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What the US can learn from Canada about how to treat moms

What the US can learn from Canada about how to treat moms Opinion Pregnancy What the US can learn from Canad...

What the US can learn from Canada about how to treat moms

Opinion Pregnancy What the US can learn from Canada about how to treat moms Madeleine Somerville Madeleine Somerville

I can’t imagine motherhood without Canada’s generous paid maternity leave. It’s time for America to get with the program

Woman holds baby son in blanket.
‘I have never been more grateful to be Canadian than I was during my first year of motherhood.’ Photograph: Image Source/Getty Images/Image Source

When my daughter was 11 months old, we were strolling down a sunny street when she casually reached her hand out of her stroller and made the sign for “airplane”. I looked from her dimpled knuckles to the sky and, sure enough, there in the distance was a plane streaking its way across the horizon. I hadn’t seen it, but she had. And although she hadn’t yet signed “milk” during the thousands of times I’d nursed her over the previous months, she had remembered the one time I showed her the sign for airplane. She’d seen an airplane and then she told me about it. On the scale of milestones in a baby’s life, this was huge.

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This monumental moment took place in a small town on the coast of British Columbia, Canada. And it was made possible by Canada’s notably generous maternity leave policy.

After Olive’s birth five and a half years ago, I was fortunate to have a full year of paid maternity leave. These 12 months allowed me to ease myself into this bewildering new role, let my body heal, and learn to function on four hours of broken sleep; to bond with my daughter, take walks in the sun, nap when she napped and, yes, teach her to use sign language before she could speak.

Canada wasn’t always so generous with its new moms. In 1971, Canadian mothers could take just 15 weeks of paid maternity leave (granted, that’s 15 weeks longer than present-day American mothers are given). In 1990, the Canadian government added 10 weeks of parental leave benefits to the initial 15. Whereas the initial 15 weeks were maternity leave exclusively, these next 10 weeks could be used by either parent or even split between the two.

Finally, in 2000, Canada increased the 10 weeks of paid parental leave to 35 weeks, resulting in essentially a full year of benefits for Canadian parents to spend with their newborns. During this time, new parents are paid up to 55% of their salary.

Compare this with the American Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, which has remained unchanged since its passage and which requires just 12 weeks of leave â€" fully unpaid â€" for mothers of newborns or newly adopted children. Not only is this one of the shortest leave periods in the industrialized world, it is also virtually impossible to pull off. Could you live without your salary for three months? I couldn’t.

This means that a quarter of mothers in the US must go back to work within two weeks of giving birth.

Ten days postpartum I was lying in bed exhausted, encumbered with comically large nursing boobs, crying hysterically and blowing my nose into giant disposable hospital underpants because my hormones were crashing and all I’d had time to do all day was breastfeed and change diapers.

I simply cannot imagine how I could have functioned in my pre-birth role as a youth worker for at-risk teens. I was not capable of managing their crises, providing pregnancy tests and abortion referrals, counseling them out of abusive situations, or arranging rehab stays while my breasts ached and overflowed and fresh C-section stitches stung from holding my abdomen together. But thanks to the US leave policy, millions of new mothers in similar positions are forced to trudge their own weepy, bloody, bruised bodies to jobs they desperately need to stay afloat.

Statistics readily speak to the tangible societal benefits of paid parental leave. Research shows that paid parental leave can reduce infant mortality by as much as 10% and also increase some vaccination rates by almost 25%, probably because these new parents have the time to attend well-baby visits and vaccination clinics.

Mothers who have access to paid maternity leave also consistently experience lower rates of depression â€" not only during the postpartum period but also when they reach age 50 and older.

When women have a longer maternity leave, they’re able to breastfeed their children for longer. And study after study has linked longer breastfeeding durations to lower infant mortality rates and lower rates of asthma and obesity.

I’ve now come to see that ​​12-month period as an official, federally mandated recognition of how life-changing it is to become a parent

I have never been more grateful to be Canadian than I was during my first year of motherhood. I’ve now come to see that 12-month period as an official, federally mandated recognition of how life-changing it is to become a parent.

This recognition began before I’d even left the hospital. After I underwent a medically necessary C-section, I needed to stay in the hospital for five days â€" and, thanks to my country’s health insurance coverage, I walked away without paying a cent. When we settled back in at home, along with spending time getting to know my new baby, I had time to spend with other new mothers, our frequent meet-ups bolstering my mental health and reminding me that I existed. I was able to wake up with my daughter one, two, 19 times a night, and give her what she needed without needing to save something for my clients or my employer.

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During that year, I didn’t have to function as anything other than a mother â€" no matter what that looked like. It allowed me to be an exhausted, frustrated, overwhelmed first-time mom who hadn’t showered in three days and lived in leggings and milk-stained T-shirts. I felt lost and in love and invisible and exhausted. I can’t imagine how American mothers feel, being crushed with all of this while also worrying if the daycare they’ve chosen is safe, worrying if their baby will take a bottle, worrying about leaking through their shirts or ripping their vaginal stitches or bleeding through their pants.

I look back at the first year of my daughter’s life, and I was there for all of it. Every cry, every nighttime feed, every scrape and tumble, every milestone. I came to know her better than I knew myself, and that knowledge has served me every day of my parenting life since. I was given the opportunity to watch my daughter become herself, step by step, moment by moment. It feels like a luxury, but it shouldn’t be.

Topics Source: Google News Canada | Netizen 24 Canada

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