The other night I was scrolling through stories on my People magazine app, and one headline offered me the chance to look at Maggie Gyllenhal’s post-baby body. I’m not sure when Maggie Gyllenhall had a baby but I’m pretty sure it was recently, and People either wanted me to laugh at the fact that she hasn’t lost the weight instantly or marvel over the fact that she has. Today, People gave me a sneak peek into Hillary Duff’s life as a mom, wherein she gushed about how much she loves changing diapers and talked about how great it is to be back in the recording studio producing a new album. Her son is three months old. Beyonce is already on stage again in Atlantic City, telling audiences about all the work she did to regain her performance-ready figure in the six months since she had her daughter.
My first reaction to all of this is to roll my eyes at the weight-obsessed celebrity media doing their thing again, making those of us without personal trainers, chefs, and stylists feel bad about our lack of ability to lose the baby weight fast. Then I had another thought: why are Hillary Duff and Beyonce back at work so soon after having babies? Like I mentioned, Hillary Duff’s baby is only about three months old and this isn’t the first report I’ve heard of her being in the studio. And you’ve got to assume that Beyonce was training and rehearsing for this concert for months before hitting the stage. Those are some short maternity leaves. Particularly when you consider that neither of these women are going to lose the roof over their heads if they don’t get back to work quickly. Know what I mean?
I’m actually a little perturbed now that I think about this more deeply. They, in their own way, are perpetuating the image that recovering from having a baby isn’t that difficult and women can, and should, get back to work as fast as they can after the birth. In a nation like America, where paid maternity leave is rare and many women are forced to return to the workforce before they’re physically or emotionally ready to do so, sending the message that a woman’s body and mind can be in tip-top shape before you can blink is a little dangerous.
American family leave protections are far weaker than other developed nations. The federal government places no paid leave mandates but instead requires that employers merely hold a job for a woman for up to 12 weeks after the birth of a child per the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). It is up to the employer whether any of that time is paid or not, depending on their leave policies for sick and vacation time and their short-term disability policies. If a woman needs to be out longer than 12 weeks total, the employer can fire her. And the FMLA protections only apply to women who have worked for at least 12 months at an employer with 50 or more employees. Some states have greater family leave protections but, according to a recent study by the National Partnership for Women and Families, 18 states get failing grades for family leave.
That’s not a lot of legal protection. It leaves a lot of women vulnerable to income loss and job loss after the birth of a baby if they want or need time off from work. It means women who may not be totally physically recovered from birth have to go rushing back in order to maintain income if their job offers no options for paid leave. It means women who want to spend more time with their newborns can’t because of financial constraints. It means women whose health requires that they take more than 12 weeks off, perhaps for bedrest before birth or or complications afterwards, stand to lose their jobs.
And then there’s Beyonce, performing in Atlantic City, bragging about getting her body back in top form and being back on stage giving it her all only 6 months after having a baby. That’s kind of a hard image to explain away when you’re telling you boss that you’re feeling like crap at 12 weeks after birth and you just need a little more time to recover before you slog back into the office, ya know?
I wish some high-profile celebrity moms would take a year off after having a baby. I wish they’d do a cover story with People where they address the fact having a baby is hard, and women need flexibility to make it work instead of deadlines to get back to full productivity or else. I wish the next Beyonce or Hillary Duff would step back from the treadmill and the recording booth and say, “You know what? I’m lucky that I can take all the leave I need and I’m going to take it and count my blessings. Women need this time. We need it, and bosses and lawmakers need to understand how important it is. And all you other moms out there? I’ve got your back. I’m gonna keep talking about this because I have a platform to do so. Let’s work together, as moms, to change things for the better for ourselves and our families.”
Photo credit: photo stock
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