Thursday, September 30, 2010

Let's improve maternity leave in the United States.

I am shouting out to all mothers who are unsatisfied with the current maternity leave laws in the United States.

When I applied for an academic sabbatical from my teaching job, I had every intention of returning to my position.  I loved and still love teaching with every ounce of my being.  However, due to the birth of my child, I decided to continue breastfeeding and did not want to send my baby to daycare. 


I struggled for 4 years to finally have him in my arms and I made the conscious decision not to return to work.

It feels as if I am being persecuted for my decision.  The school board informed me that I must pay back the money they gave me during my sabbatical.  This total comes to $13,000.  I know that I signed a contract stating that I would uphold my end of the deal.  The district granted my sabbatical and I would return the following school year.  No problem. 

No one prepared me for the emotions of finally holding my baby in my arms after four long years of trying.  I can't even begin to descibe the feelings that surged through me when I nursed him.  As the beginning of the school year crept closer, I wrestled with the thought of leaving him.  In my mind, babies are supposed to be with their mothers.  As a biologist, I cannot defend the notion of abandoning a small child that does not have a voice.  Nowhere in nature does an animal mother pump her milk, allow another animal to bottle feed her child, and be away from her child for over 30 hours a week. (If you know of a mammal that does this, please let me know.) It just did not bode well with me. 

I called the school board and told them I wanted to resign.  They said I couldn't resign because I had obligations fo fulfill.  I told them about the Family and Medical Leave Act and how I wanted to excercise my rights to use this.  I was told that I could not do that. I explained that I would be glad to return to work after a year of nursing my son.  After all, I am his food source.  I KNOW the man stuffs his face on a regular basis because I've walked into his office with a half-eaten sandwich on his desk.  So, it's okay for HIM to eat on demand, but I am not allowed to provide the best nourishment - warm breastmilk (directly from my breasts) for my child. 

I did some digging around and still haven't come up with any answers as to whether my civil rights have been violated or not.  If you know, please help me with this.  I need links, etc.

The school board said they would be in touch with me in regards to the next course of action taken.  A few weeks later, I received a letter stating that I must do one of the following:

1. Get 2 doctor's notes stating that I'm too messed up to work (my interpretation).
2. Pay back the money they paid me.

A deal is a deal.  I know that.  I am a person who lives on pinky-swears and fulfills my end of the deal. I could go and get a doctor's note stating that I'm nursing full time, which renders me incapable of returning to work.  But, then this conveys that breastfeeding is somehow an incapacitating behavior.  HOW?  I could not do that because breastfeeding is nourishing a child. As for simply returning the money, I had every intent of going back to work -- a year after nursing baby T.  Surely, a deal could be worked out.  We are all adults here.

No dice.

However, after much research it appears that some information has been withheld.  This is what I unearthed:


The return to service provision, as stated in Conditions of Sabbatical, Item C above, may be waived by the Board, after careful review and recommendation of the Superintendent, in any of the following instances:

A.        Any person whose spouse is transferred out of the parish (job requirement not  anticipated before leave) during the time the teacher is on leave or within one (1) year immediately following the termination of such leave (certification must be provided by spouse’s employer).

B.        Any person who receives a position to the State Department of Education, to another public school system within the State of Louisiana, or to a state-operated educational agency.  In such instances, the person granted sabbatical leave, upon the expiration of leave, shall be permitted to retain that portion of compensation paid by the state while he/she was on leave.  However, such person shall be required to reimburse the Board any compensation paid by the Board while on leave.

C.        Incapacitating illness, as certified by two (2) physicians.

D.        Such a waiver will be granted only when the circumstances which prevent the return of the employee to the system immediately following the leave were not anticipated by the employee at the time the leave was taken, and were beyond the control of the employee to prevent.

E.        Whenever, in the Board’s opinion, such a waiver would be in the best interest of the School District.
I know that I fall somewhere in regards to letter D.  I am currently in the process of writing a letter to the superintendent to see what can be done.

To boot, our school does not have a lactation or 'pumping room'.  Each classroom is equipped with security cameras.  The only option is to pump in the bathroom.  Gross.

I ask all mothers to write to their legislatures, state representatives, school board officials, governors, mayors, presidents, or anyone that will listen.  There is power in numbers and lets do our best to change these archaic perceptions towards breastfeeding. 

Let's see how the United States compares with other countries in regards to maternity leave.  Click chart for more details.  

I also asked if I could bring my child to work with me.  I can nurse and teach at the same time.  They said NO.  I did research on this area as well.  I appears that the Parenting in the Workplace Institute has identified over a hundred workplaces that allow mothers to bring their babies to work.  This idea is not new and should be considered. 

There are currently hundreds of mothers who are in teh same situation as myself, or are going to be in a similiar situation.  Nevertheless, our voices needed to be heard and our children come first.  We can be excellent workers and if employers realize that if a mother is able to provide nourisment and care for her hcild, then the productivity at work  wil not be compromised, why not aextend the maternity leave or work out a workable solution that will benefit both parties.

Until then, be part of the movement to improve maternity leave in the United States.  Heck, it doesn't have to be limited to the United States.  This movement can include other countries as well.  Let's show the world that mothers can unite anywhere.

I want to hear your stories.  Let me know what you're doing to change the current maternity leave laws or bringing your baby to work laws.


  1. Hi Jasmine,

    great post. You are really in a tough situation. How come they are so tough on you, wouldn't there be plenty of people who would love to take over your job? As for paying back the money, is that an option? Sounds to me they should at least create a nursing room if they make you come back.

    I was lucky, I have been at home and work from home when possible since I've had L. I can't imagine not being able to nurse him on demand, I love it so, it's the best.

    I'm glad you liked my blog post and that it opened the communication between your husband and you :)

    Great blog, I must visit more often,
    Dagmar's momsense

  2. The problem is even worse for women hoping to adopt. If you adopt internationally you are often required to spend at least 30 days in the country from which you intend to adopt a child. Workplaces in the United States require women to use their maternity leave for the 30 day period. Then when these women get home with their new children they have very little leave left, and therefore do not have enough time to bond with their child. In Europe many companies offer adoption related assistance and full pay during adoption related travel as well as offering maternity leave. I don't think it's fair to make women who are adopting miss time bonding with their children because you take 30 days of maternity time from them just for completing the adoption process. It's deplorable.