Americans may have the edge on Olympic medals, fast food chains and Broadway musicals, but we’re severely lacking in the parental leave department.
In Sweden, women are given a full year off to heal properly and bond with their child(ren). If they have more than one child, they are given that same amount of time per child. In the United States, we’re lucky if we get a few days, a week, a month, or 90 days before the threat of not returning means the loss of employment, housing, stability, health insurance, and additional burdens.
If you work for yourself or own a small business, the luxury of a few days off is nearly impossible.
The imminent threat of financial hardship and loss of health benefits make it a low priority for women to take care of their postpartum bodies, which, if we’re being honest, are usually a bit nutty after returning home from the hospital. Hormones fluctuate to grow a tiny human, organs are rearranged, backs are thrown out of alignment, and food is suddenly leaking from your breasts (if you’re even able to produce for your child) - and yet employers and the federal government believe women should “buck up” and return to the workforce without hesitation. I am all for bucking up, but this is not one of those times.
Don’t forget that newborn who may or may not have been born with a birth defect or other noticeable ailment needing urgent attention. Oh, yeah, that part...
I’ve got news for you: you’re all delusional if you think any of this is acceptable.
Top 10 Countries with the Best Parental Leave
An article in Business Insider listed these top 10 places offering substantially greater parental leave opportunities than the United States.
1. Finland - Maternity leave may start seven weeks before the estimated due date. After birth, the government covers 16 additional weeks of paid leave through a maternity grant, regardless of whether the mother is a student, unemployed or self-employed. After a child turns three, parents can also take partial care leave, in which they split time between home and work. That lasts until the child starts second grade.
2. Denmark - New moms in Denmark get a total of 18 weeks of maternity leave: four weeks before the birth and 14 weeks after, all at full pay. Parents can split 32 additional weeks of leave however they see fit.
3. Sweden - New parents in Sweden are entitled to 480 days of leave at 80% of their normal pay. That’s on top of the 18 weeks reserved just for mothers, after which the parents can split up the time however they choose.
4. Belgium - Mothers in Belgium can take up to 15 weeks for maternity leave — for the first 30 days after the child is born, they get paid 80% of their salary, and they get 75% for the rest of the time.
5. Iceland - New moms get three months, new dads get three months, and then it’s up to the couple to decide how they’ll split the remaining three months.
6. Serbia - Mothers can take 20 weeks of fully paid leave after giving birth, then an additional full year of leave.
7. Norway - Mothers can take 35 weeks at full pay or 45 weeks at 80% pay, and fathers can take between 0-10 weeks depending on their wives’ income. Together, parents can receive an additional 46 weeks at full pay or 56 weeks at 80% of their income.
8. Hungary - After the 24 weeks of maternity leave, parents can take another 156 weeks, split between them. The time off is paid at 70% of their salary for 104 weeks, and a flat rate covers the rest.
9. Estonia - Mothers in Estonia are given 140 days of fully paid pregnancy and maternity leave, which may begin 30-70 days before the expected delivery date. After maternity leave ends, parents get an additional 435 days off to share, with compensation calculated at the average of their two earnings.
10. Lithuania - New moms get 18 weeks of fully paid leave, new fathers get four weeks, and together the parents get an additional 156 weeks to share.
So, to sum it up: the United States. Of. America. has worse health care for new moms than Serbia, Hungary, Estonia, and Lithuania. Let that settle for a moment.
Look, I love my country. In fact, when my wife often mentions relocating to Europe where she spent many summers as a child, I balk at the idea. “Why would I want to do that? The U.S. is my home,” I say. Even so, that doesn’t mean treatment of women and mothers in this country is anywhere near where it needs to be.
There is not a solution that will heal the ailments this country has placed on the backs of working mothers throughout its history as a nation, however, that doesn’t mean things should remain in turmoil mode for the foreseeable future.
Women, run for office. Be the change you wish to see. Bring yourselves to the table wherever and whenever you are able. Understandably, women with families have a more complex time in taking this step (see the above for one example), however, more women are needed to make the changes that need to be made. Have you ever tried explaining a cramp to a male gynecologist? In theory, of course they understand. Medically, they have all the knowledge, but have they ever had the actual experience? Women, use your experience and change the course of this nation.
If you can’t run for office or have absolutely no interest in doing so, register to vote. And then vote. Repeatedly - every single time in every single election cycle. The mid-terms are just as important, if not substantially more important, than the presidential election. Need proof? 2016.
Share your stories. We all have them. Share them. Deciding not to talk about the postpartum issues we all face only masks the underlying issues, which bubble to the surface for all of the women who could’ve been helped if you had just shared your stories. Need somewhere to write? Create a blog, submit an article, write on Facebook, just start writing.
Share this story. Because sharing is caring.
Women, we’re going to pull through - we have for centuries. It’s time to stop suffering in silence and start changing the status quo. If I can help in any way, my name is Sarah Toce and I can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Let’s do this, together.