The Atlantic published the first installment of a two-part series, Life in the Only Industrialized Country Without Paid Maternity Leave.
The story follows “Tara” through the birth of her second child, the 20 days of unpaid maternity leave that follow, and her return to work.
Many cultures have rules for new mothers and babies. The Latin American cuarentena and the Uzbek chilla represent 40 days of rest and social support. In China, women rest in bed for a month; in Korea, for 21 days.
In the United States, however, the time for rest, bonding, and recovery often is determined not by tradition, or even by a doctor’s recommendations, but by the new mother’s employment situation.
Parents deal with the enormous implications of this difficult reality every day right here in the good ol’ USofA — the only industrialized nation in the world without universal paid maternity leave.
Tara’s situation is pretty typical in the U.S., where 70 percent of mothers work outside the home and 40 percent of households are led by a female breadwinner. When it comes to a new baby or a sick family member, 88 percent of the American workforce has no access to paid leave, and half of new, working mothers are ineligible even for the Family Medical Leave Act’s unpaid leave.
Tara’s husband suffers from a severe, painful autoimmune disorder and is unable to work. Tara is the family’s sole earner. Her company offers no paid leave and she is ineligible for unpaid leave because her employer falls below FMLA’s 50-employee threshold. Even if she were eligible for unpaid leave time, she wouldn’t take it, saying, “My family can’t afford the loss of even one paycheck.”
So Tara’s “maternity leave” was to consist of her 13 vacation days; these were mostly rolled over from 2015, with her boss’ permission. Weekends and President’s Day brought her total days off to 20.
Tara corresponded with author Jessica Shortall by texting updates.
The messages are straightforward — not overly dramatic, sometimes a bit humorous — telling the true story of what it’s like to simultaneously heal from invasive surgery, breastfeed a newborn, care for an older child, and go back to breadwinning.
For more of this all-too-common and distinctly American story, head over to The Atlantic.