Estelle Lieberman lived during an age when it was the social norm for a wife to stay at home and to raise the children while her husband dutifully left each morning for work. It was a time when women were not welcomed into the workforce and men were the primary wage earners for a household. How things have changed since Estelle was a young woman in the 1960’s.
Estelle was the wife of a hard working young attorney. She aspired to go to college but her modest background and the fact that she was a woman, held her back from her dream. Like many women during this era, Estelle wondered what it would be like to work outside of the home. She recently noted that “it was considered in vogue for women to work at home and to accept their role as a homemaker. I felt very fortunate to be able to stay home and to raise my children”.
On March 8th, 1962, her son Craig was born and her husband, Arnold, took the day off to stand outside of the delivery room in anticipation of the birth of their first child. It was customary for women to stay in the hospital for at least a week before returning to the business of running a home. This was not a problem because Estelle was a typical stay at home mom and was not at any risk of losing her job.
In the early 2000’s, Estelle’s daughter was pregnant with her first child. She had a full time job as a physician and her salary was an important part of the family income. What options did she have that her mother did not?
Much has changed since Pearl S. Buck’s novel, The Good Earth, which depicts a woman giving birth in a rice paddy only to immediately return to her mission with her newborn tied to her back.
The FMLA, or The Family and Medical Leave Act, was passed in 1993 which protects a person, who is employed by a qualifying employer, with job security should they need to leave for medical reasons. This law ensures that a position will be held for up to twelve weeks and cover medical insurance while a person is away from their job. This does not require the employer to pay a salary during the absence.
One institution that protects its employees during their time of medical leave, is The Haverford School in Haverford Pennsylvania.
“I believe Haverford’s “rules” for maternity leave are very fair given the national Act” said biology teacher Ms. Lewis. “Haverford graciously pays for half of that time. You receive six weeks of paid leave and then 6 weeks where you can take additional time without pay”. Haverford has a reputation for protecting its staff during difficult times.
Dr. Shatzman’s experience was a positive one because she was considered an essential employee. Her twelve week leave was supported fully by her employer and her health insurance remained uninterrupted. As a physician that ran a hospital intensive care unit, her services were vital to patient care and her presence had a positive effect on patient mortality. Dr. Shatzman noted that “I was quite fortunate because I was able to work until my delivery date and to return knowing that my job was there waiting for me. I was paid fully as an incentive from my hospital to entice me to return. Not every employer at that time provided full pay for maternity leave. This is a very important policy not only for expectant mothers but also for caregivers of critically ill or terminally ill patients”.
It is important to consider the business side of medical leave.
“It’s hard to force businesses to pay workers who aren’t coming in for their jobs, especially for small businesses who may not be able to afford such expenses,” said Sixth Former Matthew Schwartz. “I do think that businesses should feel morally responsible for paying people on maternity leave.”
What happens in the classrooms where the teacher is on leave during the academic year?
At The Haverford School, long-term substitutes fill the void in the classroom while the teacher is absent. Though efforts are made to make the transition from teacher to substitute smooth, some students struggle with the rearrangements.
“During my freshman year one of my teachers took time off for maternity leave. While I obviously would have preferred to keep the same teacher throughout the entire course, I completely understand them taking time off. They are not gone for a long amount of time.” said Sixth Former Matthew Schwartz.
The laws surrounding maternity leave in the US are unlike most countries around the world. Most countries offer much more to new mothers and fathers in terms of expenses and time off.
“FMLA is applicable to both moms and dads. And, I appreciate that Haverford offers the 6 weeks paid benefit to both moms and dads” said Director of Human Resources Michelle Todd said, When asked about her experience with maternity leave she stated that, “When I had my first child they provided paid leave prior to delivery as well as paid leave after the baby was born and additional paid time for nursing.
“It would be nice if the US law expanded to include paid leave, and possibly leave extended beyond just the 12 weeks.”Director of human resources michelle todd
Estelle Lieberman may have worked outside of the home should these laws have been in practice in the 1960’s. Perhaps the lives of her children and her grandchildren would be different if she had the opportunities afforded to women today.
Perhaps the government may need to tweek these laws a bit given our current unprecedented circumstances that surround the COVID pandemic. It is certain that as our world comes to understand how fragile life is that governments should focus on quality of life and support programs similar to these.