Friday, May 01, 2015

Paid Maternity Leave

Every so often, I get on a political kick. As a forewarning, I'm generally a free-market libertarian. Mainly, I feel that the church and community should be the one providing most "government" services and that our (federal) government should keep their nose out of most everything other than protecting our country from war (i.e. they should not be legislating marriage, abortion, protected classes, education) and should allow the states freedom to choose on those topics.

So, although I have my opinions on things like gay marriage, welfare, abortion, and so forth, I try not to force those opinions on others. I strongly believe that the Word of God does not return void, and I also believe that those who don't claim to be Christians should not be forced into morality. If we want to change the way things are in our community, we need to take physical action and not political action. For example, the First Choice Pregnancy Solutions organization, which rather than picketing abortion centers, offers women the ability to make the choice without pressure by offering solutions to many of the crises that women face with an unwanted pregnancy (they set women up with housing, food, job assistance, education assistance, medical assistance, counseling, and more).

However, there are occasionally a few topics I feel strongly about that are more political than physical. One of those topics is maternity leave. The United States is one of the only first-world nations that does not have a national program of maternity leave. Why is this something the Federal government needs to take charge of?

Benefits of paid maternity leave

  • Encourage breastfeeding. Everyone is on board with the pro-breastfeeding campaign. However, I cannot tell you how difficult it is, especially for a first-time mom, to learn how to use a breast pump effectively and to do so during working hours. As an example, I had to pump with my second son who was in the NICU for a week. I pumped every 2 hours for 15-20 minutes, then went to bottle feed him, then cleaned all the pump supplies, then cleaned the bottles, and about 30 minutes later had to pump again. It was exhausting, there was literally nothing else I could do, and it was my full-time job. Hopefully, by 6 weeks, women are only pumping right before work, 3 times during work, and right after work. So that's only an hour and a half or two out of their work day, I'm sure that they will be able to keep that up for 6 months or so with no problem. The other issue with pumping breastmilk is that it becomes very difficult unless you have an extremely calm, restful environment where you can picture (or smell, hear) your child. I used to have to close the door to my bedroom, since a specific song that helped me visualize him, and rock back and forth while closing my eyes. Many women have jobs that are too stressful to effectively pump.
  • Encourage physical health. For moms who are forced to return to work after 6-8 weeks, their body has barely recovered from the ordeal of giving birth. By "recovered", I mean that they can walk and sit for 15-20 minutes at a time without pain. The human body doesn't fully recover from the ordeal until 3-6 months (or more) following birth. So, we have a lot of women in physical pain, that have no choice but to return to work.
  • Reduce cost of daycare. I'm sure some of you are wondering how this would reduce the cost of anything. I can tell you from experience, that the most expensive type of childcare for a daycare to provide is that of "infant" care. Because infants are so needy (feeding, changing, cleaning bottles, rocking to sleep) they require a much lower teacher to child ratio. If we remove 50% of these infants from the daycare system, the cost of daycare should reduce because of a lower overall teacher to child ratio. 
  • Encourage women to work. Now, I'm not 100% sure if that's something that I want as a benefit, but it is a benefit. If you are worried about paying women who will not go back into the work force anyway, you can allocate funds based on whether they return to work after the time frame. For example, if you receive 6 months of paid maternity leave, and don't return to work within 1 year (unless you become disabled) you have to repay 50% of the funds. I can say that if I were offered the choice of 6 months paid maternity leave, I probably would have returned to work when my first child was 6 months. I still likely would have quit after my second child, but having just one child at home (or to put in daycare) and being somewhat isolated was very difficult for me that first year.
  • Empower women to make their choice. I didn't have much of a choice to make when I first had a child. I was in a low-paying job, so I would only net $500 a month after childcare. My husband wanted me to stay home, and I wanted to stay home. I didn't have any family in the area as a support system. So, even though I had what I "thought" I wanted, I felt like I didn't have a choice. For women already at risk for post-partum depression, adding any more risk factors such as huge life change, and feeling forced into a decision, is always a bad idea. Give us the space and freedom to make our choices, rather than forcing a choice on us. Many women feel forced to continue working, because they only get six weeks at a partial payment and then have to return to work or continue with unpaid leave (if it's even available to them).
All that being said, I'm not arguing for or against women in general being in the work force. There are plenty of women who do not make good stay-at-home moms, and plenty of women in the work force who probably shouldn't be. I am all about allowing women the freedom to make that decision. Freedom from financial pressure, freedom from religious pressure, freedom from the pressure of other moms. However, in general, moms (or dads) do need to be home with their kids the first 6 months of their lives. That's a time that you can't get back with your children, and they can't get it back with you. 

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