Becoming a mom has been the most empowering experience of my life; it has made me a better person and better at my job. The personal growth I’ve experienced through motherhood wasn’t miraculously delivered with the birth of my first child. Rather, it grew over time—it bloomed in my relationship with my child, and it was earned through countless moments of bonding and attachment—especially in those first, early (and hard) months of motherhood.
Every mother deserves to feel supported during this special time of personal growth. However, in the absence of a federal paid leave policy in the U.S., one in four moms is returning to work within 10 days of giving birth. Ten days is not enough time to heal from birth. It’s not enough time to bond with a child. And it is not enough time to navigate the transition to motherhood, let alone enough time foster any kind of personal development that comes with that transition.
Lack of Paid Leave is Not Just a “Family Problem”
The U.S.’s lack of paid leave has a direct impact on infant health and the mother-baby bond. As with any relationship, bonding is built through an investment of time, presence, and consistency. Longer bonding periods contribute to healthier babies. Just 10 weeks of paid maternity leave in the US would reduce infant mortality rate by 10 percent; that’s about 2,300 babies each year. And, of course, bonding and breastfeeding go hand-in-hand. During the first weeks and months of life, breastfeeding not only provides the best possible nutrition for babies, but it also acts as a delivery mechanism for bonding. Working women who do not have access to paid time off have lower breastfeeding initiation rates and shorter breastfeeding tenures.
It might be easy to compartmentalize the lack of paid leave as a “family problem,” but in reality, we’re all taking it on the chin when we lose moms in the workforce. Our companies are losing out on the brainpower, innovation, ambition and badassery that working moms bring to the table. And, our teams and networks are losing out on working moms’ leadership, emotional intelligence, and productivity. We’re even losing out when it comes to GDP. According to a 2012 study, if women’s participation in the workforce were at the same level as men’s, we could raise the U.S. GDP by 5 percent. Babies don’t just need their working moms, we need them too!
Working Moms & the 2020 Election
With the 2020 election year upon us, many of us are bracing ourselves for volatile debates and partisanship. In a year that will be focused on our differences, the issue of paid family leave is unique in its bipartisan support. New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand has proposed 12 weeks of paid family leave funded by mandatory employee and employer contributions. California Senator, Kamala Harris is calling for up to six months of paid family leave, which rooted in protecting children’s rights. Senators Marco Rubio and Mitt Romney, along with Representatives Ann Wagner and Dan Crenshaw, are taking a more conservative approach with the New Parents Act. It suggests the optional use of personal social security to fund paid leave.
While each candidate’s approach to paid leave is different—and, in my opinion, some are better for American families than others—I am optimistic that reform is on the way for the simple fact that there is a recognition across party lines that working mothers have a right to recover from birth and/or bond with their babies without facing financial peril, as well as the right to feel supported in their transition to motherhood.
I am sure that the 2020 election will be historic for many reasons, but as a mother and a business owner, I am hopeful that paid family leave will finally earn its place in the national conversation and get the attention it—and America’s families—deserves.