The joys of maternity leave

 

As I write this column, I am less than two weeks away from the due date of the birth of my second child. In the past several months, I have been strategizing how to have a creative maternity leave over the summer, one that allows me to stay at home with my new son while at the same time remain involved in the BBJ. This paper is, after all, a labor of love in its own right.

As luck would have it, it seems that my scheming will pay off (knock on wood). Because of some fortunate timing, we will be getting help during the summer from some familiar friends of the paper. Carolyn Nielsen Thompson, a tenure-track professor in Western Washington University’s Journalism Department, will spend her summer rolling up her sleeves and getting back into the trenches by working as the BBJ’s editor-in-residence. We are lucky that she has the summer off from teaching and can step in to perform editing duties while I’m at home.

Carolyn may have a familiar name to many of you for two reasons. One, she was the editorial page editor at the Bellingham Herald for many years. And two, she just happens to be married to John Thompson, who was editor and publisher of the BBJ for 10 years. So she will have the advantage to call in her pinch hitter if needed.

And really, I should put “maternity leave” in quotes because I’m still going to be around. The wonders of the electronic age will enable me to check e-mail at 2 a.m. when my bouncing baby boy refuses to sleep, and for most of the summer I will have limited office hours at work. I feel fortunate that my employer, Sound Publishing, has allowed me to be creative with my leave and come up with a solution that will work for everyone.

I have to use this opportunity to rant a little about the sorry state of maternity leave in this country, however (the folks at my Rotary Club have already heard this from me, so you all can skip to the end). In the August 2007 issue of National Geographic was an enlightening graph on paid maternity leave around the world, and 170 countries were colored in as offering some sort of paid leave. The United States, however, was not one of them. In fact, this country was one of only four listed that did not offer any paid leave. We have the honor, instead, of being included on the short list along with Liberia, Swaziland and Papua New Guinea.

Of course there are many reasons for this. Naturally, businesses don’t want to bear the brunt of paid leave, and as the person responsible for the bottom line of this business, I understand. But one would think that if 170 other countries can figure out how to support working mothers and their infants, then we can, too. It seems that some combination of business support, employee contributions and state and federal taxes would do it.

It just comes down to what we value as a nation. Do we want to support working parents and help them raise healthy, well-adjusted children, or do we want to send our babies to daycares because most families can’t afford to have a financially unsupported stay-at-home parent in those critical early months?

We Americans need to get with the times — and keep these facts in mind as we have a national discussion about “family values.”

 

Vanessa Blackburn is the publisher and editor of The Bellingham Business Journal. She can be reached at vanessa@thebellinghambusinessjournal.com.

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