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Why the US Needs Paid Parental Leave – and How to Help in 30 Seconds

Why the US Needs Paid Parental Leave – and How to Help in 30 Seconds

When my son was about 16 weeks old, a friend and I took our babies swimming. The woman behind the front desk started oohing and awing at our children in their adorable, tiny bathing suits.

“I have a little one at home, too,” she said.

“How old?” we asked.

“Six weeks,” she told us. So tiny!

I asked her how she felt coming back to work after just six weeks. She said: “Oh, I’ve been here for three weeks already, so it’s getting better.”

This new mom took three weeks of maternity leave. And she was “lucky” not to be included in the 30% of American women who don’t take any maternity leave.


You read that right: 30% of American women do not take maternity leave. That statistic is from a report published by the US Department of Health and Human Services.

But women are guaranteed 12 weeks of leave, right? Yes, but that’s 12 weeks of leave—not paid leave. While rules differ by state, generally if a woman’s employer chooses not to pay her while she’s out, she can file for six weeks of disability. That’s what I did when our son was born because I hadn’t worked for my company for more than a year, which was their requirement before offering paid leave. I filed for disability in NY State, and, after taxes, I received about $1,000. For six weeks. That’s not $1,000 per week for six weeks. That’s total.


It’s true that some people get paid time off because they work for a generous employer. Google, Facebook, Adobe, and Netflix are just a few of the large tech companies footing the bill for both mothers and fathers to spend time with newborn babies. But most workers do not enjoy this benefit. A common technique is for expectant moms to save up all their sick and vacation days to allow them an extra couple of weeks to be with their child once their six weeks of disability pay expire.

This means that many new parents have to choose between staying with newborn babies or going back to work. Or eating. Or paying for medication. And, too often, this decision isn’t made in a matter of months—situations become desperate in a matter or weeks, or even days.


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And the most baffling part is that study after study show that paid leave benefits everyone: babies, parents, employers, and the economy all benefit from allowing parents to be home with newborns.

The woman at the pool could have used paid leave. I asked her how she managed, but I didn’t mean financially. The emotional strength it must have taken her to leave her 3-week-old all day, 40 hours per week, was not something I possessed. And after giving birth and figuring out how to take care of a new life, it was not another challenge she needed to figure out.


She said her mom watches the baby most days, and her husband helps as well. “But on some days,” she said, “I go into the locker room and I just cry.”

One thing moms do well is help each other. And we can change this. This letter takes just a few seconds to send to your Congressional representatives. Sign it and then spread the word to support paid parental leave.

Laura Forer is a New York-based mom, editor, activist, avid letter-writer, and midnight baker.