It’s International Women’s Day. I could write about a myriad of issues plaguing the women of my generation, but I’m choosing a topic that’s fresh on my mind: mothers in the workplace. I’m not alone, either. Anne Hathaway, UN Goodwill Ambassador and award-winning actress, is shining a spotlight on these issues today as well. This post will probably get far fewer shares, but it is my most important parenting blog post yet. Even if it doesn’t affect you personally, we all know mothers, we all have/had mothers, many of us will raise mothers.
Please don’t think I’m saying that women who are not mothers have less value. That could not be further from the truth. I’m just “writing what I know.”
As most of you know, the United States is the only developed country that does not require paid maternity leave. If you’re one of those people that think a woman’s place is in the home, now is a good time for you to stop reading.
If you think this isn’t a real issue, then you don’t know very many people. I’ve heard horror stories of women going back to work one week postpartum and of families going into debt so that a new mother could take unpaid leave to bond with her child.
At two weeks postpartum, I read the statistics about how many days (on average) women living in poverty take off after birth. I sobbed. Birth is a beautiful experience, with an even better result, but it wrecks your body, your hormones and as a result, your psyche. With so little support for new mothers in most workplaces, it is no wonder that, compared to other countries, we see exponentially higher rates of breastfeeding failure, postpartum depression/anxiety and quality employees leaving the workplace in droves.
I cried because I could not fathom having to make the choice that so many women do–work or children. It seems like a no-brainer if you’re privileged enough. But, what if, by choosing to stay home with your newborn for a few weeks, you might not have enough money to feed yourself or your other children? What if you lost your insurance? What if you couldn’t pay rent?
Once new mothers are back at work, many do not receive the (legally mandated) breastfeeding support they deserve. They’re denied breaks, a clean place to pump, and understanding from their co-workers. This is how we treat those that give life, during their most fragile state. As usual, women soldier on.
I was lucky. I spent eight weeks at home, doing nothing but bonding with my son. When I returned to work, it was part-time to adjust to my new role. I was given an office to pump in that was right next to mine and received unlimited support. Some women do not share in that experience.
There is more than enough incentive to offer paid parental leave–employee retention, better performance, healthier children (this impacts US ALL). When we support new mothers, we are supporting a generation of children that will inherit the world from us soon.
If you want to see a picture of resilience, spend some time with a working mother. She works all day, stays up all night. She shoulders burdens of work and home with a smile. She juggles an endless amount of tasks, and somehow seems to get it all done. These are characteristics we need in the workplace.
To all my fellow working mothers: I see you doing your best. You show up to work sometimes looking like a mess, because the last thing you have time for is yourself. You’re killing it, and I hope someone tells you that every day.
To women everywhere, and especially the powerful, brave, resilient women in my life, I celebrate you today and every day. You’re all my village. Seeing your accomplishments, both in career and family, pushes me to be a better woman.
If you want to get involved, write your congressional representative and open up a dialogue in your workplace. Be informed about your own company’s policies, even if they don’t affect you. Happy #InternationalWomensDay.