The birth of my daughter is not a disability. But that’s how I was being paid the past two months. I’m lucky. My employer offers paid maternity leave (but not paternity leave so I can’t in good conscience call it parental leave1). Most parents in the United States aren’t so lucky and have to make do with unpaid leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and paid vacation2. But when I first looked into what my employer offered, I discovered my leave was paid for under the company’s short-term disability insurance. My first reaction was anger. How dare people call my pregnancy and new baby a disability! My child is not the same as breaking a leg or getting sick! Short-term disabilities are by definition abnormal and undesired events.
Once I cooled down, I acknowledged that funding parental leave through the short-term disability insurance policy makes sense. As far as an employer is concerned, time off after birth is a disability. I can’t (or don’t want to) work. Competitive employers want to offer maternity leave, but they have to pay for it somehow. Only a few states offer a normalized way of paying for parental leave (for example, California). So as far as I can tell, the majority of employers who offer paid parental leave use short-term disability policies to pay for it.
Still, the word is offensive. My daughter is not a disability. My body is not a disability. The necessary process by which the next generation is created is not a disability.
- In keeping with my belief that all parents should routinely take leave, I prefer to refer to leave taken to take care of a new child as “parental” leave not “maternity” or “paternity” leave ↩
- The majority of women in the United States take fewer than eight weeks of leave after giving birth. The overwhelming majority of men take fewer than two weeks. Much of this is cobbled together with paid vacation time and unpaid time as only a minority of employees (according to the Department of Labor survey have paid maternity or paternity leave. ↩