Wishing for the stork to bring some common sense

Having recently returned to work following maternity leave, I’ve been reflecting on my experience with pregnancy, childbirth and clumsily learning how to care for my now five-month-old baby. Humans aren’t delivered by storks and we don’t spring from our parents’ heads as fully formed adults capable of caring for ourselves, but the attitudes shaping this country’s policies surrounding pregnancy, childbirth and newborn care often seem to be based on ancient mythology and silly stories parents tell their kids to avoid awkward conversations about sex.

Sadly, these misguided notions have been invoked as justification to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA), as the law’s critics have asserted that men can’t get pregnant and pregnancy is not a disease (although before the ACA’s enactment, insurance companies could consider pregnancy a pre-existing condition warranting higher premium charges and deductibles if not outright denial of coverage).

Despite not experiencing any of the scary complications that can occur during the nondisease of pregnancy, I’m befuddled by a prevailing mindset that discourages prenatal coverage as a standard element of health insurance and paid leave time for new mothers and fathers. This attitude certainly isn’t conducive to good health for children, parents or families.

Some have suggested that the ACA’s requirement that insurance policies sold on the healthcare exchange cover obstetric care constitutes special coverage unfairly given to women at men’s expense. However, every single one of us, regardless of sex, exists because someone with a uterus carried us for months and then gave birth through a usually long, painful and sometimes traumatic process (which, in the United States, is shamefully often threatening to health and life). That some of the insurance premiums paid by people who will never become pregnant ultimately cover expenses associated with pregnancy, childbirth and postnatal care isn’t an injustice, it’s just paying it forward.

In waiting until age 37 to have a child, I’ve heard countless lectures about how selfish it is to be childless by choice and that we all have a duty to procreate for various reasons (all of them ironically selfish). But when it comes time to pay for it, human reproduction is suddenly viewed as an extraordinary burden to employers, other insurance subscribers and society at large rather than the natural process by which every one of us comes into this world.

Yes, healthcare for pregnant people, fetuses and newborns is expensive (as is healthcare for all other humans in the United States), and accommodating absences for new parents presents challenges to employers and coworkers. But it doesn’t look like nature will be changing the way our species perpetuates itself anytime soon–there’s no reason to single out pregnancy and childbirth from other naturally occurring health conditions, so we might as well learn to deal with them in ways that don’t cause further losses to society.

Family LeaveToday, my daughter is healthy and happy, largely because we have insurance that covered most of the costs, my employer provides paid parental leave and is accommodating of my family’s needs, and we could afford for my husband to take an extended unpaid leave along with me. But many American families aren’t so fortunate.

Families with low incomes, families of color and single parents have the least access to so many of the supports that save lives and strengthen families and are then cruelly stereotyped as inferior, while white, middle-class, married couples who are more likely to have robust insurance coverage, access to high-quality health providers and paid leave benefits are admonished to have more children so as to maintain an adequate population of “people like us”.

Historically, the stork has been revered as a sign of good fortune, even enjoying special protection in some cultures. Why don’t we show such regard for the actual human bearers and nurturers of children? A society that claims to value children’s lives must also value their parents’ lives, especially during the early years when so much crucial development takes place, and reflect this value in its policies related to health and family.

— Julie Cassidy

Helping women helps children

I’ve always been interested in how our society treats women. Women are impacted negatively in almost every sphere of their lives: social, personal, economic, professional. Women are less likely than men to be in the labor force, and more likely to live in poverty. And it’s even worse for women of color who face a number of institutional barriers.

Lately, we’ve been hearing a lot about how women are affected in policy: maternity leave and child care policies in the Trump budget that benefits the rich, the American Health Care Act’s negative affect on women, access to equal pay … and the list goes on. All of these policies that impact women usually have consequences—positive and negative—for our children. If women can’t afford healthcare, housing and basic necessities, it’s often children who suffer. We can only work to help our children through the equal support of their mothers.

Kids mom brushing teethData shows that a family’s struggles are a child’s struggles. In Michigan, 22% of our children are in poverty, 54% of third graders aren’t reading proficient, 9.1% have dropped out of high school and 15% live in households that were food insecure in the past year. The average median income for Michigan families with children is $61,600, and for Black/African-American households that number is less than half: $27,200. Ten percent of children live in extreme poverty, and 24% of Black/African-American children experience extreme poverty. All of these factors of children’s well-being are directly influenced by parents’ economic standing.

Parents often face significant obstacles in their daily lives. And when families can’t afford to provide food or buy school lunches, don’t have reliable forms of transportation, or have to work multiple jobs during teacher office hours, students experience challenges outside their control.

If you want to help children, you have to help the people in charge of them: parents. And often in cases of poverty, their mothers. Fifty-two percent of Michigan children living in one-parent (mother) households are in poverty.

Women and families need to be fully supported if they’re going to be successful and if we’re going to have a successful society. Our government needs to accept responsibility for better supporting our families and our children.

My experience as a woman, and as a child in a household with income instability, pushed me towards policy and political science, because disadvantaged and vulnerable people need to be heard in our world and our culture. I couldn’t ask for a better place to work. The League works tirelessly to improve the economic security of those living in Michigan, and to improve the lives of children.

To take care of children we must take care of their families.

As a new member of the League, this is why I do the work that I do. As a data lover, I hope to help inform work that improves the lives of kids, mothers and all families in Michigan.

— Harriet McTigue

Earned sick leave: A policy for a strong Michigan future

When I gave birth to my sweet baby girl about seven years ago, I remember the anxiety I immediately felt about the short time I would have with her before heading back to work. Now, “short time” is all relative, because I was given the opportunity to take up to 12 weeks off, so at least I didn’t have to worry about rushing back to work too soon. But many other women are not so lucky.

Imagine this: nearly one in four new moms, who are employed, return to work within two weeks of giving birth, according to a recent report from In These Times. These are sometimes even mothers who experience complications, have C-sections or whose babies are born premature. Why do they go back to work so soon? Because they can’t afford to go without pay and their employers don’t offer sufficient paid leave time—not even for the birth of a child. (more…)