This week I’m discussing two things that have been bothering me. I believe, at least for me, that writing is my catharsis, and because we all share in the human experience, I also believe what I’m going through is not unique to myself. It always helps to know that other people are going or have gone through some of the same stuff as me. I know I may upset some people with what I write, and as this is never my intention, I apologize. So with that in mind, here we go.
The first thing that has bothered me for a while is people’s reaction to my pregnancy and choice to procreate. For some people, I have received positive feedback, and I appreciate this. However, I cannot count the number of times a friend or family member will look at me with scorn, scoffing how having children is the last thing he/she wants to do. Some of these people then go on to tell me in full detail how much they dislike children and the people who have them and how their lives change because of it. I’ve even had people upset that I’m having a boy instead of a girl. I get so many jokes directed at me because of my choice to procreate and have felt such a lack of support from some of the people I thought would be much more supportive. This making-a-baby process is turning into a lonelier endeavor than I ever anticipated.
I believe in everyone’s right to have or not to have children. It is not only a choice but a right. I stand behind anyone’s decision not to procreate and fully support people in this decision. Honestly some of the people who have been so harsh in their assertion that they never want children make me happy because I can see how they would not make good parents and am glad they, too, have come to this conclusion. (Let me be clear that this is not the case for every person who has asserted that he/she does not want children. I can see some of these people as great parents, but I respect their decision not to bring life into this world.) It’s not for everyone, and a woman’s worth is not linked to her use or disuse of her uterus. Hell, I also experienced quite a lot of critique when Hans and I were not having children. With that being said, I try very hard not to critique anyone’s decision about children, and I would love that same support. You may decide that children are not for you, but I have made a different decision. Both decisions are right and in no way wrong.
I’ve found that certain people no longer want to be close to me, thinking in some backwards way that the decision to have kids is something that can be contagious. Friends have held me at arm’s length, even making me an example of how much they do not want to procreate, and then have said such hurtful things as having to sit in a further chair so that they do not catch the “baby bug.” WTF? I’m assuming such things are said for humor instead of springing from actual belief, or at least I hope they are. If you truly believe your decision not to procreate could be swayed by something as easily as sitting next to a “breeder” then your decision was not that solid to begin with. I am not a disease. This baby growing inside of me is not a mistake that can make others endeavor to make this same mistake. Stop making me feel as though I am diseased and no longer worth as much because of my decision.
The second thing that has bothered me is Hans’s work policy about parental leave or rather lack thereof of a policy on paternity leave. He is afforded no time off for his wife having a baby, and this is from a business that deals with human resources. In fact, this company is originally based in a country that allows quite a bit of parental leave for both parents, so why they have changed their policy for their American workers is beyond me. Let me be clear that we are not looking for a paid vacation or a handout. We believe raising a child is a partnership; it is just as important that Hans has time to bond with the baby as it is for me. I want my husband to be as active in my child’s life as I am and so does my husband. I am well aware that I will not be back to 100% health right away (recovery can take up to six weeks after bringing forth a new life), and I would be up a creek without a paddle without the aid of someone else. Thank goodness my sweet mother has agreed to come up for a week or more to look after both myself and our baby boy. Hans will plan to take off a week if possible and work from home for a month, but there are no guarantees to this.
I don’t understand how there can be no policies in place for parental leave. Currently, employers do not have to offer any paid parental leave for either mother or father, and the amount of unpaid leave for both is up to 12 weeks without his/her job being in jeopardy (although this only applies to roughly half of the population as the Family and Medical Leave Act excludes small businesses and most part-time workers). The United States is one of only two countries out of 185 for which data was available that doesn’t offer paid maternity leave to new mothers. The United States “ranks last among developed nations in providing government support for working parents… The nation that ranks first, Estonia – whose GDP, at $22 billion, is also a fraction of our $16 trillion economy – guarantees new moms more than two years of paid leave, while their jobs are guaranteed for nearly four years. Other nations with generous parental leave policies include Norway, which offers 35 weeks off at full pay; Poland, 26 weeks (100 percent pay); and Bulgaria, 32 weeks (90 percent pay).” It seems that we are a productive country but not a procreative country.
I don’t understand how a country that touts the idea of a nuclear family can have few if any policies to support this belief in the importance of family. People will go to bat against a woman’s right to have an abortion but will do nothing to help her after she makes the “right” decision and the child is born. How can we expect men to step up to be good fathers if there is no support for them? To be clear once again, Hans and I are not looking for a government handout. However, I do not think it is right that parental leave is not an option for Hans (and would not be for me in many jobs I’ve formally had). Paid leave has been shown to help “companies retain workers and lower the cost of turnover,” not to mention the benefits it offers to both the parents and child. Why then is paid parental leave nonexistent in our country, the supposedly “greatest country in the world”? To be great, we must strive to have responsible, intelligent people to continue to make this country what it was and hopefully will be in the future, and this requires not only parents who will raise their children to the best of their abilities but also the support of the government, showing that raising children is important and one of the nation’s priorities.