Guess what, boss? I’m pregnant!

Paid Maternity Leave World Map, McGill Institute for Health

Paid Maternity Leave World Map, McGill Institute for Health (click to enlarge)

I will let you all in on a secret:  I am pregnant.  Well, I guess it isn’t that big of a secret, especially now that I’ve told countless strangers on the Internet.  Yet, I am afraid to tell my boss.

Mandatory maternity leave benefits are pathetic in my country, and in a way, this should make it easier to tell the boss the news.  After all, employers don’t have to spend extra money to send a woman on maternity leave and the time period of lost productivity is relatively short.

Large American businesses are required to allow full-time, benefited employees to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave and required to let them return to their positions or equivalent positions after that time ends.  Compare that to Sweden, where a woman receives 16 months of paid maternity leave, or China (90 days paid leave) or Japan or Germany (both 14 weeks paid leave) or our neighbor Canada (50 weeks paid leave, at 55% of usual salary).

However, the lack of accommodations for working, American mothers reflects a still pervasive attitude: if a woman really wants to raise a family, especially a large family, she probably shouldn’t be in the workforce.  It does not occur to many Americans that a father and mother can share child-rearing duties, like my husband and I do.

I’m ineligible for the few American protections for maternity because I have worked part-time ever since the birth of my first child.  However, I shouldn’t be scared to tell my boss about my pregnancy. My job is secure.  I have worked for the same organization for nine years and given birth to three children over the course of this employment.  I know that I will be permitted to take leave and that I will not lose my job.  I even have enough sick and annual leave saved up to avoid having to take leave without pay during my maternity.

All I have to fear is the derision of coworkers, especially my boss.  I have had three different supervisors over the course of my employment at this organization, all three of whom were married and childless by choice.  It is hard to explain to people who are focusing on their careers exclusively that I am choosing to raise a family instead of focusing all of my talents on the job they pay me for. Again. Moreover, my current supervisor vocally pointed out to me the impact of my continuous reproduction on the environment during my previous pregnancy with child #3.

I have an older colleague who also gave birth to four children while working for this organization.  She tells me that her coworkers voted her “Most Likely to Be on Maternity Leave” at a staff party.  When she interviewed for a different position, the interviewer rolled her eyes and said, “You’re not pregnant again, are you?”  She reminded the interviewer that technically, you’re not supposed to ask that before telling her that she was not.  She got the job.

Maybe I will tell my boss quickly, like taking off a band-aid, or maybe I will let her slowly realize why I’m becoming so fat.  Either way, the truth will come out before this baby does.  I can handle the disdain I am likely to receive, remembering that for so many other American women, the employment consequences of maternity are much greater than disdain.

April Young Bennett

April Young Bennett is an advocate, mother, professional, lover of the arts, hater (but doer) of housework and seeker of truth. Twitter: @aprilyoungb

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24 Responses

  1. Kristen Says No says:

    Holy crap. I knew there were progressive European countries with way better benefits than the United States…but apparently the whole world is more civilized when it comes to paid maternity benefits. I had no idea. Pakistan? Afghanistan? Really?

    Your stories from work make me really sad.

  2. You mean real life isnt like it is in the movies, where if you declare you are pregnant you not only don’t get fired as planned before the announcement, but everyone falls all over you trying to help?

    It is annoying that the US is so profit driven that it can’t afford to come up to the standard for leave by almost every other country in the world. And how is it we still manage to lose jobs to other countries?

  3. Caroline says:

    Congratulations, April!

    I too am overwhelmed by how crappy the situation is for working women who have babies in this country, compared to the benefits one gets in other countries. Perhaps one factor, at least in Europe, is that they have lower birthrates and are desperate to get women to have more babies. The U.S. still averages over 2 kids per woman, I believe, which is huge compared to places like Italy where I think it’s closer to 1.4.

    And it sucks that your boss and other coworkers give women who choose to have babies a hard time. Ridiculous. We should totally be beyond these ‘mommy track’ vs. ‘career track’ tensions.

  4. Whoa-man says:

    This makes me SO SAD!!!! That chart you included is heartbreaking, poignant, and telling. Your story is tragic- why do we need to apologize or be afraid of having children? What is wrong with America? UGH. I think it takes us women being willing to do it anyway to eventually make changes, maybe, someday….

  5. Emily U says:

    Yeah, maternity leave in the U.S. is pretty barbaric. Having a baby is expensive (medical costs, car seats, diapers, etc, etc) and just at the time when a family is financially stressed by adding a new member, moms are supposed to lose their paychecks. Having paid maternity leave is the most pro-family thing I can think of! Why can’t our “pro-family” politicians see that and do something that would really help families!?!?! (Rather than limiting access to family planning and focusing on abortion to the exclusion of so many other important problems. Makes me want to scream.)

  6. spunky says:

    I agree that it is antiquated to not have the same opportunities for part-time workers in the American workforce.

    I am not super familiar with Australian policy regarding payment for maternity leave, it may fall into a category that is a little like an IRA, but for pregnancy. With that being said, I struggled to get a job when I was newly married (never struggled for work before)- so DH and I assumed it was because I was at a child-bearing age, so the businesses may have been wary of someone who was likely to be taking maternity leave.

    With that, the Australian policy allows for either parent to take up to 12 months off per child. So if you have twins, you can take 24 months off, and because it is shared, we know one couple where the mother took the first 6 months off, and the father took the next 6 months off.

    A thing that I believe should also be discussed in this thread is for adoptive parents. On most adoption applications, it is highly recommended (and in some countries required) that one parent is a stay-at home parent. For foster parenting, there is no question- one of the foster parents must be a stay at home parent. If we are to subsidise natural mothers in maternity leave, I think it is just as important to include adoptive and foster parents, specifically because it is expensive to adopt, and adoptive parents may not be able to get medical insurance for their child (or Medicaid because to adopt one must prove they can provide for a child- so the money earmarked for adopting takes their income/savings to a level that us ineligible for public aid). And although fostering comes with stipends for the benefit of the child, the stipends are not generous enough to even cover food for the child.

    So this is much more than just a maternity leave issue. I think it should be an all-encompassing parenting-leave and subsidy issue that encompasses fathers, adoptive parents, and foster parents which can really benefit all types of families.

  7. Meg says:

    It’s deplorable that women are constantly judged and criticized by others (both men and women) about their personal life choices. @April, I’m sorry others have taken it upon themselves to tell you how they think you should live your life.

    And it’s also deplorable that the U.S. is still so far behind the rest of the world. It’s a bit depressing that the most we can say about the progress in this area is: “well at least they don’t fire you for becoming pregnant now”–like my grandmother was fired from her teaching position when she got pregnant with my dad.

    @Spunky: You make some great points. I think fathers, adoptive and foster parents all should be included maternity leave policies so that types of families can have options and support.

  8. DefyGravity says:

    It really is appalling how bad the US is at taking care of families. I wish I could say more on that, but there it is.

    April, I’m so sorry you’re getting garbage from people at work. At the very least it’s your life and they should stay out of it. But one would hope that people could be happy for others even when they make different decisions. Why, WHY do we feel the need to judge others for making choices different from our own! Why does it matter so much that people do different things? I’m childless by choice and plan to remain that way. I will admit to not understanding the desire to have kids, but if you’re happy about it then I’ll be happy for you! I’ll say congrats and bring a present! Just because I don’t get it that doesn’t make your happiness any less valid. So congrats April! I”m happy for you! And your co-workers and boss need to get a grip.

  9. Kramer says:

    Yes, it’s truly sad that you can’t force your employer to finance your lifestyle decisions. Perhaps he’s the baby daddy? Then he would be financially responsible.

    • Emmaline says:

      Troll, much?

      I’m thinking you just didn’t read the OP – or if you did, your reading comprehension is pretty terrible. April didn’t say her employer should have to give her paid leave, just that there is none in the US.

      And while that should make it easier to tell your boss that you’re expecting (since it’ll be no financial skin off his/her back), it still doesn’t. Because many people in the US have this weird “you are either a mom or have a career” false dichotomy.

      The discomfort caused by that false dichotomy is what April so elaborately and accurately complains about.

  10. Skippy says:

    Financially support is also different than accept and support – or even stay out of it altogether – rather than taking action against someone or making someone feel bad for their lifestyle decisions.

    I work in a professional field and when it was time to tell my boss I was pregnant, I put it off until I was nearly six months along and I just couldn’t hide it anymore. That was six lovely months where I didn’t have to answer question after question about how I was doing, how I was going to manage it, didn’t I feel sad that I would “have” to come back after maternity leave, etc. I had several comment on my sad situation, since clearly I should want to be a stay at home mom and what is this world coming to! While I appreciated people who were well-meaning, I would prefer it just not be a topic of conversation at work. I don’t generally ask people about their personal lives in the work context. But pregnancy opened the door for them to ask and comment about mine.

    Fortunatley, my boss took things well. Except he thought I would get bored on my self-funded maternity leave and encouraged me to work from home. He even called quite a few times during “emergencies.” I know, he’s not allowed to do that, but it really didn’t make sense to call him out on it either.

    I’m not saying I think my work should fund my lifestyle choices, or the government should for that matter. But I would prefer it at least be a non-issue on a day-to-day basis.

  11. Alisa says:

    I told my employer straight away when I found out I was pregnant. You can’t fire a woman for being preganant if she’s told you, but you can fire her for being pregnant if she hasn’t told you in an at-will state like Utah. You simply don’t tell her that pregancy is the reason.

    I was a married working woman without children (by choice) for years. All I can say is that I am so glad for working mothers who led the way and showed me that it could be done before I took the plunge into motherhood. I really think a feminist would support women in whatever her choices were. So sad your coworkers and boss are not like that, April.

  12. April says:

    I feel like I may have left the wrong impression in my op, since I was focusing on the attitudes toward working mothers among some other employees that make being pregnant at work uncomfortable. In fairness to the rest of the people I work with, most people are either nice or indifferent about the pregnancy of a colleague. And my place of employment is a good place to be a working mom. For example, they started offering pumping breaks and facilities years before it was legally obligatory and they provide excellent maternity health coverage.

    For those with less considerate attitudes, I think it is partially related to inexperience with working mothers who have more than one or two children at home. I have worked with many other working mothers, but most have them have only one or two children, or they have quit when their families have become larger. Since it is a bit unusual in my neck of the woods to have four children, yet stay on the job, some people just can’t wrap their heads around how that would work.

  13. Sarah says:

    First I want to say, that a lot of those countries have more social programs then we do, and have a lower birthrate as a comment mentioned. That being said, I still see the need for a law that would require business pay both full time and part time workers, on a “parent-leave” 50% of their usual pay so that they are totally not completely in the hole and in debt.

    I can see that being a law. I don’t think we need huge programs to subsidize that. But we can regulate it (as much as I hate saying that word, I think we have a huge amount of unnecessary regulation, but on this one particular topic, I figure we need it). It really shouldn’t be about the birth rate anyway. It should be more about helping parents in the most difficult financial situation they will ever face. Raising a child. I like that Australian law. It makes sense to allow both to take time off, and for adoptive and foster parents, that is a great thing.

    I think a lot of this archaic ideas come from the idea that the man is the breadwinner, and the woman stays at home and takes care of the children, that both can’t happen. I think this is why a lot of women decide to do businesses from home, and sell things on places like etsy, and art fire, or sell scensty products so they aren’t loosing a great deal of money.

    Maybe one bad can cause one good though, as it has lead to more work at home ideas. Though I think all options should be open. Paid paternity leave should be mandatory for both sexes, and all situations in which a new child is joining a family.

  14. Mike H. says:

    Sadly, I don’t see all LDS Bosses being better, either. The Almighty dollar worship goes on.

  15. mygoat says:

    It saddens me to see Taiwan marked light grey–so light that it’s almost invisible if you don’t look for it. We are a country. We do have paid maternity leave: 26 weeks (at least that’s how it’s legislated).

  1. February 8, 2014

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