Motherhood Shouldn’t Be Career-Ending

By Nicole Alvarado
The Virginian-Pilot.

THE UNITED STATES is one of only three (out of 178) developed countries in the world that does not require employers to offer paid maternity leave. The other two? Papua New Guinea. And Swaziland.

Let that sink in for a second. Despite being one of the most industrialized and advanced nations in the world, we still treat our professionally procreating women the same way as two countries whose GDP is miniscule compared to the United States.

The U.S. Navy (and Marine Corps) announced July 2 it is extending the amount of paid maternity leave from the “standard” six weeks to 18 weeks, tripling the amount of time a female sailor may be at home with her child and still be able to support herself. Not only does the policy go into effect immediately, it applies to all women who have given birth since Jan. 1.

The change is part of an effort by the Navy to recruit more women. I can’t think of a better way to let women know they are important to the workforce and encourage them to stay on and move up within a company, especially now that women make up 17 percent of Navy Forces, with more than 59,000 currently serving in active duty and 9,000 in reserves, according to the Naval History and Heritage Command.

I’ve been back at work a little more than a month and am finally getting back into the swing of things. Maternity leave was no vacation. I worked longer hours on less sleep with more demanding deadlines than any paid job I’ve had. My boss is an adorable tyrant I can’t say no to, at the risk of my own self-preservation.

I consider myself one of the lucky few who got some paid maternity leave. I took my three months, and was happy to be paid for half of it. A 2011 Bureau of Labor Statistics study said only between 5 to 14 percent of women in jobs similar to mine even had access to paid maternity leave.

It is amazingly proactive of the Navy to be one of the first major American employers to mandate such an extended period of paid recovery time; hopefully, the private sector will follow suit. Additionally, the Navy offers 10 days of paid paternity leave.

Under the current Family and Medical Leave Act, women may take up to 12 weeks of unpaid maternity leave. To add insult to injury, there are many hoops to jump through just to be able to claim these paltry offerings — many small business and/or part-time workers don’t meet the qualifications for even the bare minimum of maternity leave.

Pregnancy can be a death sentence for your career. As a working woman, I can’t help feeling like we’re being punished for wanting to prolong the human race.

Former Cosmopolitan editor Helen Gurley Brown published a book in 1982, “Having It All: Love, Sex, Success, Money,” a sort of self-help book for women trying to play all the fields.

The concept of having it all as a professional woman was optimistic and one that decades later we are not too much closer to achieving. Hopefully, with measures like the one the Navy just took, we are one step closer.

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