04 May, 2008

Unpaid Maternity Leave...To Work or To Work?

So, I have a bit of a soapbox...it is one that has been rolling around in my head for weeks now.

Kevin and I are expecting our first baby in November...and I have NO paid maternity leave. Given, I am entitled to up to 12 weeks of Family/Medical Leave, but need I remind anyone that it is UNPAID??? Now, my salary is far from bread-winning, but it is certainly a supplement. Yes, I have 3 1/2 combined weeks of vacation and sick days, but that is only if I don't take any between now and then...

Need I mention that I work for the Catholic Church? The Catholic Church is by most standards the organization at the very top of the moral high ground when it comes to fertility and family life. It is an organization whose values, to even the least educated, include no artificial birth control and marriage vows that include a commitment to "willing accept children and raise them in the faith."

"The family is the cornerstone of the Church," the documents read.

And, "parents are the primary educators of their children."

And yet as an organization we have no PAID maternity leave?

If the the Catholic Church as an organization does not support paid maternity/paternity leave how are we to expect any secular organization or government to do so?

Some of you may be saying, "Wait, several European countries have paid maternity leave and even special incentives for bearing children." Let's be clear. This has nothing to do with the church and everything to do with their plummeting birth rates. True, the US and Australia are the only two developed nations in the WORLD that don't have some form of a paid maternity leave. However, it is also no coincidence that we haven't seen significant decreases in our birth rate. Don't worry, we will. And as soon as we do the government will decide what a fabulous idea maternity leave and child-bearing incentives are. We're so progressive...

Companies that have independently planned and funded maternity leave for their employees have seen great responses. They see more men and women returning following their periods of leave which means less turnover. They've also seen an increase in women in their higher level positions because women stay...what a concept!!!

I have to wonder though...did we women bring this upon ourselves? I think our lack of maternity leave and to be quite honest, the lack of effort toward it, was carved into stone during the feminist movement of the former generations. For years we women tried to tell society that we were equals and that there was no difference between men and ourselves.

In my opinionated reality, we don't want to be equals. All we wanted was a fair chance at voting, jobs, wages, benefits, and opportuties to advance. That does not equate to equal. It equates to fair chances for inherent dignity and a job well done by woman or man, black or white, Muslim or Christian.

But really, whatever happened to, "I am woman, hear me roar"? I am woman. I am beautiful. I have curves that no man could ever bear presence to. I have a thought process that few men or computer can master let alone understand. I can carry a life within my womb for 9 months and then give birth by shear will and strength. No man can ever do that.

Why would I want to be considered his equal? Why wouldn't I want the special treatment that is due to me after pushing something the size of a watermelon through something the size of a lemon? Why wouldn't I want 3 months of nourishing my child and bonding with it to be considered "my job" and be paid accordingly? Ladies, in some ways we are simply superior and deserve to be treated as more than an equal. And this is one of them.

I am not equal. I am different. I will work hard to earn my keep, but I believe that my work, especially for the Church, is not simply what I do from 9-5, and should be compensated as such when I am a part of an organizaton that values my contributions both as employee and (at least according to their documents) as a mother.

I'm not the only one with eyes on this issue...here's the blog post from BBC News that inspired me to actually move from thinking to writing on this topic...http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/thereporters/nickbryant/2008/05/baby_bonus_blues.html

And ladies, you may not have a "bun in the oven" yet, but I guarantee you that when your time comes you will be wondering many of the same things.

So let's step up. Let's ask our government and our companies to dance. Let's claim our femininity and its rights. These curves can take whatever you throw at them.

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