Mother’s Day special

Last Mother’s Day, multiple advocate groups for paid maternity leave traveled to Salem’s Capitol building with a message to legislators: Make Oregon more mom-friendly.

Corinna Scott
Photo Corinna Scott

Last Mother’s Day, multiple advocate groups for paid maternity leave traveled to Salem’s Capitol building with a message to legislators: Make Oregon more mom-friendly.

I haven’t seen my mom in more than six months, and Mother’s Day was the first time we had talked in a while. Things are a little weird between us sometimes, but I appreciate her quite a bit. I’m really thankful that she was able to take so much time off work to take care of me while I was a wee little baby.

That being said, despite having a day devoted to loving and appreciating moms, we’re severely lacking in the ol’ maternity-leave thing. Breakfast in bed and handmade cards are sweet and sentimental, but this past Mother’s Day in Salem showed us that we’re not keeping moms’ best interests at heart.

The Oregonian published a small editorial on the subject a few weeks ago. The author, Janie Har, wondered whether a statement made by the advocacy groups held up to inspection. The statement read: “Mothers’ work opportunities, health and bonds with their children and partners are affected by the lack of paid family leave—a program that is standard in all but five nations around the world.”

Many documentaries and other sources have discussed how America undervalues mothers and the idea of motherhood in general. The groups that went to the Capitol demanded that the state recognize the fact that other developed countries provide paid maternity leave on a scale that the U.S. doesn’t.

PolitiFact Oregon found that the advocacy groups’ statement was true, though they felt like more information was needed (ugh). At any rate, what do other countries do for moms that the U.S. doesn’t?

“Most countries ensure at least three months of paid leave for new mothers, and many give fathers benefits too,” The Huffington Post reported.

The Netherlands provides 100 percent paid benefits for up to 112 days for new mothers. Other countries, including Japan, Indonesia, India, Germany, Russia, South Korea, Spain, China, France and Brazil, also provide 100 percent paid benefits, for varying lengths of time.

According to the International Labour Organization, the U.S., Lesotho, Swaziland and Papua New Guinea provide zero mandated paid maternity leave to mothers.

In 1993, President Bill Clinton signed into law the Family and Medical Leave Act, which requires that all public agencies, public and private elementary and secondary schools, and employers with more than 50 employees provide 12 work weeks of paid maternity leave in one year. This also includes adoption and foster care.

While that was an unprecedented change in public policy (and it’s still mostly a good thing) it was 20 years ago! Many people aren’t eligible for those benefits because they don’t work for any of the aforementioned employers, or they aren’t eligible because they don’t meet the requirement for minimum hours worked.

Other states are starting to introduce legislation that will cover a larger number of workers. More employers are also doing what they can to patch the space between what little the government mandates and nothing.

In 2007, Google began providing five months paid leave for mothers and seven weeks for fathers, adoptive parents and same-sex partners. While five months seems like a long time, it’s really not. Moms need time to develop a relationship with a new baby, and even five months is hardly adequate for that.

When new mothers have time to spend with their infants, it helps them develop healthy mother-child relationships that in turn lower infant mortality rates. This also allows mothers more time to breastfeed their children, “which lowers illness and hospitalization rates for infants and benefits women’s health,” said Jody Heymann, the dean of the Fielding School of Public Health at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Point blank: We don’t value moms enough, and U.S. moms get cheated out of maternity benefits that they deserve. I don’t want to have children anytime soon, but if and when I do I’d like to be able to rely on at least a little bit of paid maternity leave.

Mother’s Day this year was good for my mom and me, but I think it’d be pretty cool if, by this time next year, we made some progress on the whole maternity leave debacle. Maybe next May we’ll be able to include adequate maternity leave with brunch, cards and flowers.