It is well-known that the United States is behind on healthcare services and policies, especially with pregnancy and childbirth. People who are able to get pregnant have varying experiences when it comes to maternity leave.
The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) allows for 12 work weeks of leave within a 12-month period for various circumstances.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), this leave can be used for the birth of a child and care of a newborn within one year of birth and the placement of a child for adoption or foster care that the employee is caring for, within a year of placement.
An employee can receive FMLA if they have worked at least 1,250 hours during the 12 month at their place of employment. They also must work at the location where the employer has at least 50 employees within 75 miles of that location.
Both parents are able to take FMLA leave for the birth and care of a newborn. There are many situations that are covered in fact sheets on the DOL website.
Although FMLA mandates a 12-week leave for child birth and care, it is not federally required to receive pay.
Many pregnant people do not take the entire 12 weeks off. This is mainly because these families are not in a financial position to go that long without having income.
In Pennsylvania, as of October 2020, the Human Resources Policy (HRP) was updated to establish a Commonwealth-wide paid paternal leave benefit for Commonwealth employees. The HRP applies to all departments, offices, boards, commissions and councils under the governor’s jurisdiction for human resources management.
This updated HRP policy allows for six weeks of paid leave for full time eligible employees.
For other Pennsylvanians who can get pregnant, there are options to help support them financially, like applying for Medical Assistance (MA) through the state. A pregnant person can apply for coverage as soon as they are informed they are pregnant.
According to the PA Department of Human Services (DOH), some of the benefits of the MA program are providing health care coverage to underinsured or uninsured pregnant people and infants, coverage continues until 60 days after birth, prenatal care, early detection and treatment of health problems and a few more.
There are different income requirements when applying for MA for children and pregnant people. There are different criteria to determine how much assistance a household receives.
Finances are a large factor that is taken into consideration when people are planning to have or expand their families.
Pregnancy in demanding jobs
Being a woman in demanding fields brings on various challenges, even without the barrier and challenges that pregnancy brings.
Lindsay Ward, who is currently pregnant and a KDKA morning news anchor, describes the broadcast industry as a rollercoaster full of amazing and depressing challenges, even before starting a family.
The field is male-dominated. But in the last 20 years, she said she’s seen an increase in women in the industry. This started the conversation about what women and families need to be successful.
For Ward, she is lucky enough to be working somewhere that her maternity leave was easy to obtain. In her field, she is starting to see a shift in attitudes towards women and family-planning.
“I think [the change is] really great,” Ward said. “I hope it brings a comfort to women and men, [you] don’t have to hold ourself back from wanting something because you feel like you may lose your job, or you’ll be replaced.”
[We] are human and why can’t we have the career and the family? Why can’t we still be successful in both?”
Ward will be on maternity leave for about 19 weeks, which she said is phenomenal and is lucky to have this option from her employer. She thinks it is important for people to take as long as their employer may let them, and whatever is financially possible.
Melissa Ford, associate professor of history at SRU, was pregnant in 2021 when classes were still being taught online. These circumstances ended up working in her favor as she navigated the morning sickness early on in her pregnancy.
“I have a vivid memory of throwing up, going into my home office and pretending everything was fine,” Ford said. “I gave a presentation in front of [about] 30 people, and I had to be normal. I was fortunate to be home and be able to do that.”
When returning for the first in-person semester, there were some barriers Ford faced. The biggest one was trying to manage being masked while pregnant and teaching to a classroom full of students.
In the classroom, Ford, who is normally a very active and engaged professor, had to alter her teaching style, which limited her normal range of engagement. Between getting out of breath and being on her feet moving around, she had to adjust to this major change.
In the newsroom, Ward was conscious of her energy levels, projecting her voice and how much breath she used while speaking. She said she was lucky to have a coach that was helping her.
Pregnant people can also request accommodations from their employer, if needed. These include light duty or help with labor, temporary transfer to a less physically demanding or safer position, and longer, more flexible breaks for drinking water, eating, resting or using the bathroom.
Ford had the opportunity to teach the spring 2022 semester online so she could still spend time with her baby, while also avoiding the COVID-19 pandemic and the surge of the omicron variant.
Accommodations will look different for every pregnant person, and it relies on what type of work someone is doing.
Pregnancy and identity
When starting a family, feeling supported makes life changes easier. Balancing the demands of professor and motherhood, Ford had to negotiate some parts of those identities, as do many parents.
”In general, it’s really hard to step into the classroom and pretend like you didn’t only get three hours of sleep the night before,” Ford said. “The flip side is when you’re mothering, you’re pretending you’re not a professor.”
You’re being silly, you’re coloring. Oh, in two hours you need to go give a lectyre,” she added on. “I think every parent has to deal with that, we all have these different sides of ourselves [that have different demands].”
Ford joked that there isn’t enough stylish clothes for pregnant people. The lifestyle change is one thing, but not being able to reflect your personal style in a pregnant body can also be frustrating.
In recent years, policies have been changing. Ward said when she had her son a few years ago, she only had nine weeks of maternity leave which is half of what she has now.
“I feel like things are changing, [people] are recognizing that they want that balance,” Ward said. “They want work and career. You can still be successful in your career and have a family.”