From The Atlantic:
By Jessica Shortall
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.
This is certainly true for Tara, who asked me not to use her last name to protect her privacy and her job. She contacted me in late January 2016 via Facebook after watching my recent TED talk on the case for paid parental leave in the United States. She wanted to tell me her story: She was nine months pregnant, working full time with a toddler at home. In the final days of her pregnancy, she was focused not just on her delivery day, but on another deadline: Tara would have to be back at work 20 days after giving birth.
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 agreed to keep me updated by text throughout the end of her pregnancy, her time at home, and her return to work. This, the first of a two-part series, follows Tara from when she gives birth up until the day she goes back to work.