I currently live in the UK, but my story took place in the United States, where maternity rights lag behind those of this country. I think it illustrates why it is so important to have fair and sensible laws protecting the employment rights of pregnant woman and young mothers. Unfortunately, if allowed to do so, some employers will take advantage, often impacting the woman’s employment and income long after the birth of the child.
Prior to the birth of my daughter, I was a career STEM researcher with a permanent position at a research institution. I had been working there for several years when I became pregnant. My employer’s maternity leave policy allowed for a maximum of six weeks for the mother after the birth of the child (two weeks for the father). There were no child care facilities in the area that took in six-week old infants (and I would not want to place an infant that young in care anyway), so I faced the prospect of quitting my job after the baby was born. I had a physically strenuous job, and my pregnancy was difficult with severe morning sickness, so I had to quit early in the pregnancy. I left my research position and took up a part-time minimum wage job elsewhere. At 7-months, my new boss told me I wasn’t needed anymore, adding “and don’t expect to work here after you have your baby, because it’s our policy not to employ women with children under the age of 13. We’re running a business and can’t afford to have employees leave during the day to pick up a sick kid from school.” So that was the end of that job.
A year after my daughter was born, I was contacted by my boss at the research institute. They had an opening for part-time work with flexible hours. It sounded perfect, but unfortunately I was ineligible for the position because my husband worked for the same employer. I applied unsuccessfully for jobs elsewhere. This was the first time I had experienced difficulty finding work (I was very accomplished at my work and had excellent references), and I do wonder if being a woman with an obvious gap in my employment history was a factor. This is about the time I noticed I’d become invisible to former colleagues – I saw them as colleagues, all they saw was a woman with a small child. This eventually prompted me to make a career change.
My daughter is older now, and I am at university, soon to receive a PhD. I wonder about future prospects for employment. I am divorced and therefore must rely on my income alone. At least I cannot be turned away for having a young child, but the concern now is ageism.