Photo (cc) by Mustafa Khayat
For many American families, it’s a monthly or even daily challenge to make ends meet. That’s especially true for many new parents, who are faced with taking unpaid time off from work to care for their new baby.
Because the majority of employers in the United States offer very little or no paid maternity (or paternity) leave for new parents, Today said a growing number of desperate moms and dads are turning to crowdfunding sites to raise enough money that they can afford to take time off from work and stay home with their baby.
Take New Mexico mom, Tanya Baker. So far, Baker has raised $1,225 of her $1,500 maternity leave fundraising goal on GoFundMe.com. Baker said she has two other young daughters, but she wants to be able to enjoy some time at home with her third child (another little girl), getting to know her and bonding with her before she has to return to work. She writes:
I am, and have been, the financial provider for my family and out of necessity I was forced to work just two weeks after each of my other two daughters’ births because my job does not pay maternity leave. This time I want the chance to bond with my baby. But with even a day without working I put our family in peril. I’m grateful for any help, in any amount to allow my baby and I a chance to start off right!
Baker is not alone. A search for “maternity leave” on GoFundMe turned up nearly 1,500 results!
According to Buzzfeed, just 12 percent of Americans — excluding government workers — get paid parental leave from their employers. If that statistic isn’t depressing enough, the U.S. has the embarrassing distinction of being the only industrialized country in the world that doesn’t have mandated paid maternity leave, despite a wealth of research about its benefits.
“Research has linked paid maternity leave to better health for mothers and babies – lower rates of postpartum depression and newborn and infant mortality and higher rates of breastfeeding and childhood immunizations,” contributor Rita Rubin writes on Forbes.com.
Although the Family Medical Leave Act mandates that eligible employees be allowed up to 12 work weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave in the first year of a child’s life, it applies only to businesses with 50 or more employees.
For many Americans, such as Baker and Virginia-based hairstylist Nicole Ritchie, taking 12 weeks of unpaid time off is not financially possible.
Like Baker, Ritchie also turned to GoFundMe to help her afford to take unpaid time off from work after her baby is born.
“I’ve read a lot of articles where people ridicule those who seek crowdfunding for maternity leave. They say things like, ‘If you can’t afford to have a baby, then don’t have one,” Ritchie told SELF. “It’s frustrating to read these things, because it is easy for some to say. But most people in America don’t have the luxury to have a one-income family anymore, which means it’s very hard for people to save, even with two incomes.”
Kelsea Little, GoFundMe’s media director, said the site provides a platform to help lessen the financial stresses faced by many middle-class families in the United States, from maternity leave funding requests to help with mortgage payments, credit issues or medical bills.
“Growing a family should be a time of great joy, but the realities of paying for maternity leave are putting financial strain on many American families,” Kelsea Little, GoFundMe’s media director, told SELF in a contact form. “We are incredibly proud to provide a platform that allows new parents to raise the funds necessary to spend precious moments with their children.”
Although I worked for a small business (only nine employees) when I had my two children, I was fortunate to be able to take 12 weeks of maternity leave — though it was unpaid — after each birth. I saved all my vacation and sick hours and used those during my maternity leave so I could at least collect a partial paycheck.
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