..You deserve better.
This might be a blogging suicide – to write about motherhood and maternal benefits, when I am not a mother myself. But I am still going to do it, so bear with me.
First, let’s get one thing straight. I do not “hate” the US, as I am sometimes told when I criticize this country or its policies. I actually quite enjoy living here, and after all, I am here by choice, so if I did indeed hate this country, staying here for two years and planning to stay for a few more at least would be quite dumb from my part. There are many things I love about this country, just as there are many things I love about my home country, Finland. And, there are just as many things – about both countries – that I either dislike or just cannot understand. Here, in the US, one of those things is maternity benefits, or to put it more accurately, total lack there of.
Out of a group of 173 countries, there are five that do not guarantee paid maternity leave. United States is one of them, making it the only industrialized country in the world that does not guarantee any length of paid maternity leave. Out of the 168 countries that do offer paid maternity leave, 98 offer 14 weeks or more – including Russia, Lithuania, Sweden, Finland and Germany. The four countries that do not offer paid maternity leave at all, in addition to the US, are Lesotho, Liberia, Swaziland and Papua New Guinea. Lesotho and Liberia are on the list of least developed countries in the world, Swaziland and Papua New Guinea not far ahead. US, naturally, is not on this particular list.
For one of the richest, most developed, most industrialized countries in the world, in some instances US does like to keep in not so flattering company. This obviously is not a matter of resources – there are plenty of those, both financial and social. It is not as if this country could not afford to secure paid maternity leave to expecting mothers – Heck, forget paid. How about just guaranteeing that mothers who choose to stay home for a longer period of time will still have a job to return to after their maternity leave. Even that would be a start and a big improvement to the current situation.
Obviously, I am not an American mother. I am also not arguing that all American mothers would choose to take a longer maternity leave, even if they had that opportunity, nor am I saying that all should. Right now, however, most mothers do not have a choice. Wanting to stay at home with your new born for more than a couple of weeks should not have to mean the end of your career as you know it. I know I want to stay home longer when I eventually choose to have babies – and it does not mean that I am not career oriented, or passionate about what I do, or ambitious – it simply means that I would not want to have my nanny call me up when my child turns from his/hers belly to his/hers back for the first time, or gives a real, not gas-related smile for the first time, or crawls for the first time. It means that right now, even though I have no children of my own yet, I am 100% sure that when I do, I will be so amazed, and so in love, that there is nothing that I would rather do than stay home and just stare at that little miracle.
Other women might not feel the same – and they don’t need to. I do not think that mothers who choose to return to work right after giving birth are bad mothers. Of course they are not. We all make our choices based on different life situations, aspirations and realities, and one choice is not necessarily better than the other. But, again, I stress the word “choice”. It should be the parents’ choice. They should have options. They should have a government that understands the value of supported motherhood, and that takes action and implements policies that allow mothers, and fathers, to make choices that best fit them. They should have a government that understands that a mother needs to be able to be with her baby, and that a baby needs to be able to be with his/hers mother. A government that understands that pregnancy, or motherhood, is not a disease or something women should be penalized for, and that pregnancy and child birth should not make anyone bankrupt because the hospital bill for giving birth can easily run in five figures. I bet you that if there was stronger support and more job security for expecting mothers, not to mention paid benefits, the abortion rate in this country would decline. Right now, young women make the decision to end their pregnancy every day because it was not planned, and they don’t believe they can handle the financial burden that comes with having a child – or, they do not have insurance, and are worried about the cost of the pregnancy, if they chose to go through with it. Just a thought. The government wants to bring down abortion rates? How about telling women it is OK to be pregnant and have a baby – without having to worry about a bill for $10,000 or loosing your job because you have to take a couple of weeks of to deliver a baby.
I cannot wait to have a child, one day, when it is the right time for that, for me and my future husband. That child will be a Finnish-American, and I, as the mother, have much more choices in my reach than most American women do, since I can always go back to Finland when I am ready to start having children. I did not want to make this a bragging post about Finland, but just to point it out, Finnish mothers get about 9 months of full pay maternity leave, with a possibility for additional two years, which are not with full pay, but you still get a certain amount of financial support each month. Our fathers get a about three weeks of paternity leave – also paid. Needless to say, that both mothers and fathers do not have to worry about loosing their jobs while on their mommy/daddy leaves – assuming it was a permanent position prior to going to maternity/paternity leave.
As I pointed out earlier, I am not an American mother, and thus cannot speak for American mothers – but as a woman, I truly believe that American moms deserve much much more compared to what they are currently getting . More choices, more freedoms, more support, more options. Hopefully, some day soon, the leaders of this country will agree with me on this. I mean, come on – Lesotho, Liberia, Swaziland and Papua New Guinea – and the United States of America.
PS. We also get what is called the “Maternity Package” from the government before the baby is born. It is quite cute.