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Maternity During COVID-19: A New Reality
Earlier this month, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) released its annual birth rate statistics which indicated that the U.S. birth rate is the lowest it’s been since 1985. It is not unusual these days to see that more women are waiting to have established careers and a comfortable income before considering motherhood. Women putting off having children until their 30s and 40s is ultimately leading towards smaller families overall.
However, it’s not just waiting that has the numbers dwindling. The expense of having a child in 2020 can be daunting, as healthcare costs for mother and child are at an all-time high, coupled with costly daycare prices which are looking more and more like second mortgage payments
It has become common knowledge that maternity leave in the U.S. is nearly as non-existent and unsupported as the healthcare and daycare systems that leave women feeling daunted and disillusioned about becoming mothers these days. Through the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), the United States requires that jobs are held for up to 12 weeks, unpaid, while new mothers recover from birth and care for their child in their first vulnerable weeks on earth. FMLA has its limitations, however, such as having to had worked for your company for a certain amount of time, and companies complying with FMLA differently given certain parameters.
Some companies offer short term disability benefits which can supply new mothers with a percentage of your income as you recover from birth and others have the ability to offer more, such as paid paternity leave. It is imperative that you do your homework and clearly understand maternity benefits that are available to you, from your company standpoint as well as through federal assistance since it varies so greatly
Currently, I’m 37 weeks pregnant with my first child and scared to death. It is scary enough having to welcome my child into the world during COVID-19, but on top of that, my husband has not been able to attend a doctor’s appointment with me since early February and most of my appointments are virtual these days. Weekly, the “birth plan” is changing in terms of whether my husband will be able to be in the room at all, or just be asked to leave shortly after birth (we were told last week he would have to leave within hours of delivery). There are “well wards” and “COVID wards,” as well as a “waiting ward,” where expectant mothers in labor have to sit and wait for their COVID-19 test to come back before being admitted to a room to give birth.
If all of that was not enough, once we make it through those hurdles of the first few days, the stress of finances will start to weigh on us as a family. There seem to be no clear answers, especially in the midst of this worldwide pandemic. When the COVID-19 “stay at home” orders began, many joked that there would be a COVID-19 baby boom – literally born of boredom. Given the figures and new reality here, I wonder if the opposite isn’t at hand.
The question is – how will the dwindling birth rate affect the culture of working women in the United States? My hope is that employees and employers can work together to create a new normal that is healthy for parents, families and organizations and considers the stress of navigating both the physical and financial uncertainties of maternity leave.
*If you have questions about the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) mentioned here, visit the U.S. Department of Labor site at: https://www.dol.gov/agencies/whd/fmla.
About the Author
Sarah Helminiak is the VP of Marketing and Membership at PRINTING United Alliance. She joined the company in 2017 as a Community Development Manager and has since been promoted to Community Development Director, Vice President of Marketing and Communications, and now Vice President of Marketing and Membership.