Sad, but true: Not every job offers paid maternity leave in the U.S.—and the President thinks it's about time this became a given for female employees. "Many women can't even get a paid day off to give birth—now, that's a pretty low bar," President Barack Obama said at the White House Summit on Working Families on Monday. "That, we should be able to take care of."
He brings up a hot-button topic for many women right now—so we askedWomen's Health's Facebook followers to share how much paid time off they received (if any) to get a sense for what maternity leave in this country is really like. Here are some of the responses; as you can see, they vary greatly.
"I was in the Army. I received six weeks of paid leave. As a soldier, you get six months to get back into shape and back to a weight that is within Army standards. The sad part for me is my baby was 10 months old when I had to deploy to Iraq for year." —Delilah Gonzalez
"Six to eight weeks disability leave (paid leave) depending on vaginal or Cesarean delivery. That was after all sick leave and vacation leave had been used, and then [the Family and Medical Leave Act] could be used—so you weren't paid, but you still had a job to go back to. Luckily, my company has been flexible and tolerant of my taking time off for my special needs child."—Jennifer Benton
"I work for a large bank. It offers 12 weeks paid maternity and paternity leave, along with the option to take additional unpaid bonding time, which I took advantage of." —Amanda Randall
"I work for the federal government. Because I had a C-section, I was given eight weeks paid leave. Otherwise it would have only been six weeks. And I was able to get these eight weeks because I enrolled in the agency's medical bank program when I first joined—otherwise I would not have gotten paid once my vacation and sick time were exhausted. I decided to take five additional weeks unpaid to be home with my baby, and now I am deciding to possibly stay home indefinitely because this time with the baby isn't time I'll ever get back. My boss asked me to read a textbook so that when I came back work, I would be technically ready for my next assignment. I'm not sure that is even legal to request/require an employee to work while she is on unpaid maternity leave, but needless to say, that book is still sitting on his bookshelf, not mine." —Nicole Whiteman
"With my first child, I was allowed six weeks of unpaid time off. Going back to work was miserable, and I soon left that company. With my second child, I was given three months fully paid time off. It was a completely different experience. I had time to make daycare arrangements and really get a good routine going." —Jamie Block
"I changed jobs mid-pregnancy, so my son was considered a 'pre-existing condition' and I was not offered maternity leave. I used sick pay for the first week, then I had unpaid leave for the next two and a half. I had to go back to work before he was four weeks old. I worked for a major university in their distance education department." —Jennifer McCoy
"I was a teacher and could take 12 weeks, but the only paid position was what sick leave I had accumulated. And my district's contribution to my retirement stopped if it was unpaid time off." —Jenn Bormann
"I live in Kentucky and work as a nurse. I have a seven-week-old and only took six weeks maternity leave because I only had four weeks of sick PTO [paid time off] time and no short-term disability. The hardest part for me was trying to get him on a schedule and making sure I was producing enough milk to handle being away from him 12 to 14 hours on the days I work; that and putting him in daycare before he can even get his immunizations is hard." —Amy Caudill
"At the time I worked as a labor and delivery nurse at a hospital. I had twins via C-section. I was off six weeks then back to work full-time since that was all the PTO I had accrued. Unfortunately, I had my twins 11 months after starting the job, so I had to pay COBRA rates for insurance, which totaled around $1,300 for the six weeks!" —Jessica Rosa
"I have four weeks paid and can take up to 12 total. With using up vacation time it works out to be about five weeks unpaid. I'm in the oil and gas industry." —Rachel Tilley
"I worked in a small restaurant with maybe 12 employees. My boss was great and would have given me the time off that I wanted, but it was unpaid leave. I couldn't afford to take more than my two weeks of vacation time with my firstborn, but I took four weeks off with my second child. I was blessed to have family available to help care for my children, which made it so much easier to take the time away from them." —Jennifer Catron
Granted, it's up for debate whether the government should step in to ensure a certain amount of paid maternity leave is available to all women. Research does show, though, that women who take longer maternity leaves are less likely to suffer from postpartum depression. That, combined with the ability to spend more time with your new child, is enough reason for some women to take unpaid leave if necessary.