Hooray for Last Place!

Per Wikipedia, Papua New Guinea is one-half of an island north of Australia. Home to around 7 million people, with 18% of those people living in urban areas. The rest lives in villages, away from other villages, sometimes not being aware of each other. There are literally hundreds of languages spoken in this country, owing to the different villages, each with their own unique traditions and cultures. Less than 4% of the population is over the age of 65, which should tell you something about their healthcare. And speaking of health, malaria is the main cause of illness and death. A large portion of the population is illiterate. Papua New Guinea is not really a tourist destination, so there really isn’t a wealth of information out there about it.

papua-new-guinea-6

Coming of age ceremony for the George Jefferson village?

You might be wondering why the brief history lesson? Well, I will tell you. This small, poor country ties with the richest country in LAST PLACE for maternity benefits. Us. We can put a man on the moon. Send a robot to Mars that continues to send us pictures to this day. We can make people untalented people famous. We can make the racist village idiot a candidate for president. But we cannot, or will not, make an effort to provide any kind of benefit for women who just pushed out a brand new human.

This post isn’t going to be a rant about the shitty lack of mandated maternity leave for new moms. I don’t have anything new to add to the argument that hundreds, if not thousands, of people have said before me. We suck. We know we suck. And unless government decides to give a shit (or people wise up and start electing people do), we will continue to suck. Go last place!!!

Anyway, I guess you could say I was incredibly fortunate. I got 12 whole weeks off. Sure, compared to Denmark (whose moms get 52 weeks off, 100% paid) it’s paltry, but some women had to return to work mere days after delivery. Thanks to FMLA, every woman is guaranteed 12 weeks of time off to do the things that new moms do postpartum. More on that later.

At any rate, of my 12 weeks, I bought short-term disability insurance which said it covers 6 weeks, and only 60% of your salary…but only if I upgraded to the 60% benefit. (Had I not elected to do so, the standard would have been 30%.) Even that is a misnomer, because they only pay you for 5 weeks, citing the 6th week is for paperwork processing and you don’t actually get a paycheck. The remaining weeks you have, you have to burn through whatever PTO you have saved up. Which means that prior to going on leave, you have to save every single minute of PTO and use none of it for doctor visits, sick days, or days you can’t come in because you feel like absolute shit your 9th month of pregnancy. Even then, it’s only applicable if your employer even offers vacation time, because the U.S. is one of the few countries that do not mandate paid vacation time. (I think the last statistic was 1 in 4 workers do not get PTO.) Any bills introduced to guarantee PTO fail. Just when you think we can’t suck any harder…we do.

I had managed to accrue enough PTO to cover all but the last 2 weeks of my maternity leave. But because I have an amazeballs husband (who didn’t get diddly squat for any kind of paternity leave, btw), and the survival of our household did not hinge on my paycheck, I was able to take the entire 12 weeks off, and not get any type of paycheck for those last two weeks. But because of FMLA, my job was secure. However, when I returned to work, I basically worked for free for the first month because short-term disability does not pay for insurance premiums, and all my paychecks had to cover those missed premiums.

But what is maternity leave anyway? I can’t speak for the other moms, but for me, it was about a lot of things. It was getting right with how my body changed. Breastfeeding, pumping, trying to sneeze without peeing myself. Healing from pushing a baby out, who ripped Mommy a new one as a parting gift. It’s about trying to figure out childcare for when you do go back to work. It’s also about getting to know the newcomer. Figuring out how this new mom thing worked, worrying yourself into wrinkles because you’re convinced you’re not doing it correctly because everything on the internet tells you that you are a horrible mother, and how could you possibly even bring a baby into the world when you notorious for letting plants die?? Maternity leave is for falling in love with the newcomer, and flexing those maternal instincts when they decide to appear one night as your husband almost rolls over the baby. It’s for thinking about the kind of parent you want to be. The kind of person you would like to raise your child to become. It’s for sleep, for lack of sleep. For tears and giggles. Snuggles and blow-outs. It’s for Moms and Dads and Babies to start (or build upon) the foundation of their family.

What isn’t Maternity Leave? It’s not for selfish, childless lackwits who think that time off is one great big spa retreat where they can sit and think about a better mission statement for their job. I’m not even going to link her article, or mention her name, because I don’t care to add any more traffic to her asinine quest or possible sales to her shitty book. You know, before I ever had a baby, I never begrudged the women who did. I never envied their maternity leaves, and when they returned, I never saw women who were refreshed with a new outlook on their job. I saw women returning with abject sadness of having to leave their babies too soon, the constant worrying if they were okay, bitterness that we live in a country that is perfectly complacent to tie for DEAD LAST with a country where the typical residential dwelling is a hut, and resentment that their employers refuse to go above and beyond what is legally required of them to do right by their new mothers. The only time I ever saw those new moms happy was when it was time to leave, and only because they were going home to their babies.

You want a Meternity Leave? They already exist. It’s called a Sabbatical.

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