Pregnancy Legal-Ease

Lawyer and contributor Heather Stone helps us make sense of maternity leave and post-birthing laws.

Pregnancy Legal-Ease

One of the many issues that parents worry about when planning for a new baby is how they will afford to take time off during the precious first few months of a baby's life. Maternity leave has so many benefits for new mothers and babies, including increasing the likelihood that a mother will breastfeed (the World Health Organization recommends breastfeeding exclusively for at least six months). It has also been shown to increase the loyalty of workers to an organization and, in various studies, to benefit economic growth.

Many parents assume that there is mandated maternity leave in New York State, but that is not the case. In fact, there is only a requirement for unpaid leave, and even that mandate only applies to companies with 50 employees or more. Under the Family and Medical Leave Act passed in the U.S. in 1993, companies with 50 employees or more are required to offer 12 weeks unpaid or paid leave to mothers and fathers around the birth or adoption of a child. For companies with less than 50 employees, there are no maternity or paternity leave mandates, and it's up to the kindness of an employer's heart whether he or she decides to give workers any leave around a child's birth. In terms of the benefits that new working mothers and fathers are entitled to under the law, there are none for small companies and only 12 weeks unpaid for large companies. It is really up to the company and competitive hiring practices to push the maternity leave length and pay up.


So, how do parents in other countries fare compared to parents in New York, and across America? In the U.K., statutory maternity leave is 52 weeks, with 90 percent of pay guaranteed for the first six weeks and 136.78 Pounds -- or 90 percent of your weekly pay (whichever is lower) -- for the next 33 weeks. It's not mandatory that a worker take the full offered maternity leave, but it is required they take at least two weeks (or at least four weeks if they work in a factory). In France, women are guaranteed at least 16 weeks of maternity leave, though many French companies offer longer leave. If a woman who works two of the last five years elects to stay home from work longer than her maternity leave, then she receives a stipend from the government until her child is three years old. In addition, French law mandates 26 weeks of maternity leave to a woman having her third child. In Iceland, both parents are guaranteed three months of paid leave, with an additional three months that the parents can divide between the two of them as they please.

In fact, all 27 EU member states provide mandatory 14 weeks of paid maternity leave with the pay rate required to be at least as much as paid sick leave. According to the Institute for Women's Policy Research, mandated paid maternity leave benefits maternal and children's health, and the economy.

Even finding information on maternity leave in New York is a difficult task. While the laws in the U.K. are clearly spelled out by simply visiting the GOV.UK website, the New York state website directed me to call two numbers, one of which offered me a free cruise and the other of which gave an error message. Then I clicked the "more info" button and was led to a "Page Not Found" error page.

Fortunately, there is a requirement that a woman be allowed to take breaks to pump breastmilk for a year after giving birth. In 2010, President Obama amended the Fair Labor Standards Act to make it mandatory for all companies to provide, for a period of one year from the birth, a reasonable break time and a quiet space -- other than a bathroom -- for a new mother to pump breast milk any time during the day.

Alas, as we've seen with so many areas of the economy where laws are left open to the pressures of competition, competition has not pushed things in the direction of favoring women's and children's health. Few widespread benefits and assistance have been made available for most working mothers. According to the Institute for Women's Policy Research, only 10 percent of private sector workers had access to paid parental leave as of 2010. So as of three years ago, 90 percent of us have had to ask: how will I care for my baby and also keep my job so I can pay for my baby's food and babysitting? The laws probably won't change in our favor until we raise our collective voices and put pressure on politicians to enact more family friendly laws.

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I felt lost as a new mother, but babywearing helped me find myself again

I wish someone had told me before how special wearing your baby can be, even when you have no idea how to do it.

My first baby and I were alone in our Brooklyn apartment during a particularly cold spring with yet another day of no plans. My husband was back at work after a mere three weeks of parental leave (what a joke!) and all my friends were busy with their childless lives—which kept them too busy to stop by or check in (making me, at times, feel jealous).

It was another day in which I would wait for baby to fall asleep for nap number one so I could shower and get ready to attempt to get out of the house together to do something, anything really, so I wouldn't feel the walls of the apartment close in on me by the time the second nap rolled around. I would pack all the diapers and toys and pacifiers and pump and bottles into a ginormous stroller that was already too heavy to push without a baby in it .

Then I would spend so much time figuring out where we could go with said stroller, because I wanted to avoid places with steps or narrow doors (I couldn't lift the stroller by myself and I was too embarrassed to ask strangers for help—also hi, New Yorkers, please help new moms when you see them huffing and puffing up the subway stairs, okay?). Then I would obsess about the weather, was it too cold to bring the baby out? And by the time I thought I had our adventure planned, the baby would wake up, I would still be in my PJs and it was time to pump yet again.

Slowly, but surely, and mostly thanks to sleep deprivation and isolation, I began to detest this whole new mom life. I've always been a social butterfly. I moved to New York because I craved that non-stop energy the city has and in the years before having my baby I amassed new friends I made through my daily adventures. I would never stop. I would walk everywhere just to take in the scenery and was always on the move.

Now I had this ball and chain attached to me, I thought, that didn't even allow me to make it out of the door to walk the dog. This sucks, I would think regularly, followed by maybe I'm not meant to be a mom after all.

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I never wanted to be a mom. It wasn't something I ever thought would happen until I fell madly in love with my husband—who knew very well he wanted children. While he was a natural at entertaining our nephews or our friends' kids, I would awkwardly try to interact with them, not really knowing what to say or do.

Our first pregnancy was a surprise, a much-wanted one but also a unicorn, "first try" kind of pregnancy. As my belly grew bigger, so did my insecurities. How do you even mom when you never saw motherhood in your future? I focused all my uncertainties on coming up with a plan for the delivery of my baby—which proved to be a terrible idea when my dreamed-of unmedicated vaginal birth turned into an emergency C-section. I couldn't even start motherhood the way I wanted, I thought. And that feeling happened again when I couldn't breastfeed and instead had to pump and bottle-feed. And once more, when all the stress from things not going my way turned into debilitating postpartum anxiety that left me not really enjoying my brand new baby.

As my baby grew, slowly so did my confidence that I could do this. When he would tumble to the ground while learning how to walk and only my hugs could calm him, I felt invincible. But on the nights he wouldn't sleep—whether because he was going through a regression, a leap, a teeth eruption or just a full moon—I would break down in tears to my husband telling him that he was a better parent than me.

Then I found out I was pregnant again, and that this time it was twins. I panicked. I really cannot do two babies at the same time. I kept repeating that to myself (and to my poor husband) at every single appointment we had because I was just terrified. He, of course, thought I could absolutely do it, and he got me through a very hard pregnancy.

When the twins were born at full term and just as big as singleton babies, I still felt inadequate, despite the monumental effort I had made to grow these healthy babies and go through a repeat C-section to make sure they were both okay. I still felt my skin crawl when they cried and thought, What if I can't calm them down? I still turned to my husband for diaper changes because I wasn't a good enough mom for twins.

My husband reminded me (and still does) that I am exactly what my babies need. That I am enough. A phrase that has now become my mantra, both in motherhood and beyond, because as my husband likes to say, I'm the queen of selling myself short on everything.

So when my babies start crying, I tell myself that I am enough to calm them down.

When my toddler has a tantrum, I remind myself that I am enough to get through to him.

When I go out with the three kids by myself and start sweating about everything that could go wrong (poop explosions times three), I remind myself that I am enough to handle it all, even with a little humor.

And then one day I found this bracelet. Initially, I thought how cheesy it'd be to wear a reminder like this on my wrist, but I bought it anyway because something about it was calling my name. I'm so glad I did because since day one I haven't stopped wearing it.

Every time I look down, there it is, shining back at me. I am enough.

I Am Enough bracelet 

SONTAKEY  I Am Enough Bracelet

May this Oath Bracelet be your reminder that you are perfect just the way you are. That you are enough for your children, you are enough for your friends & family, you are enough for everything that you do. You are enough, mama <3


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Parents knowingly sent COVID-positive kids to school—and that's a sign society is failing families

Parents shouldn't feel as though they have no other choice.

Parents across the nation are adjusting to school being back in session during a pandemic. From converting dining rooms into virtual classrooms to totally derailing their careers, parents are finding ways to make it through this unprecedented crisis.

It turns out that there is yet another challenge to overcome: parents knowingly sending their COVID-19 positive children to school. Yes, it happened in Wisconsin this week.

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