by Sharon Lerner
Several of my friends have recently become, or are about to become, mommies. I have been listening to stories about finding daycare and going back to work, arguments about stay-at-homers vs working moms, and complaints about maternity leave being too short. Since I’m planning on heading down the Mommy path myself sooner or later and I’m petrified about how it will go in this foreign country, when I saw “The War on Moms” in my library’s new books section, I scooped it up immediately.
And it made me angry. Angry and scared.
Most women only get a couple of months of maternity leave, and because there are no rules about how much employers have to give them, or how much they have to pay them during that leave, many women end up going back to work very quickly. FMLA allows for 12 weeks, but you’re not getting paid unless your employer feels like it, and lower-paying jobs are much less likely to give you paid leave. The statistic quoted in the book is that only 42% of working mothers spend the first 12 weeks at home with their newborns. And then they go back to work and leave their kids in daycares which cost more than the rent.
Now, I don’t think there is anything wrong with wanting to go back to work after having a baby. I know I want to work at least some, because I think I’d go crazy otherwise. What makes me almost sick to my stomach is the fact that going back to work is less of a choice than a necessity for the vast majority of women here. Maybe for myself it’s not a big deal because we’re financially stable and I can depend on my husband’s income, but what about all the women who need to work so they can keep their health insurance? And that’s what’s so fucked up about this country, in my opinion. People are slaves to their jobs because if they quit or try to go to part-time, they lose their health insurance. That’s not a choice anyone should have to make. What if your kid has special needs and you need to be home with him, but you’ll lose your health coverage for him if you do? It’s insane!
And yes, that’s just the way it is here and I need to adapt and get over it, but it’s hard when I know that just across the border in my other home, I could get a year off work, partially paid, and then work part time if it was financially feasible, without having to worry about going bankrupt if my baby needs surgery. Why do women here put up with this when pretty much every other country on the planet gives women a better deal?
This ended up being more of a rant than a book review, which wasn’t my intent, but I’ll leave it anyway. The book goes into a lot of statistics about motherhood in the United States and elsewhere, and is an interesting, if infuriating, read. I think more women need to read it, get pissed off, and try to change things.