In the midst of the emotional, mental, and of course physical preparation you'll do before your little one arrives, you're likely also considering specifics around child care and finances. If you're a new mom who works, you're sure to strategize about how much time you'll be able to take off of your job in order to bond with your baby and recover. Unfortunately, the fact of the matter remains that in the U.S., there is no such thing as federally mandated maternity leave. For that reason, one in four new mothers goes back to work just two weeks after giving birth.
This is a stark reality that Good Morning America recently highlighted in a segment on coworkers donating their vacation time to new moms who may not otherwise have much of a maternity leave.
They highlighted the experience of a Missouri mom named Angela Hughes who didn't qualify for paid maternity leave because she was so new at her job in the registrar's office of a private college. She saved up as much vacation time as she could, but it wasn't until her boss and other coworkers donated vacation time. In the end, she ended up with eight weeks of paid time off—four that she used immediately after having a C-section and another four when her now-1-year-old daughter Bella was discharged from her hospital's neonatal intensive care unit nearly three months after her birth.
“It took a weight off of my family’s shoulder,” Hughes shared. "Having a baby is a huge adjustment anyway but having a premature baby, my emotions were all over the place." And because she was able to take a fully paid leave, she wasn't risking losing health insurance coverage. "It really, really meant a lot to me,” she said of her coworkers’ donations. “I was very surprised because I had not been with the company very long. I was extremely appreciative and very humbled.”GMA also reported that a mom in Nebraska who works for the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services was able to take 12 weeks of paid leave under a new policy that allows state employees to donate vacation days specifically for coworkers' maternity leave.
Yet, several startling facts remain: If you work for a company that has over 50 employees, you're entitled to 12 weeks of leave—but it's unpaid. As far as paid leave goes? The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) found that, as of December 2017, just 15 percent of all private workers had access to paid family leave. And the U.S. is the only country among 41 industrialized nations that does not mandate paid maternity leave, according to 2016 data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).
The bottom-line: Heartwarming Hughes' and Sampsons' illustrate beautiful generosity among colleagues. But they're also the result of an unfortunate circumstance that far too many families must grapple with upon welcoming a new addition. Given the options that new parents currently face, donations of vacation time is a thing to be applauded, no doubt. But in the long-run, American families deserve so much more.