Maternity Leave In America Is Total Bullsh*t

by Alison Mezzanotte
Originally Published: 
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There I sat in a classroom full of thirteen-year-olds in ninety-eight-degree humid Philadelphia heat breathing through contractions that were too inconsistent to call labor. I was in an un-air-conditioned building that had classroom air conditioners meant for a bedroom. Our hallways and stairwells felt like heaters and due to our new safety guidelines, had windows that were simply bullet-proof glass panes. My students stared at my belly asking questions like, “Shouldn’t you be on bed rest?” I was almost 38 weeks pregnant and I continued to work because #Merica.

Don’t get me wrong, I love being a working mom. I love my job and want to keep my job, which is why I was still there. If I didn’t come back at the beginning of the school year, I would have been forced to come back to teaching teenagers with a six-week-old baby at home. I know I’m preaching to the choir when I tell you that here in America, we have laws that do not support women, specifically mothers and babies. We have unrealistic expectations that parents of infants will be able to function on little to no sleep while also working full time.

“But don’t you get FMLA?” people ask. Yes…I do. I’m one of the blessed human beings who receives twelve weeks of unpaid leave to care for my child. I’m also blessed enough that I don’t need that pay in order to keep myself and my child alive because my husband’s job and company keep us afloat. They offer him eight weeks of paternity leave…fully paid (he works for a European company, go figure).

But what if I weren’t that blessed? If my husband’s job weren’t there to give us a cushion, I would be living for twelve weeks off of $791. That’s what the short-term disability check looked like after taxes and taking two weeks of my sick leave away. You can do the math and realize that my child and I would not survive. AND I HAVE A FULL -TIME JOB. Do I sound like an angry, privileged woman? That’s because I am angry.

I’m angry for the mothers of my students who work hourly positions that do not offer FMLA. They have to make the gut-wrenching decision to either go back to work after a week or so of unpaid leave still healing from either major surgery or labor with a newborn at home with someone OR stay home and apply for assistance from our government. Our government won’t give us the stability we need as mothers, but then when we don’t have that support, we are expected to seek their assistance.

I’m angry for the mothers who recently changed positions and haven’t spent a year at their job yet before finding out they were pregnant. They don’t get the benefit of FMLA.

I’m angry for the mothers who are forced to pay for their own benefits and now their new baby’s benefits while on FMLA because companies, while required to give you time off, are not required to continue your health insurance.

I’m angry that in a country where we fight about pro-life and pro-choice on the regular, we cannot fight hard enough for the moms who choose life.

This week, I will go back to the classroom in order to keep my job. I’ll leave a precious little boy at home with his dad and grandparents. They will be perfectly capable of caring for a three-month-old, but the pain will dig at my heart to leave him. My stitches will have healed by then, but I will still not be sleeping. My belly will look flatter, but that’s only because I will be spending my lunch break pumping to keep him fed for free. My doctor will have cleared me to go back to work, but I will have no sick or personal days left in case flu season attacks our house.

Despite my considerable lack of time, I will not stop getting angry about our country’s unrealistic laws for American families. I will not stop writing letters to my lawmakers. I will not stop fighting that we, as a country, change our expectations of American mothers and families. Most importantly, I will not lose hope that these laws will change by the time my children become parents.

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