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“I’m a woman who’s just had a baby. My choices are limited.”

Traister_embed1v4-20-624x686Rebecca Traister has a great, comprehensive piece about how “simple, systemic failures” — like these — ensure that “the act of having a baby turns out to be a stunningly precarious economic and professional choice” in the US. Currently at home with a new child, she notes that the fact that she’s supported by the good parental leave policy offered by The New Republic means she’s “won the woman lottery.” 

Eighty-eight percent of American women do not get paid for a single day or a single hour after they give birth. When I had my first child, three-and-a-half years ago, for reasons related to my particular professional choices, I did not get paid leave.

This is what it felt like: It felt like I was a successful professional adult who, from the time I’d started scooping ice cream and busing tables in tenth grade, had always had a job, except for the times I’d been laid off. In this case, I hadn’t been laid off. I’d finally, at age 35, done the thing that everyone from Mitt Romney to most of Facebook had assured me was the most rewarding and most valuablethe most downright Americanthing I could do: I’d had a baby. And my incomemy economic independencehad vanished.

My plight was far cushier than most. I am partnered. My husband earns money (though the weeks he took off after the birth of our first child were also unpaid), the nature of my work permits flexibility and the ability to work from home, and I had a portion of a book advance. But that advancemeant to stretch over a yearwas quickly lost to diapers and onesies and devices designed to suck snot from tiny human noses. I started writing journalism againin a frenzied, desperate wayabout six weeks after I had my daughter, but I was not really back in gear for three months and not earning anything like what I had been before the baby for a yearor maybe it was three yearsafter that. And again: compared with most new mothers whose income dries up as soon as they give birth, I was coasting.

For the majority of new parents, whose penniless postpartum months (or weeks, or days, or whatever they can afford to take without pay, which is often nothing) are simply the result of the way things are in a country that venerates motherhood but in practice accords it zero economic value, the situation is far more dire. It makes parenting a privileged pursuit, takes women out of the workforce, and ultimately affirms public and professional life as being built for men. Mercifully, the Obama administration is starting to come around to this reality. In January, the president announced that he would sign an executive order giving federal employees six weeks of paid family leave, and that he would pressure Congress to encourage better family and sick leave policies. The post that announced the shift was titled “Why We Think Paid Leave Is a Worker’s Right, Not a Privilege.”

While grateful for the benefits she receives, Traister notes that the fact that elite employers — like the tech giants in Silicon Valley — are changing their family leave policies faster than the political will is coalescing to change them on the national level “contributes to the widening of the class chasm.” “Policies that account for the fact that women now give birth and earn wages on which their families dependand, for that matter, that men now earn wages and provide childcare on which their families dependshould not be crafted by individual bosses or corporations on a piecemeal basis that inevitably favors already privileged populations. They should be available to every American.” Read the rest here.

St. Paul, MN

Maya Dusenbery is an Executive Director in charge of Editorial at Feministing. She is the author of the forthcoming book Doing Harm: The Truth About How Bad Medicine and Lazy Science Leave Women Dismissed, Misdiagnosed, and Sick (HarperOne, March 2018). She has been a fellow at Mother Jones magazine and a columnist at Pacific Standard. Before become a full-time writer, she worked at the National Institute for Reproductive Health. A Minnesota native, she received her B.A. from Carleton College in 2008.

Maya Dusenbery is an Executive Director of Feministing in charge of Editorial.

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