Everybody Has A Mother

Tulips

I am all for celebrating mothers and motherhood on one Sunday in May every year. Philip, on the other hand, calls it a “Hallmark Card Holiday”, and, ironically, it seems that it’s founder, Anna Jarvis, later turned against it because of its commercialization. At the risk of appearing an ingrate, then, it strikes me that we could use some celebration the other 364 (or 365 leap) days.

When my son David was born, I was a graduate student here in the US. My pregnancy was greeted with disapproval my the faculty at Einstein, and even by my advisor. The chair of the department had been known to say that a Department only needed one woman faculty member-to arrange staff picnics and deal with the “colored” help. Yes, he said that! Yet, the Department had two women members. Neither of them had children, however.

So I was determined to prove myself. David was born on a Saturday, and I was back at work the next Thursday. Five day maternity leave! And I nursed him as well, when the breast pump looked like a bicycle horn, and used only hand power, not electricity! My course work and research went well, and I had started to prepare for the Oral Exams at the end of the summer, when I was unceremoniously dumped. Told, “A woman with a child cannot stand the rigors of research.” End of scientific career.

It took me ten years as a lab technician and high school teacher to resume that career once again. In Israel, where Phil was doing his Master’s and I was teaching and eight months pregnant, I was invited to come for an interview to resume studies as a doctoral student. I waddled in, answered the questions and was accepted, post-delivery and post three month’s paid maternity leave! Israel recognized that 50% of the brainpower of a small country cannot be put on the shelf against its will. But a new mother was also given the time to recover and get to rebalance her life.

In Canada, my University gave one year’s paid leave for maternity. I saw instances where this was abused, but they were rare.

So I remain appalled that the United States is the only First World country without a decent maternity leave policy. There are individual companies that have excellent policies. Human Rights Watch, not surprisingly, is one, and Yael will benefit from it.

And I won’t even start on the issue of child care!

All the Mother’s Day cards, flowers and dinners can’t really make up for the fact that mothers and motherhood receive so little support in this country all the rest of the year.