It’s not because the Michigan job market is crap, and most of the jobs I’m qualified for skill-wise wants me to have a Master’s Degree, though all of that is discouraging. It’s more like this:
1. The Family Medical Leave Act of 1993 does not apply to me.
FMLA was hailed as a great thing early in President Clinton’s term. It granted 12 weeks a year of unpaid leave with benefits intact and job security for persons who worked for a public agency, a business with 50 or more employees in a 75 mile radius, who had worked for the company at least 1250 hours in the last 12 months.
In other words, you have to have worked some place for a year, and that place has to have 50 or more employees, or be public agency in order to qualify for these federal benefits.
My term of service for my national service with AmeriCorps ends February 3rd; I have worked with a nonprofit for the last two years, and probably qualify as a public employee — but since my service is ending, much like a contract position does, it is all a moot point.
The jobs I want are in nonprofit or public service; nonprofits rarely have more than 50 employees, and if I were to work for the state government (where there are plenty of job openings due to retirements), I would not qualify by time-served.
Long story short: the federal government would not protect my job security or benefits, nor my right to the time needed to care for a child after birth. Some states have extended the benefits; most not enough.
2. Individual Employers may extend FMLA-like leave to non-qualified persons, but it’s risky business.
First of all, the fact that any law exists — even a law as admittedly as flimsy (on a personal, policy, and international scale) as FMLA — shows that individual employers were not protecting their own employees. As it stands, the law only begins to apply to what I’d believe you call “second stage” businesses — no longer start ups or small companies, but neither are they big companies either.
From an economic point of view, it does not make sense to hire a 7 month pregnant woman, train her, and then allow her to take 2, 6, or 12 weeks off (debates about how long the postpartum period last are on-going) to take care of her child and adjust (or readjust) to motherhood, and then return to work. First of all, training someone is a huge investment in and of itself; it’s why many companies require contracts of 2 years in order to train people in the first place. Then, there is no guarantee of loyalty; with the way motherhood is treated in today’s society, it isn’t certain that the mother will return to work — thereby costing her employers the money and time spent on training, even if the leave is unpaid and benefits are suspended for its duration of the leave.
From a functional and managerial point of view, it’s quite possible that the job held by the pregnant women is vital to a small company, and will need to be filled while she is away — either by a temporary employee, covered by another employee at the company, or possibly hiring a new employee. This last option is prohibited by FMLA — but let’s remember that I’m not covered by FMLA, and neither are many people working at companies with <50 employees. Temporary employees are expensive (training, remember?), and delegating a leave-taking member’s responsibility may cause resentment if not managed correctly. Conventional wisdom says it isn’t really good management to let employees take a leave of absence like the one described by FMLA.
From the employee’s point of view, especially mental health-wise, more than 12 weeks is ideal — a baby at 12 weeks hasn’t smiled spontaneously, yet. But, without the protection of FMLA, or even the NEED to work because going without income for 3 months is impossible, 2 or 4 weeks just has to suffice — leaving mothers separated from their children and at greater risk for postpartum depression and other complications. Perhaps individual employers could work with employees for longer periods of leave; but because of the above reasons, it would need to be a seriously enlightened employer to make that happen.
If I were to apply for a job, I’d have to hope that they would look past my being pregnant to hire me in the first place; that they would train me, that they would keep my job for me, and give me sufficient leave for me to become a confident parent and protect my mental health. It seems too much to ask, and it’s a lot to hope for.
3. A new job and an infant at the same time is a recipe for Postpartum Depression.
Let’s be honest, I’m a prime candidate for PPD. I’m already depressed and anxious, my medications don’t cut it, I haven’t been in therapy (but I’m going back!). One of the first things they tell you to help prevent PPD is to not change too much in your life at the same time you have the baby — you know, like move (done last month), end a job (2/3), or start a job (not happening).
It’s easy to be overwhelmed when caring for an infant. It’s easy to be overwhelmed while beginning a new job. Hint: attempt only one at a time.
4. It is because I am privileged that I can make this decision, to not look for a job.
This is a choice I can make because I have a committed partner whose job pays most of our bills. It is because our rent isn’t unaffordable, because we have health insurance through Tim’s work, it is because we don’t go hungry when only one of us works that I can say, “I can’t work right now.”
I want to work, like many other mothers out there. Many mothers need to work. But public policy does not support women who need to work to make ends meet; and then vilifies them for being on welfare.
I wish I could apply for job after job and be the top candidate always and when they deny me the leave that I need to make sure I don’t spiral deeper into depression, I could walk away and teach them a lesson. I wish I could stand up and be an example, to cause discrimination to occur and start filing lawsuit after lawsuit. Would I be teaching them the right lesson — that it is important to take care of your employees? Or would I be teaching them that what their mentors told them about pregnant women was right — you can’t trust them to keep to their commitments? (That double standard is a whole post in and of itself.)
I’m not strong enough to make an example of myself; to live through the day to day of poor policy. And I can avoid it — I am privileged enough to avoid it, to become a housewife and a stay-at-home mom.
But, damn it, as soon as my baby is old enough, as soon as I’ve regained my mental health, I am going to do something about all of this — I’m going to Grad School and study the social policies that got us here, I’m going to intern and work for nonprofits and advocacy agencies that stand up for women’s rights, for the rights of those in poverty. I’m going to volunteer where I can, and I’m going to challenge this disgusting status quo.
Babies need Mamas, and Mamas need money to care for their babies. Can we please make it easier?