When I was pregnant with my second daughter, who is now almost 3, my husband suddenly and unexpectedly lost his job. After virtually no time off with my first, I had been looking forward to a real maternity leave, but suddenly I was the only income earner.
That set my maternity leave plans on their head. Since I run my own business, I needed to worry not only about bringing in income, but also about keeping me clients happy, so that they didn’t find another writer to do business with while I was out. I spent the last trimester of pregnancy working double to get ahead on projects for clients, which was almost as tough as returning to work when my baby was only two weeks old.
I was still in the raw, emotional postpartum stages: with leaky breasts, mesh underwear and the infamous “padsicles” when I first picked up my computer, and got back to work.
The most frustrating thing about this situation, looking back on it, is that I had it better than lots of American mothers. I work from home, so I was able to wrap my baby to my chest as I typed. My husband helped care for her, and I could nurse on demand, without worrying about getting a pumping break at work. Yet, almost anyone can agree that the weeks leading up to or following the birth of a child shouldn’t be consumed with thinking about how to meet work obligations. They should be about physically healing and bonding with your new family member.
That’s why I was thrilled to hear President Biden talking about paid family leave this week. Under Biden’s proposal, all Americans would have access to 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave. With 72% of American moms and more than 93% of American dads working, this is critical. The government is even studying how to make it possible for gig and self-employed workers like me to be included in the program.
It’s hard to explain the massive difference that paid family leave would have made in my postpartum experiences. With my first, I believe it could have helped ward off postpartum depression. My mental health after my second was born was much better, in part because I had my husband on hand to help, Still, I felt like I was missing out on days and hours that I would never get back when my attention was focused on my computer and not my growing family.
It’s also very important to recognize that paid family and medical leave isn’t just about young parents. Almost everyone has family — whether children, a partner or parents — and almost everyone gets sick at some point in their lives. With very, very few exceptions, virtually everyone — rich, poor, Black, white, Republican or Democrat — will benefit from paid leave at some point.
Maybe that’s why the idea for paid family and medical is finally getting some bipartisan momentum. Even President Trump mentioned the need for paid leave during his State of The Union last year. When Trump and Biden can agree on something, that’s pretty remarkable. It’s no wonder, then, that about 80% of American support paid family and medical leave.
Now, for the frustrating part: Biden’s paid family leave program will not be fully effective for ten years, if the proposal makes it through the legislature. By then, my girls will practically be old enough to have kids of their own. I’m hopeful that state laws and private employers will give more people access to paid family leave sooner. Currently, nine states and Washington D.C. have paid family leave laws, and more companies are starting to add leave to attract employees.
The thing is, it will never be too late for paid family and medical leave. I can say with certainty that I will be done welcoming any new children into my family by the time Biden’s leave plan takes effect. But I’ll still have kids, a spouse and my own parents to care for. I’ll have my own health to tend to. Caring for loved ones and ourselves shouldn’t only be an option for those who can afford it, it should be a right for every person. Passing a federal paid family and medical leave policy is an important recognition of that.
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