AT 27 years old, I shouldn’t have been afraid. I wasn’t a naive 16-year-old now eligible to be filmed for MTV. Yet, when two parallel lines showed up on a urine-soaked stick, I panicked. I was pregnant.
The man I was to share a child with wasn’t the source of my anxiety. Neither was the impending financial responsibility, nor my inevitably changing figure. I feared the death of my career and, as time would later tell, for good reason.
Sixty-seven percent of first-time mothers worked during their pregnancies in 2008, according to the website BabyCenter. Fifty-five percent of first-time moms then returned to work six months after giving birth. So, hypothetically, it would seem like women in 2014 can have it all.
Maybe not. The U.S. Supreme Court is now considering a case, Young vs. United Parcel Service, in which a pregnant worker asked for light duty and claims the company discriminated against her, a violation of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978.
When I told my bosses I was expecting not one but two simultaneously sprouting spawn, I assumed they would understand. Both have children, one a father of three, and had shared with me numerous times the painful joys of parenting.
Two months later I was let go after pregnancy complications left me hospitalized for a week. The reason given? My “condition” was “unpredictable.”
The American Journal of Epidemiology interviewed 2,000 women in 2013 and found that the increased risk of stillbirth was directly related to the amount of stressful situations a woman faced during her pregnancy. Stressors included losing a job, moving and homelessness, among others.
Three weeks after I lost my job due to my “condition,” I found out I lost one of my babies. While I could blame my former managers for facilitating one of the many stressors associated with stillbirths and miscarriages, I believe they are working cogs in a system that perpetuates pregnancy discrimination. It is not individual employers but the system as a whole that needs radical change. Mothers should not be the only ones calling for it.
Luckily, local and national reforms are only votes away. Unfortunately, local and national reforms are only votes away.
The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act would guarantee that a career-oriented woman would not have to decide between the wishes of her doctor and the loss of her job, by ensuring employers provide workers with reasonable work adaptations during pregnancy.
The act would prohibit employers from refusing to provide reasonable accommodations related to pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions, denying employment opportunities “based on the need of the covered entity to make reasonable accommodations,” or requiring a pregnant employee to take leave during her pregnancy.
At the White House Summit on Working Families in Washington, D.C., on June 30, President Obama urged Congress to approve the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, reiterating, “Right now, if you’re pregnant you could potentially get fired for taking too many bathroom breaks — clearly from a boss who has never been pregnant or forced (onto) unpaid leave. That makes no sense.”
The bill was introduced to the U.S. Senate in May, then referred to the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, where it now sits, untouched.
There also has been a national call for an updated version of the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993. As it stands, the act provides job-protected leave for medical emergencies. However, that leave is unpaid and only half of the current workforce qualifies.
The proposed Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act — the FAMILY Act — would update the 21-year-old law, creating an independent trust fund within the Social Security Administration to collect fees and provide benefits. It would allow parents to continue to receive medical benefits while taking time off for the birth of a child or a medical crisis.
In 2007, Washington state passed the Paid Parental Leave Program, which mirrors the proposed FAMILY Act and allows eligible mothers and fathers to take up to five weeks paid leave, per year, to care for a newborn or newly-adopted child.
While originally scheduled to take effect in October of 2009, the act has, unfortunately, not been implemented and has been indefinitely postponed.
Only three states, California, Rhode Island and New Jersey, offer paid family and medical leave. It’s time for Washington to become the fourth.
Out of 188 countries, only three do not have paid family leave: Papua New Guinea, Oman and the United States. It’s time for the U.S. to scratch itself off that list.
I hope reform is right around the corner and pregnant women would not have to choose between a successful career or a healthy family. I hope choosing both won’t mean a complicated pregnancy or, in my case, the loss of potential life.
Men and women, future mothers and fathers and current ones, need to push for reform. Statistically or otherwise, women shouldn’t have to be afraid to become working parents. They should be excited, just like working fathers are, when two parallel lines show up on that stick.
Danielle Campoamor is a freelance writer and author of “A Twenty-Something Nothing.” Born in Eagle River, Alaska, she now lives in Seattle. On Twitter @DCampoamor