Life is so tough when you live in a country that doesn't force your employer to give you oodles and oodles of paid maternity leave, so you decide to quit your job:
My husband and I sat down with our calculator, just like we had when I was pregnant, and we began to take things away — little things that really added up. No more cable, we decided to eat out only one night each week and we trimmed our clothing budget. We were also close to paying off a car loan, so we did that and kept the older car instead of upgrading.
Eat out only once a week? Horrors! Not "upgrading" to a brand-new, fancier car? My gosh!
As Washington Post contributor Carrie Visintainer explains it, it's all the fault of big bad America, so unlike wonderful Europe::
It was a sunny Wednesday morning, and I thought I was on my way to having it all. Seven weeks postpartum, I was driving my sedan, returning to work at the Colorado nonprofit that had employed me for the last couple of years. It was job in which I’d been successful; complimented for my skill time and again, and even offered the position of executive director. I was in my mid-30s, and my path was bright….
My job didn’t provide paid maternity leave, so I took off as much time as my husband and I felt we could afford. Toward the middle of my pregnancy, we sat down with a calculator, crunching numbers. As I wrote down our income and expenses, I thought about how ridiculous it seemed to be doing this—how the United States is the only first-world country that doesn’t have a national law mandating paid time off for new parents.
I wondered: Why is it that virtually every other country in the world respects the huge change that parenthood brings, offering weeks (or months) of paid leave, but in America it’s expected that new parents keep working like nothing’s happened?
I saved up all of the vacation time I’d accrued at my job and was able to tack on a few more unpaid weeks, creating a whopping seven-week siesta for me and my newborn.
So Visintainer actually took seven weeks off work–nearly two months–after the birth of her son–but that wasn't enough. How much time away from the job did she want?
And her nonprofit employer was kind enough to limp along for nearly two months without the services of the Very Valuable Employee that Visintainer describes herself as having been. And afterwards, as she tells it in her article. And, once she finally returned to work, her longsuffering boss let her tote baby Jake around the office in a sling wrap the entire day, and to interrupt strategy and planning sessions at the drop of a hat in order to nurse.
But that still wasn't enough!
Alone in my office, my anger intensified. This was proof of how unhealthy it was to go back to work so soon postpartum. How an office/nursery isn’t an adequate compromise for the widespread lack of paid parental leave in America, and why this country needs to get on board with the rest of the world.
I would have to adapt to my current reality. And I would do that, over time, pioneering my own path in this imperfect world. But not before spiraling to an even lower point. Financially, I couldn’t just quit my job, and my office/nursery got harder as Jake grew bigger. So I enrolled him in daycare. But I hated dropping him off, not because I didn’t value the time away from him, but because now my job didn’t feel satisfying enough to warrant either the burdensome cost of child care, or being away from my child. My sense of well-being plummeted. My midwife and I had serious talks about postpartum depression. I started taking medication.
Postpartum depression that doesn't start until months after the baby is born? And what was she still doing with a midwife?
The commenters on Visintainer's piece, lugubriously titled "The American Dream: I Thought So Until I Had a Baby and No Maternity Leave" seemed to have less patience with her tale of First World woe than her (now-ex-) boss at the nonprofit where her juob wasn't "satisfying enough." Here are a couple of sample comments:
My parents had six kids. Mom stayed home and Dad worked two jobs. They went out for dinner on their anniversary once a year and that was it. If you had told her that eating out only once a week was a sacrifice, she'd have laughed her a** off. When people made some comment about how much it must cost to have so many children, she'd tell them she agreed, but couldn't figure out which one of us to give back.
She chose to work for the small non-profit. If you want maternity leave, you choose to work for a large corporation, because they have the resources to cover your maternity leave. Small businesses don't and to be honest, if I had to cover a pro-longed absence in my office (6 employees, including the boss, 3 part-time) and could still get the work done, I'd tell my boss to fire the absent employee, because they would be excess. If my boss had to pay maternity leave, he wouldn't hire a woman under 45.
But in Europe they do everything right!