Don’t you just love a heartwarming story with your coffee in the morning? It’s lovely to set the tone for a positive day with a sweet tale about friends and coworkers helping each other out. That’s what Good Morning America seems to have set out to do when it published an article on Wednesday about a new mother whose coworkers donated their own vacation time for her maternity leave.
Record scratch. You wot, mate? I’m supposed to find this charming and not a horrifying example of our hyper-capitalist dystopia wreaking havoc on ordinary people’s lives?
Many people reacted the same way on Twitter, but it gets even worse when you read the details of the mother’s story:
Angela Hughes, of Kansas City, Missouri, was less than a year into her job in the registrar’s office of a private college when her daughter was born two months early.
So, first of all: The baby was significantly premature, a scary thing to happen to any mother. As you’ll see later on in the piece, that means months of intensive care.
Hughes did not qualify for any paid maternity leave because she was so new at her job. She said she never took a day off during her entire pregnancy so she could save as much vacation time as possible for after the baby was born.
No maternity leave, plus not taking any time for herself to, you know, be pregnant, and all the awful shit that entails.
Her boss, sensing her stress, donated 80 hours of her own paid time off to Hughes through a policy at the college allowing the practice. More coworkers followed suit and, in the end, Hughes had eight weeks of paid maternity leave, almost all of which was donated by coworkers.
Hughes used four weeks of the leave immediately after her cesarean section and then another four weeks when her daughter, Bella, was discharged from her hospital’s neonatal intensive care unit nearly three months after her birth. Bella is now 1.
This would seem to convey that she WENT BACK TO WORK while her newborn was in the intensive care unit. Probably because she had to! Because who could afford not to!
Then, further down in the article:
The donated vacation time may also have saved her health insurance because she was able to take time off as paid rather than unpaid leave, Hughes said.
Cool. Love to choose between spending time with my baby and losing my insurance for myself and, again, my newborn, premature baby.
It’s good that the article notes the lack of paid maternity leave in America and the fact that the U.S. is “the only country among 41 industrialized nations that does not mandate paid maternity leave.” But it’s very troubling to see this framed as a “trendy co-worker baby shower gift” and, above all, to see it framed as a question of generosity on the coworkers’ part. It was deeply generous of them, of course, but it shouldn’t be a question of generosity. It shouldn’t be the coworkers’ responsibility to do that—certainly not while billionaires, let alone billionaires 150 times over, exist. It is a failure to not frame this as an outrageous situation that needs fixing—yes, even at Good Morning America.
The lack of paid leave is so entrenched in this country, the idea is so deeply foreign, that there is a program in Nebraska that “allows state employees to donate vacation days specifically for coworkers’ maternity leave,” according to GMA, but the state “does not offer state employees dedicated paid maternity leave.” No, of course. Why do that when you could shunt the responsibility onto workers?
Bulgaria offers women almost 46 fully paid weeks off for maternity leave. Congrats, America: Bulgaria is making you look like shit.