Monday, September 27, 2010

Babies & "Meaningful Work": Why must they be separate?

Most women in the United States are only offered a paltry maternity leave. If you work for a company that employs more than 50 people, you are guaranteed a 12-week unpaid maternity leave and your employer must hold a space for you when you come back. Many families can't go three months without a paycheck, so many women are back at work by 6 weeks. At 6 weeks post-partum, I had just stopped bleeding, was barely getting the hang of breastfeeding and was a sleep-deprived zombie. At 12 weeks I was a breastfeeding pro and I was sleeping a little bit better but there was no way I was ready to go back to work and hand my baby off to someone else to take care of for 9 hours a day. Thankfully, I was able to take a 6-month leave, but that is atypical and still, it was very difficult to trust someone else to provide the level of care for my baby that I would.

But why does it have to be this way? Why is it assumed that babies only belong in certain places, and that women can't produce good work while caring for a child? It's not feasible for all women, but I'd wager most women could continue to care for their babies while earning a living and contributing to society. I believe that if a woman is practicing the principles of attachment parenting (breastfeeding, babywearing, being responsive to baby's cries, etc) that bringing her baby to work can well, work.

Here is a photo of Italian Parliament member Licia Ronzulli wearing her baby while participating in a voting session.

Here is a video of spoken word poet d'bi.young being interviewed about her work while breastfeeding her baby.

CEO of Palo Alto Software Sabrina Parsons brings her baby to work and nurses him during meetings and conference calls.

Viv Groskop, a British journalist, has never really stopped working. She simply takes her baby with her and nurses on the go. I was told by a concertgoer that Rihannon, the lead singer of the band Carolina Chocolate Drops brought her baby onstage and breastfed her during a concert in Virginia today. And yet, the world kept spinning and no one died, the work got done and everyone was happy.

But why should the option of bringing your baby to work only be available to artists, CEOs and the self-employed? Why can't more of us do our most important job, mothering, while completing the tasks that earn us a living? Why are there currently only a couple hundred companies offering employees the option to bring their babies to work?

It seems these programs benefit everyone. Mom and baby get to stay together, with no damage to their breastfeeding relationship.Companies are more likely to retain good employees, and moms are more likely to return after maternity leave.

Have you ever seen a woman caring for her child while working? Was she able to get her job done? Why don't we trust women to do this? And will it ever change?

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