October 19, 1999
We'll pay for other people's babiesBy VALERIE GIBSON
Am I the only person in Canada irritated by the news that maternity leave will be doubled by 2001?
Doubled, with benefits, of course, and presumably the mother's job will be waiting for her at the end of that year off.
Whewee! What I'd give to have a year off, fully paid and my job still sitting there when I get back!
No such luck. I'm not pregnant, nor planning to be, nor can be, probably since my eggs are past the sell-by date.
Which, to my mind, surely makes this generous legislation rather discriminatory, doesn't it?
After all, women who choose to remain childless, those who are unable to have children and those whose biological clock has stopped ticking -- in other words, older women -- will be unable to benefit from the government's newest largesse. And that's probably a substantial amount of the country's female working population.
I guess they'll just have to keep working, picking up the slack, paying their bills and worrying about job security and whether they'll be able to manage if they get sick and, of course, paying onerous taxes to support other people's kids via education costs, lengthy maternity leaves and benefits.
I know you're thinking I'm some sort of childless grinch who hates people who have kids, but I'm not. I have a child, now an adult, and I have worked hard all my life to support her.
And, no, when I had my child there was no such system that provided for maternity leave or benefits.
It was in an era when, if you chose to get pregnant (or otherwise), that was considered your business and that of your husband, if you had one. It was certainly not the government's or your neighbours' or anyone else's problem.
The general view then was that most people had children because they either wanted them or, if they had made a mistake, would accept this was part of the human condition and take care of the children and themselves as best they could.
It was also an era when, if you worked, you had to announce your pregnancy as soon as possible to the company that employed you. You were then expected to quit your job when it began to "show," go home and wait for the birth. Afterwards you stayed at home to bring up your child whether you wanted to or not.
If you wanted to return to the work force, you did that when the child was ready to go to kindergarten. If you did it before, you were very much frowned on by family, neighbours and general society, who labelled you a "bad" mother.
I stayed working until I was eight months' pregnant -- totally unheard of in those days -- but being a newspaper journalist (and a rebel) I perhaps had more leeway than some.
My husband and I were very young and had very little money but, like everyone else expecting a child, we certainly never thought anyone should help by paying us anything for doing what we chose and what came naturally after marriage.
Times after my daughter's birth were very, very tough, and when I had to go back to work because of dire finanical stress, I received considerable condemnation. What's more, daycare was almost unheard of in those days and non-existent for a child who was handicapped like mine, so I had to make daily, costly private arrangements for her.
Worse still was when I went to look for a job, the attitude was that I was not welcome as I had a child and was therefore "unreliable," if not unemployable. The theory was that my working life would be dictated to by the demands of motherhood and I wouldn't give full attention to my job.
All nonsense, as everyone understands now, but they were very different, harsh times, with some strange and demeaning attitudes toward women and motherhood.
And I want to say I would not want to see those days return.
But when I read about this doubling of maternity leave and benefits, I do wonder just how much the government and the rest of the population should be responsible for other people's decision to have a child?
And I do say decision.
In these days of wide availability of excellent birth control, plus widespread sexual education and awareness, I have to assume getting pregnant is some sort of decision -- whether by default or not.
And having made that decision, shouldn't women, and their partners, take responsibility for that very major decision and not expect the rest of the population to pay for it?
Whether it is through increased taxes or through the heavy burden this new dictate is going to place on the working population, not to mention both small and large businesses, we're all surely going to pay -- big time.
Valerie Gibson can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com.
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