Did you know that about a quarter of American women return to work within two weeks of giving birth? It’s true. Twelve percent take a week or less.
This means, as John Oliver pointed out when the report revealing this terrifying statistic dropped two years ago, that nearly 1 in 4 women are forced to return to work before they’re even healed, never mind psychologically ready to return. (Or confident that their baby is ready to be left with a caretaker.)
I knew all this before I started trying to get pregnant, of course. In fact, I spent a long time talking about it with my therapist when agonizing over the fact that I really, really wanted a baby, despite it being just about the stupidest thing you can do in American society today from a practical perspective.
A few sample convos, to illustrate my dilemma:
Conversation 1: Financial Realities
Me: Did you know that infant care in the greater New York area costs $400 a week?
Therapist: I did know that, yes.
Me: Who has the money for that?
Therapist: No one, really. And yet, people pay it.
Me: I assume that the bulk of it goes to the actual caregivers, who are frequently women of color and/or recent immigrants to this great nation.
(Therapist and I laugh uproariously in unison … and then pause in silence to consider the torment of modern life.)
Conversation 2: A Horror Movie
Me: Here’s another problem.
Me: I don’t want to put my baby in infant care.
Therapist: I don’t blame you.
Me: They don’t even have neck control yet.
Therapist: It’s true.
Me: Also, every time you hear a horrible story about a baby dying in daycare, doesn’t it seem like two things are true? 1. The facility was unlicensed, or the license had lapsed; 2. The baby was about a minute old.
Therapist: It’s really terrible. We’re the only industrialized country that thinks this is OK.
Me: And then when something happens, everyone blames the mother, who didn’t even want to put her month-old baby in daycare.
Therapist: Well, I hate to tell you, but people often blame the mother. Period.
Me: I hate humans. Animals are way better.
Conversation 3: Anxiety
Me: If I hear one more story about how middle-class parents are ruining their children with their anxiety….
Therapist: Oh, I know. Why would they possibly be anxious?
Me: Ha ha ha. HA. Ha ha. Ha ha ha?
I’m bringing all this up now because I thought I was really clever and it turns out I’m not. I’m a freelancer, so prior to getting pregnant, I purchased a disability policy that covered maternity leave. Today, I decided to confirm with the insurance company that said policy was still in effect — I pay my premiums, but you never know — and also to see about the claim and coverage situation.
Are you ready for this? My policy, which again, I pay every month, entitles me to four weeks at half pay … if I have a C-section. For a vaginal birth, I’ll get two weeks.
Now, you can say that I should have already known this, having carefully done my research when I purchased the policy, and you’d be right. However, I just want to point out again the absurdity of anyone thinking that someone who recently gave birth should be up and ready to go two weeks later.
Things aren’t as bad as they could be, because Adam gets paid parental leave, thanks to New York State’s new legislation. I’m also banking money now, during my pregnancy, to support a self-funded leave. I’m lucky to be able to do that, and I’ll probably be able to swing two months off.
I’ll also be better off than most new moms even when my leave is up, because I’m my own boss and have a flexible schedule. So I won’t have to choose between a part-time job with no career path and a full-time job that won’t let me see my kid. This is a tremendous gift, and one I’m grateful for every single day.
But I find myself thinking a lot lately about countries with decent parental leave. In Sweden, for example, parents get 480 days of paid parental leave — and 90 days have to be used by each parent. What a difference a year-plus would make!
Alas, we live here, in the country that absolutely doesn’t want you to have access to birth control or abortion, but also does not give two shits in a hat about that baby once it’s born. There’s a lot on my list of things to protest right now, but these facts are near the top. Of course, it’s hard to take to the streets when you’re working constantly or healing as quickly as possible so that you can get back to work ASAP.
Come to think of it, that’s probably the point.