I’ve had premature babies.
I’ve had cancer.
I’ve had it good.
Unlike most new mothers and people with major illnesses, I didn’t have to worry about taking unpaid leave.
When my babies were born (five weeks early for one and almost three months early, but then he changed his mind, for the other), I was mostly an at-home mom. So I could afford to stay home, even if it meant moving my desktop computer to the coffee table during bed-rest. (Remember technology in the 90′s? The dark ages.)
When I had cancer, I worked throughout treatment the best I could, pushing out a book deadline and turning down a spokespersonship because I didn’t think that the cell phone company that would have hired me wanted to go with my suggested slogan, “Use our phones and you’ll lose your hair.”
Lucky for me, I’d managed to write three months of blogs for Good Housekeeping.com ahead of my blog’s launch date, which ended up hitting around the same time as my diagnosis. Three times a week, my blog posted while I fought for my life.
By the time I had to write fresh blogs, I was through the frightening and exhausting early stages of chemotherapy. Besides, I was writing, not waiting tables or working in a toll booth, so I could work from home (or hospital).
But when it came to medical and maternity leave, other women around me weren’t as fortunate. When my first son was born, one fellow mom had to leave her quadruplets in the hospital NICU and return to work because she’d run out of maternity leave and couldn’t afford to take unpaid leave. (See above: quadruplets.)
One fellow cancer patient was fighting with her company’s HR department over all the time she needed for chemo and radiation (and um, staying alive).
So you see, I’m all for cutting moms and sick people some slack.
For instance, I think that paid sick leave should be a worker’s right, because, as the poster board sign in this Daily News article reads: “Everyone gets sick!” Yes, they do.
Yet, as CNN reports, a new study from the Department of Labor shows that while 83% of workers who earn more than $1,230 a week have access to paid leave, only 50% of workers earning less than $540 a week do. And the people who need paid leave the most are often the ones who make the least money.
As for new mothers, the Census Bureau reports, one in 10 American women returns to work within four weeks after the baby’s birth and nearly a quarter return within two months. Some can’t afford the 12 weeks of unpaid work that the Family Medical Leave Act provides, while others work for companies that are too small to offer it.
According to Bureau of Labor Statistics that came out today, 42 percent of private sector workers have no paid leave whatsoever — for illness or vacation.
What’s a Momma (or Dadda) to do?
- Lobby for paid sick day policies, like the ones in Connecticut, Seattle and Philadelphia.
- Work toward paid family leave insurance, like California and my home state, New Jersey, have.
It’s time that new moms and sick people catch a break.