Maternity leave is an oft misunderstood concept. A harrowingly large part of society view it as a free pass for women to enjoy an extended holiday. There is jealousy over the seemingly unfair advantage of ‘clocking out’ on mat leave that spills out in inappropriate comments and snide remarks from co-workers (you ARE coming back to work, aren’t you?). Only those who have had babies know that mat leave isn’t really about sipping umbrella topped drinks by the beach. Show me a well-rested mom with a newborn and I will eat my hat.
It takes the human body 40 weeks to birth a full-term baby. While childbirth is normal and natural, the mother needs ample time and support to recover from it and don the heavy mantle of motherhood. The emotional, psychological and physical burdens of giving birth extend well beyond the delivery room. Which is why it is of utmost importance that companies curate maternity packages that are realistic and compassionate.
The amount of maternity leave women are entitled to varies significantly around the world. Europeans tend to have longer allowances, at least half of which is paid to some degree. On the other end of the spectrum, USA have an extremely stingy federal law mandating 12 weeks of unpaid maternity leave. The audacity of it makes me equal parts sad and angry.
When I was asked to write about my IDEAL maternity leave package, I thought about it long and hard. I had free range to write whatever but having gone through the process, I wanted the ideal to be achievable. With the hopes that it might come true. Here’s a rundown of my idea of a dream maternity package.
- No caveats on start dates. Mums should be allowed to choose the start date of their maternity leave. It can be as early as 34 weeks, which is roughly the time when balancing work and third trimester seems impossible without at least 10 power naps. On the other hand, if the mum-to-be can work up to her due date, why not? I know women who clocked out of work the evening before their scheduled caesareans, and popped out a baby the following day. I wasn’t that crazy but I did work up to 39 weeks which meant I could save up my leave days to spend more time with my baby.
- Full pay for a year. This is probably the most non ideal of asks but hear me out. Research shows that paid maternity leave is good for individuals, businesses, and the economy. With an extra mouth to feed and 101 baby things to buy, the first year can be financially challenging even being on your normal, non-whittled salary. When my pay started petering out after 4 months, I felt it. My bank account felt it. And this was me on the receiving end of one of the best packages in the world (UK). I had to return to work at ten months despite being entitled to having a year off because it became financially impossible to sustain ourselves in the unpaid last leg of my leave. Unfortunately my landlord doesn’t accept payment in baby cuddles.
- Fully paid paternity leave for a minimum of one month. Maternity leave will never be good enough until it is supplemented with paternity leave. Babies are made by TWO people and parenting is team work. Moreover, millennial dads WANT to take time off work to cherish their newborn and support their recovering wife. This is some of the best and most challenging phases of their lives and society needs to spare them the time to savour and adjust to it.
- Shared parental leave. If we ever want to see equality in the workplace, and the world at large, we need to encourage dads to take some form of parental leave. UK has already started the shared parental leave scheme and even though it isn’t widely popular I don’t think, I laud the merit of it. The idea of mums and dads having the flexibility to share their leave to take care of their baby and careers as they see fit – whether it’s at the same time or by taking turns – is something that more countries need to explore. Even if the scheme isn’t perfect, it’s a start in the right direction.
- Job protection AT SAME LEVEL with no dent to career progression. Growing up in a third world county, you get the idea women have it better in other parts of the world. WRONG. While UK has some really strong laws that aid and support new moms, I have heard too many stories of women who were replaced on mat leave, treated poorly for wanting flexibility and even sacked.
I know this article will have some eyes rolling. I have heard people say it’s not the government/company’s problem to fund people who choose to have a child (!). This is about raising the next generation and if you ask me, that’s a pretty big deal. A paid, properly numbered maternity leave does wonders for the health and well-being of the baby. In fact, infant mortality rates decrease with increased paid maternity leave policies. Mothers who are able to establish a breastfeeding bond with their babies in the first few weeks (a tough feat!) are more likely to continue for the minimum standard of 6 months recommended by World Health Organization.
With more and more women joining the work force, the need for sound maternity leave policies have become more urgent than ever. It is our duty to give children the best start to life so that they can grow up into confident, contributing members of society. And it all starts from their formative years. The bond they develop with their parents in the early stages of life goes on to set the tone for every other relationship they make. Civilization has moved on and the policies surrounding maternity needs to do so as well. What worth is a technology advanced world if its inhabitants are denied the right start to life in the name of progression?