When I “Chose” Motherhood, I Didn’t Choose This
It’s not a real choice when it’s based on false promises and incomplete information
It wasn’t until my second trimester that I learned the United States has no federal paid leave program.
You can certainly place the blame on me for not investigating this matter sooner. Some people have. But for the richest country in the world to deny new parents paid federal leave is so astonishingly absurd, it never even occurred to me to ask the question.
There’s been more talk about paid federal leave lately, but back in 2011, no one, not even once, had ever even casually mentioned to me that in the United States, it wasn’t a thing. As the first person in my various friend groups to have children — at the tender age of 31 — I didn’t have the experiences of other young mothers to draw from.
I’ve always followed the news and kept myself informed, but in the years leading up to my first pregnancy, I don’t recall a single story calling attention to the fact that our country asks new parents, in the midst of the most significant transition of their lives, to shoulder the cost of a few months’ or weeks’ work.
And, since very few couples can afford for two people to be out of work simultaneously, let alone one, it’s generally the birth-giver/milk-producer who becomes the Primary Caretaker, the Default Nighttime Getter-Upper, and eventually the Shunned One when she returns to her job, breast pump in hand, after having the audacity to skip out on work at her own expense so she can care for a tiny human who only just learned how to lift its own head.
Perhaps I could have done more research, yes. But the thing about research is that you have to know what questions to ask.
This is a tall order in a society that steadfastly refuses to have honest conversations about motherhood. At work, mothers speak about their children in whispers, afraid that The Men in Charge won’t take them seriously if they are too open about their status as “mommies.” I once worked alongside a woman for the better part of six months, assuming she was single and childfree. Then I learned that she had a three- and five-year-old at home, which explained the dark circles under her eyes.