Month of May Mothers: Maternity.

Could we judge the progressive or advanced level of a civilization based on the amount of time a society gives new mothers time to bond with their babies? How do countries handle maternity leave?

Many studies have shown that those first few months with a new baby are some of the most important in terms of health for the mother, and for the baby. Feeding, sleep, and time to heal are so important. I remember when I had my first child; I saved up every day of vacation, every sick day, so I could afford to take off a month. A month.

I didn’t know my baby would be sixteen days late, weigh 12.1lbs. and I would have to dig into the precious time. My husband was freelancing at the time, so time off was and wasn’t an issue per se. But I worked for a small company, and there was no paid leave. In fact, I offended one of my bosses by even asking what the policy was before I even began to plan for a family.

The fantasy of having a Swedish-level of materinity leave (I’ve read anywhere from 90 weeks to two years) seems almost inconceivable here in the States. We pride ourselves on our heritage of hearty pioneer women, full of manifest destiny and filling up a houseful with children, aka farm hands.

My grandmothers both were shocked that I and my sisters were booted out of hospitals after 24-36 hours of having our babies; back in their day, they stayed in the hospital for a week or more before returning home. For some women, that was the only ‘vacation’ they ever received.

I will never forget a conversation I had with an HR person at that job. My boss had looked over the books and thought I took an extra day that I shouldn’t be paid for.

I am not exaggerating about this.

I was exhausted, tired, physically and emotionally on a post-partum rollercoaster, and yet, was still asked if I owed them. Bursting into angry tears and yelling about what they could do with the question was my response.

To make matters worse, my mother and mother-in-law lived states away; they couldn’t help.

We teachers/educators sometimes go tsk-tsk at how parents aren’t as involved in their children’s lives as we might otherwise hope. But perhaps until we as a country say we are stronger when we help new mothers and babies become stronger, we will be weaker for it. If we treat mothers and babies as weak-links, as another commodity or burden to the production line, no wonder we’re seeing the issues with school and families that we are. We reap what we sow.

I know some of my friends and family members just see this as more liberal tripe, that somehow my postion is weakening capitalism and its ‘rights’ (because corporations do have rights you know – the Supreme Court says so).

But if you can seriously say it’s better for a new mom to hand her baby over to a day-care provider one month after the baby’s born than to stay home, heal, sleep, and smile at her baby, then I would strongly urge you to look at your own priorities.

Some articles: