On top of the fact that the United States has an atrocious infant mortality rate when compared to other industrialized countries (25th in the world), the United States leaves much to be desired in terms of maternal health as well. Maternal mortality has actually been increasing in the United States in the last decade and now the US ranks 40th in the world for maternal mortality. And as everyone knows these days, infant health and maternal health are essentially one in the same: healthy mommies make for healthy babies (most of the time).
These statistics are startling and probably surprise most Americans as well as the rest of the developed world. How can the world’s most powerful country have such terrible maternal and child health indicators? In actuality, what makes the United States the most powerful country in the world is probably what is killing us. Literally.
The United States was founded on the premise that we can work our way to success. This Protestant work-ethic derivative has made life in the States appealing to immigrants from all over the world, and it’s quite a marvelous idea really: if you work hard enough, no matter what circumstance you’re born into, you can make it. Big. But bigger isn’t better in life, and studies are constantly finding that the key to happiness isn’t in your salary, but in your personal life.
The American work ethic has made it incredibly difficult, however, for the working woman. Well, I should take that back since a colleague just posted about how working women exhibit better health indicators. I should say that it has made it difficult for the working, pregnant woman. Besides the lack of places to breastfeed at work and the limited paid-time-off, the United is one of the only countries left that does not have a compulsory leave of absence. In a study that compared the US to the UK, Germany, the Netherlands, Denmark, and Japan, the United States was not only the only country to not have compulsory maternity leave, but it has the shortest time-off-with-pay at 12 weeks. How is this possible? Is it worth it to our nation? Would the economy spontaneously combust if mothers took time away from the desk but still got paid?
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To me, this is just another example of gender discrimination. If men were having babies instead of women, I wouldn’t hesitate for a second to think that there would not only be compulsory “paternity” leave in this case (which, in the other countries with compulsory maternity, there is also some sort of paternity leave) but a whole boatload of health benefits for fathers (including male breastfeeding stations on every floor of the workplace). What will it take for women’s needs to be met at work? Why is pregnancy a disability for women? Staying at home, develop a bond with their newborn infant, and practice breastfeeding and caring for their child(ren) isn’t a vacation. Far from it. Yet employers treat women like it is. We have to save up our PTO to be able to wake up at 3am for a feeding and wipe vomit off our shoulders? Really? Really.
I think women need to demand more in this area, just like we need to demand equal pay for equal work. For the large part of society: women want to work, but women want to have kids; men can work, and men can have kids. Subtle difference, huge implications. Lets face it, men still rule the world. They make policy. But for every man, there is a woman who can push back, who can demand her right to have children and work, just like men. We just need to be brave and some of us will have to take the hit in order to lead our comrades to greener pastures.