In fall 2016, my husband and I were thrilled to find out that I was pregnant. We’re continuing to look forward to the birth of our baby, but with one big problem. I am a working mom who is completely ineligible for family leave, whether paid or unpaid. This means that despite the known benefits of parental leave to employers, families, and society at large, I may have to return to work soon after my baby is born. I am facing a choice between my child and my paycheck.
When my husband and I decided to have a baby, I did not question that my career would remain important to me. I did not stop making decisions that I thought were best for my family and for my own progress and development as a working writer/web content strategist. To that end, when a new job prospect coincided with a new pregnancy, I chose to take a risk and pursue the new job prospect. I did not think I should have to turn down a promising job opportunity because I was pregnant. So I let the potential employer know I was pregnant, and I accepted the job offer.
A couple of months in to the new job, I began to realize that it was not working out. The stress of the position was taking a toll on me in ways I could not have predicted. Three months in, I was without a job, taking a much-needed break, and preparing to return to my previous position. I was incredibly lucky to have a good position waiting for me in this scenario. Many women would simply end up unemployed while preparing to have a baby.
I’m back to work, but now I am ineligible for FMLA (meaning that I am not legally protected from losing my job if I do eventually take unpaid leave). Employees are only eligible for FMLA if they have worked for the employer for at least 12 months. So, despite the fact that I am not a new employee and my employer was actively recruiting me to return, I have no parental leave rights.
Most women and families cannot afford 12 weeks of unpaid time off. Most can’t afford ANY unpaid time off. I am more fortunate than many women, in that I have a good salary and vacation time. However, I will not have time to accrue vacation time before my baby is born (about 2 months) and with bills and other expenses, I cannot afford to go unpaid for any significant stretch of time.
As of now, I am not sure what I’ll do when my baby is born. For my health and the health of my baby, I will need to take leave. Research backs up the need for parental leave, but I have no real way of taking an appropriate amount of time off under the circumstances.
If our neighbor Rhode Island, not to mention every other developed nation outside of the United States, can provide paid parental leave, why can’t Massachusetts?