country that is characterized by much different cultural practices and economy, Germany provides 14 weeks of fully paid time off (ILO).
And despite what many fiscally and socially conservative citizens might begin shouting at a townhall meeting, these are not just a bunch of socialist policies created by the types of people who wanna sit around in their bed all day and waiting for their check from the government to arrive at their doorstep. These laws have shown to have a monumentally positive impact on both society and the economy. There are studies like one done in November of 2011 by WorkFamilyCA showing many facts reflecting the benefit of paid maternity leave such as improved mental health and physical well being for the mother (enabling them to one day return to the workforce and be a productive participant) as well as better prenatal and postnatal care that has long-term effects resulting in the improvement of a child’s brain development. From these results we can also make connections to how this may benefit the economy; two simple words as a result, “Healthy Workforce”. You do not need to be a rocket scientist to realize that if the outcome of these policies is a healthier population than the employees sustaining the different industries that hold up our society will be productive participants in the society. It would be less likely that a mother falls ill due to excessive stress or a serious illness and has to stop working if she is provided with time to bond with her baby and heal from childbirth without the onerous burden of wondering how she is going to get money for food, rent, and heat. It also will provide us with a future generation that developed and progressed properly as infants, so that they too may build up our workforce and provide us with the tools necessary to have an economically sustainable nation.
This is we, as both American citizens and immigrants whose parents came to this country for a better chance at life, need to put aside our pride and look to countries around the world that for so long have been “ranked” below us, and realize that we can learn from them and how much value they put in our mothers and the babies that make up our future generations.