Novena To Obtain Graces Through Saint Gianna Beretta Molla

Today is Day 1 of the Novena to St. Gianna! Won’t you join me in prayer? The novena ends on St. Gianna’s feast day, April 28.

Santa_Gianna_Beretta_Molla

© José Luiz Bernardes Ribeiro / , via Wikimedia Commons

God, our Father, You have granted to Your church the gift of Gianna Beretta Molla. In her youth she lovingly sought You and drew other young people to You, involving them, through apostolic witness and Catholic Action, in the care of the sick and aged, to help and comfort them.We thank You for the gift of this young woman, so deeply committed to You. Through her example grant us the grace to consecrate our lives to Your service, for the joy of our brothers and sisters.

Glory be …

Jesus, Redeemer of mankind, You called Saint Gianna to exercise the medical profession as a mission for the comfort of bodies and souls. In her suffering fellow men and in the little ones, deprived of all support, she saw You.

We thank You for having revealed Yourself to this servant as “one who serves” and who soothes the sufferings of men. Treasuring her example may we become generous Christians at the service of our brothers and sisters, especially those with whom You deign to share Your Cross.

Glory be…

God, Sanctifying Spirit, who love the Church as Your Bride, You poured into the heart of Saint Gianna a share of Your Love so that she could radiate it in her family, and thus cooperate with You in the wonderful plan of creation, and give life to new children who could know and love You.

We thank You for this model wife and, through her encouraging witness, we beg You to grant to our families the serene and Christian presence of mothers committed to transform their homes into cenacles of faith and love, rich with generous activity and sanctifying service.

Glory be…

O God, Creator and lover of mankind, You were close to Saint Gianna when, affected by illness, she was in the painful dilemma of choosing between her own life and the life of the child whom she was carrying in herself, a gift long-awaited. Trusting You alone, and aware of Your Commandment to respect human life, Gianna found the courage to do her duty as a mother and to say “yes” to the new life of her baby, generously sacrificing her own. Through the intercession of Mary, Mother of Jesus, and after the example of Gianna, inspire all mothers to welcome with love the sparkle of new life. Grant us the grace we are praying for …………. and the joy to find an inspiration in Saint Gianna who, as a model spouse and mother, after the example of Christ, gave up her life for the life of others.

Hail Mary…

77 Ways to Pray with Your Kids & The Little Flower – Book Reviews

77 Ways to Pray with Your KidsIf one of your Lenten commitments this year is to pray more with your kids, or to pray more as a family, then I have a wonderful resource to share with you.

77 Ways to Pray with Your Kids by Jerry Windley-Daoust, and published by Peanut Butter and Grace Media, is an excellent resource for families of all shapes and sizes.

It has suggestions for incorporating different spiritual practices into your family prayer life, labeled by age-appropriateness. The three categories are ages 3+, ages 7+, and ages 13+.

3+ are practices that are appropriate for children between the ages of 3 and 6.

7+ are practices that are appropriate for children between ages 7 and 12.

13+ are practices that are appropriate for teenagers.

Many suggestions are appropriate for all three age groups, but it’s handy to to have a quick guide so you can tailor certain practices to certain ages. I also love that some practices are marked with an “E” for “easy” — meaning that they’re simple to implement without any prior preparation!

There are also short “talking points” included with many of the suggestions, such as “Why do Catholics Pray Before Sacred Images?” and “Why We Pray for the Dead.” These paragraphs provide brief, child-appropriate suggestions for many points of Catholic doctrine, which make them invaluable for the parent who struggles with how to distill deep theological concepts down to child-appropriate nuggets of wisdom, especially minutes before bedtime after a long, tiring day.

If you’re new to family prayer, and/or new to the Catholic faith, the book includes a compendium of common Catholic prayers, such as the Angelus, the Hail Mary, the Mysteries of the Rosary, and many others.

 

The Little Flower by Becky ArganbrightAlso from Peanut Butter and Grace Media is The Little Flower, a parable about St. Thérèse of Liseux by Becky Arganbright. I bought two copies as Christmas presents, one for my 5-year-old daughter and one for my 3-year-old goddaughter, and the book was a BIG hit with both girls (in fact, my goddaughter’s older sisters, as well as my older daughter, were just as excited about the book as the recipients were!). The artwork is gorgeous, and the story is simple yet profound. It’s a lovely retelling of St. Thérèse of Liseux’s “little way.”

This book would make a terrific addition to any child’s Easter basket, or as a First Holy Communion/Confirmation present. It’d also be a wonderful gift for a baptism. You can view a PDF copy of the book on their website (scroll down to the red box at the bottom) if you’d like to see it before you buy, but as a satisfied customer I can highly recommend the hardcover version.

As an added bonus, St. Thérèse of Liseux’s parents are the newly-canonized St. Louis and Zelie Martin. St. Zelie is one of the patron saints of working mothers, as she worked as a lacemaker prior to and during her marriage. In addition to teaching your children about this wonderful saint, you can teach your children about her mother!

Christmas Reminisces

This is an “off-topic” post, but I was reminiscing about my favorite Christmas gifts the other day, and I thought it would be fun to share.

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The first gift I remember being absolutely thrilled at receiving was given to me when I was 6 or so. I think it was from my grandparents, although one of them might have been from my parents, too. I was given a Peaches N Cream Barbie doll and a Barbie Corvette.

Peaches and Cream Barbie, circa 1985
Peaches and Cream Barbie, circa 1985

 

Silver Barbie Corvette, circa 1985
Silver Barbie Corvette, circa 1985

I never expected to get both a Barbie AND a Barbie car for Christmas, and I was over the moon with delight. The Barbie came with a little top that you could spin to decide how she was going to wear her little scarf/boa thingie – there were multiple ways you could arrange it. I thought it was the coolest Barbie ever. (I also got a Day to Night Barbie at some point, although I can’t remember if she was a Christmas gift or a birthday gift. Check out her briefcase and calculator!)

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When I was 9 or so (I think I was in 4th grade), my parents gave me a box set of the entire Anne of Green Gables series.

anne of green gables box set
All 8 of the Anne books. I think it was this exact set.

Bear in mind that this was in Ye Olden Days – before the Internet – and up until that Christmas I’d had no idea that there were any books beyond the first two, which my mother owned – I’d actually found them at a rummage sale and bought them for her, since we’d enjoyed watching the Anne of Green Gables movie together. I read them too, and adored them. Apparently I’d never read the last few pages of each book, where the entire series was listed. I’d somehow never seen them at the library, either — or maybe our elementary school library only had the first two, I’m not sure.

At any rate, I opened up this box on Christmas Day and was absolutely delighted. I was done with presents at that point – I immediately opened up the box and started reading Anne of the Island, and was lost in glorious prose for days thereafter.

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My family didn’t have a lot of money when I was growing up. We always had the basic necessities but there wasn’t a lot left over. So, while my older brother, younger sister, and I lusted after a Nintendo, all three of us knew it wouldn’t happen. We contented ourselves with occasionally renting a system from the video store, or playing it at our friends’ houses.

Then, one Christmas when I was 11 or so, the unbelievable happened. We got a Nintendo for Christmas.

The original Nintendo Entertainment System
The original Nintendo Entertainment System

When we opened it, I’m pretty sure you could have heard our screams of joy across town.

As it turned out, our parents had found it at a video rental place/furniture store (yes, that happened in small towns) that was going out of business, and had managed to buy one of their rental Nintendos very cheaply, plus several games to boot. My siblings and I didn’t care a bit that it was secondhand; we were thrilled beyond words just to own one. That Nintendo gave us a lot of joy over the years.

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My husband proposed to me on December 17, 2000, so of course my engagement ring is one of the best (early) Christmas gifts I’ve ever received! His birthday is December 24 to boot.

What about you? What were your favorite Christmas gifts?

Back from Hiatus

Apologies for the unintentional hiatus! Long story short, I had a stressful deadline to meet at work, compounded by another pregnancy and miscarriage (you can read more about that at my personal blog). Unfortunately I had to put writing low on my priority list. I hope to get back in the swing of things this week.

 

The Job of a Mother

Have you read this news story about the advertisement that has had many working mothers in an uproar?

If not, here’s the ad in question. It was sent out by a real estate firm, Costello & Costell0, in Issaquah, WA.

costello and costello real estate ad working mother

Offensive, isn’t it?

The back is even worse:

costello and costello real estate ad working mother

But frankly, I was even more offended when I read the “apology” that the Costellos issued. It said,

There are thousands of professional agents working in our area who are also dedicated mothers, including several members of our team. Our original hope with this message was to show the value of having a full-time agent in a competitive market, but we completely failed. We have the upmost [sic] respect for moms and working mothers, and we know that the job of a mother is far more demanding than what we do as real estate professionals. Again, we are truly sorry.

It was this line that made me grind my teeth: “we know that the job of a mother is far more demanding than what we do as real estate professionals…”

They entirely missed the point as to why their ad was so offensive.

I wasn’t offended by this ad because I thought they undervalued the job of a mother. I was offended by this ad because it very strongly implies that a mother can’t successfully run a business out of her home if she also has small children. It’s a slap in the fact to mothers who DO work hard, every day, to succeed as a mother and a businesswoman. It’s a giant middle finger to all the mothers who stay up late and get up early so they can devote hours to their businesses while the kids are still asleep. It’s a rude “F— you” to the mothers who do hire babysitters, or depend on relatives or spouses, or even their older kids, so they can attend meetings or perform other client-facing activities.

The Costellos didn’t devalue the job of a mother. They devalued a woman’s ability to be a success at more than just motherhood, and they implied that only people (or perhaps just men, apparently) who are able to devote 40+ hours outside the home can be a success at their jobs. They also seem to be under the impression that women who run a business from home only work “part-time.” What about the moms who work early mornings, late nights, and many weekend days — often putting in 40 hours a week (if not more) to their businesses, while using the daytime hours to cook, clean, run errands, change diapers, etc.?

These mothers work hard so that they can give their best to their clients and their families, and I’m willing to bet they work harder to do it than two guys in fancy suits with cushy offices, who (I’m willing to bet) never have to give a second thought to who is watching their children while they’re working. Based on the bright idea they had to run this ad, I’m guessing they either have no offspring at all, or they have spouses utterly devoted to the 24/7 care of their children. Working moms by definition don’t have the former circumstance, and hardly ever have the latter luxury (the vast majority of working moms with whom I am acquainted having spouses who work full-time as well).

Kids are expensive. Daycare is expensive. Both facts are why so many mothers have attempted to find a source of income that doesn’t require them to pay for daycare yet still contributes to the family finances. And there may be some mothers as caricatured in the ad who only make a halfhearted effort to make their businesses succeed. But in my experience, working moms who set out to run a business out of their home pour their heart and soul into it, and make an effort to give their clients the best work that they have, while also making sure that their children don’t suffer as a result.

It’s an exhausting life to live, but many mothers do it anyway, because they don’t have the luxury of being able to choose to parent full-time or earn money for their families – they have to do both just to be able to afford the basic necessities. And what doesn’t help is when companies like Costello & Costello seek to denigrate and disdain the work that they do. Perhaps they should reconsider their (ungrammatical) apology and start supporting working mothers instead of insulting them.

Patron Saint of Daycare

Daycare is a frequent topic of discussion in the Catholic Working Mothers Facebook group. How to find a good daycare, what is a fair price to pay for daycare, what questions should you ask when interviewing daycare providers, how to resolve various daycare issues, lack of availability of good and affordable daycare in certain areas, and so on.

The frequent questions made me wonder if there was a specific saint for Catholics to invoke when dealing with daycare issues. I took an informal poll in the Facebook group and did some searching online, and here’s what I found.

There are actually several candidates for the patron saint of daycare issues/daycare providers, but no one official per se. The leading candidates are:

St. Gianna Beretta Molla

St. Gianna Beretta Molla
© José Luiz Bernardes Ribeiro / , via Wikimedia Commons

Given that St. Gianna is the patron saint of working mothers (as well as the patron saint of this blog!) she seems a perfect candidate for the patron saint of daycare issues as well. Both St. Gianna and her husband, Pietro, had demanding careers (she as a doctor, he as an engineer), and they no doubt encountered many issues with childcare as their family grew. I’m sure she interceded for her husband, Pietro, after her death as he left his children in the care of another and worked to support them without her.

Here is a novena prayer to St. Gianna.

St. Stylianos of Paphlagonia

St. Stylianos, potential patron of daycare workers

St. Stylianos is primarily a saint in the Orthodox faith, but his page on Orthodox Wiki says he’s also venerated in the Roman Catholic Church. I didn’t even know he existed until I did a Google search for “patron saint of daycare,” but to my surprise I found out that my son Gabriel was born on his feast day (November 26). Now my son has a new patron saint!

I love what the Wiki page says about him:

During this period, Stylianos concerned himself primarily with children, not just the physically afflicted but also with those who were in need of spiritual guidance. Families from all walks of life were said to have entrusted to Stylianos the enlightenment of their children, and he was forced to seek out larger headquarters and to recruit from the ranks of his hermit friends the assistance needed to tend to so many. His was probably the first day-care centre in the world, where mothers could safely leave their children while tending to other matters of the home.

Stylianos was to become the patron saint of children yet to be born, owing to stories of his miraculous intercession for a young woman who helped him with children but could bear none of her own. When the woman conceived, her husband out of sheer joy spread the word of this miracle, and before long many barren women came to the great hermit. Those whose faith in Jesus Christ was genuine became fertile.

I love that he provided a service for mothers so they could attend to “matters of the home.” Just goes to show that stay-at-home-moms can appreciate good daycare, too! Here are some prayers to St. Stylianos.

St. Nicholas

St. Nicholas, potential patron saint of daycare issues

The St. Nicholas Center has this to say about his patronage of children:

In the West Nicholas is most widely known as the patron saint of children. Many of his stories tell of children rescued from calamity and returned to the care and keeping of their families. In France the most familiar story, both told and sung, is of three little children lured into the clutches of an evil butcher and rescued by St. Nicholas. Other stories, as well, tell of children who disappeared, were kidnaped, fell into a well, or suffered some other disaster-all to be delivered through the good offices of St. Nicholas. These accounts of a child forcibly taken from parents, followed by a time of grieving and despair, then the miraculous return of the child, have profound and universal appeal which makes Nicholas the much valued Guardian of Children. It is no wonder he is the beloved patron saint of children.

Sending your kids off to daycare isn’t quite the same as having them lost or kidnapped, but sometimes it can be traumatic leaving your little ones in someone else’s care for the day (especially on the first day back from maternity leave, when you feel like you’re abandoning your tiny, helpless baby). St. Nicholas sounds like a good candidate for the patron saint of mothers who are struggling with leaving their children.

Here is a novena you can pray to St. Nicholas.

St. Philomena

St. Philomena, potential patron saint of daycare issues

According to the Universal Living Rosary Association, St. Philomena is the patroness of, among others:

  • the Youth[,] with predilection for babies and children;
  • afflicted mothers who invoke her for material or spiritual help for their children;
  • young married couples, with many times given the joys of motherhood; and
  • expectant mothers

If St. Philomena is such a friend to parents and children, it only makes sense that she would have sympathy for the parents who are trying to find quality care for their children.

Here is a novena you can pray to St. Philomena.

St. Elizabeth Ann Seton

St. Elizabeth Ann Seton statue, Saint Raymond's Cemetery in the Bronx

St. Elizabeth Ann Seton is one of my favorite saints! (I gave my youngest daughter the middle name of Elizabeth partly in her honor.) She was, like me, a Catholic convert and a mother of five. Unlike me, she was a widow and had to raise her children as a single mother, while working as a teacher and founding a religious order. (Incidentally, I didn’t realize it until just now, while doing research for this post, but her birthday is today! She was born August 28, 1774. Happy birthday, Mother Seton!)

I have to imagine that Mother Seton had many moments when her position as a teacher conflicted with the needs of her children, so I think she can sympathize with those of us who need to find reliable, safe childcare so that we can both work and make sure our children are safe and happy while we are away from them. She was also a kind and conscientious care provider to the children sent to her for schooling, which means she could be a patroness of both daycare seekers and daycare providers. She also started New York city’s first charity, the Society for the Relief of Poor Widows with Small Children, so I think she can sympathize with those of us who wince at the amount of money we pay to daycare each week!

Incidentally, if you are interested in watching a great movie about Mother Seton’s life, I highly recommend A Time for Miracles. I own it on DVD (as part of this collection, which I found in the $5 bin at Walmart last December) and it’s excellent — plus it starts one of my favorite actresses, Kate Mulgrew, as Mother Seton.

Here is a novena to St. Elizabeth Ann Seton.

A Prayer for Working Mothers

Finally, here is a prayer for all working mothers who struggle with leaving our children at daycare:

O Lord, since I must now entrust my precious child into the arms of another so that I may go forth to earn bread for our table, accept my offering of tears and deep regret.

Take my child, Lord—and my aching heart—and lay them together in your dear Mother’s lap where both may rest secure until I come again to claim my treasures.

Amen.

And the Winners Are…

If you’re listed as a winner, please check your e-mail for a message from me (and e-mail me if you are listed as a winner but have not received an e-mail).

Prize #1: Shades of Orange Knitted Infinity Scarf
Donor: Lisa Adkins, ARose4Lisa
Winner: Mandy

Shades of Orange Knitted Infinity Scarf

Prize #2: Royal Blue Bracelet with Silver Cross
Donor: Megan Caire
Winner: Beth

Royal Blue Bracelet with Silver Cross

Prize #3: Teal Bracelet with Gold Cross
Donor: Megan Caire
Winner: Jessica B.

Teal Bracelet with Gold Cross

Prize #4: Coral Necklace with Gold Cut-Out Cross
Donor: Megan Caire
Winner: Jill S.

Coral Necklace with Gold Cut-Out Cross

Prize #5: Catholic Sistas 2015-2016 Catholic Through the Year Bundle
Donor: Martina Kreitzer
Winner: Evie F.

Catholic Sistas 2015-2016 Catholic Through the Year Bundle

Prize #6: “Like Living Among Scorpions: One Woman’s Quest to Survive Her Suburban Life” by Jennifer Fulwiler (Kindle edition)
Donor: JoAnna Wahlund
Winner: Kathy H.

Like Living Among Scorpions

Congratulations to all the winners, and THANK YOU to everyone who entered!

An Anniversary Giveaway!

As I mentioned on Saturday, I’m running a giveaway in honor of the first anniversary of the Catholic Working Mothers Facebook group! We have some great prizes donated by some of our group members.

Use the Rafflecopter app at the bottom of the post to enter. The giveaway ends at 11:59 p.m. MST on Saturday, August 15. Winners will be announced Sunday, August 16. Please note that entrants MUST leave a valid e-mail address in the combox so I can contact you to award your prize!

Prize #1: Shades of Orange Knitted Infinity Scarf
Donor: Lisa Adkins, ARose4Lisa

Shades of Orange Knitted Infinity Scarf

A beautiful handmade knitted infinity scarf, perfect for fall!

Prize #2: Royal Blue Bracelet with Silver Cross
Donor: Megan Caire

Royal Blue Bracelet with Silver Cross

This bracelet is made with royal blue beads on stretch cord and features a silver-colored metal cross.

Prize #3: Teal Bracelet with Gold Cross
Donor: Megan Caire

Teal Bracelet with Gold Cross

This bracelet is made with teal beads on stretch cord and features a gold-colored metal cross.

Prize #4: Coral Necklace with Gold Cut-Out Cross
Donor: Megan Caire

Coral Necklace with Gold Cut-Out Cross

This necklace is made with coral beads on stretch cord and features a gold-colored metal cut-out cross.

Prize #5: Catholic Sistas 2015-2016 Catholic Through the Year Bundle
Donor: Martina Kreitzer

Catholic Sistas 2015-2016 Catholic Through the Year Bundle

An amazing gift donated by Martina Kreizer of Catholic Sistas!
The Catholic Through the Year 2015-2016 downloadable planner bundle includes a Calendar, a Homeschool Bundle, a Household Management bundle, AND a Blogger bundle!
Go to the Catholic Sistas store link to see the details of which resources are included in each bundle.
(Please note: this is an electronic resource, not a physical one.)

Prize #6: “Like Living Among Scorpions: One Woman’s Quest to Survive Her Suburban Life” by Jennifer Fulwiler (Kindle edition)
Donor: JoAnna Wahlund

Like Living Among Scorpions

From Amazon.com: “Whether she’s soaking her living room in Raid bug spray, fantasizing about living in a $50,000 sleep capsule, or dragging her brood of rowdy children out of Whole Foods, Jennifer Fulwiler’s life is sure to be a source of inspiration (or at least entertainment) in this collection of essays originally published on her blog. With a new introduction and conclusion, as well as a foreword by author Simcha Fisher, Like Living Among Scorpions is a fresh look at the most popular humorous posts that chronicle Jen’s attempts to keep her sanity while managing a house full of babies and scorpions. Longtime readers will love reliving these moments with Jen, and new readers will enjoy this introduction to her unique perspective on life.”
(Note: this prize is for the Kindle edition only. You must have a Kindle or a [free] Kindle app on an appropriate device to receive it.)

ENTER BELOW!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

An Anniversary

Mommy and Peter
Peter with his mommy — August 7, 2014

One year ago today, I was sitting in a small conference room at my workplace, pumping breastmilk for my then-10-month-old son, Peter, and thinking about a recent Facebook PM I’d received from a new Facebook friend. A mutual friend had directed her to my blog, and she was glad to find another Catholic mom of many who also worked full-time outside the home. I was happy that she’d contacted me, because it was rare to find someone else who could understand the joys and challenges of being a Catholic working mother.

Which got me to thinking — I knew we couldn’t be the only two Catholic working mothers out there; in fact, a recent thread in another Facebook group for Catholic moms had asked how many of its members worked outside the home, and I was surprised by the number of respondents.

I wondered, not for the first time, why wasn’t there a Facebook group specifically for Catholic working mothers? We really needed a source of community given that it seemed no one around us understood what it was like to live as we did — constantly trying to balance faith, work, and family in a culture that was increasingly hostile to Catholicism.

As I listened to the whirring and hissing of my breastpump — an object that was, to me, a symbol of my working mother status — the Holy Spirit slapped me upside the head. If you want a group like that, maybe you should start one.

I pulled out my iPhone and the Catholic Working Mothers Facebook group was born.

I was kept busy the next several weeks welcoming new members. “I’m so happy to have found this group! I thought I was the only one!” was a common refrain.

One year later, we have nearly 700 members [edit: as of 6:15pm MST on August 8, we have 701 members!) — Catholic working mothers from all walks of life. We have mothers who work full-time, part-time, work at home, or do freelance work. We have mothers who are pregnant with their first child and mothers of large families. We have mothers who are nurses, pharmacists, teachers, software engineers, military officers, editors, and countless other professions. We have mothers who are married and mothers who are single. We have mothers who are wholly committed to their careers and mothers who are only reluctantly working because their family needs their income. Most importantly, we are all faithful Catholics, striving to live our vocations as mothers and employees in accordance with Church teaching.

The success of the Catholic Working Mothers Facebook group was the inspiration for the start of this blog. To commemorate this anniversary, I’m going to have a great giveaway, featuring some prizes created by a few of our members! Be sure to come by the blog on Monday to check out the available prizes and find out how to enter!

The Case for Maternity Leave

newbornYears ago I was firmly encamped on the “why should anyone have to pay for my choices?” side of the equation. It seemed pretty straight forward to me. An employer pays you to work and while on maternity leave you are *not* working so why should a paycheck come along with your leave? It wasn’t fair to the other employees and gave mothers a benefit that other workers didn’t get.

I was all about the equality. Then a funny thing happened along the way. I started working full time and got pregnant.

We had not intended to be pregnant so soon after I started work. I looked at the calendar and realized two things: 1) I could not afford to take any time off during the pregnancy if I wanted to get a paycheck during maternity leave and 2) if I had gotten pregnant a month earlier, I would not be eligible for any maternity leave at all. We barely dodged a bullet on that one. For the remainder of that pregnancy, I doggedly dragged myself to work no matter how bad I felt because I wanted to be able to take as much time as possible after the baby was born, but we could not afford to go unpaid. It was a hard pregnancy, not from a medical standpoint, but from a physical endurance standpoint. Oh, the places I threw up… Even still, I only managed to save about six weeks of leave. Luckily that leave happened to fall over Christmas time so the built-in work holidays extended my time to about seven weeks. It is very hard to leave a seven week old baby to go to work, but this was the choice we had made and it was just the way it was.

After that pregnancy we decided that amassing enough maternity leave for the next potential pregnancy would be a top priority. I scrimped and saved days, only taking time when it was absolutely required or over Christmas time. Family vacations were pretty much out. We did manage to take three days to go to Chattanooga for a long weekend once, but that was it.

Every possible day went into the bank and by the time I was pregnant again, I had built up enough time to be able to take a handful of days off during the pregnancy and then take nine full weeks off after the baby was born.

That pregnancy was a little bit easier because I didn’t get quite as sick–is that a boy thing?–and on the very worst days, I had enough time to call in sick. It wasn’t very many days, less than a week over the whole pregnancy, but enough so I felt like I could stay home if I was feeling especially horrible every now and again.

It is very hard leaving a nine week old baby to go back to work, but this was the choice we made and it was just the way it was. I was generally pleased with my second maternity leave. We made a plan and executed it. I got to stay home for nine weeks this time. I imposed no undue burden on my employer and I was only paid for days that everyone else got paid. Why should my decision to bear children obligate my employer?

Again after that pregnancy we decided that amassing enough maternity leave for the next potential pregnancy was a top priority. Again I scrimped and saved days. Again family vacations were out. With each maternity leave, my leave time was emptied out to zero and I had to start all over again every time. Every day put in the time bank was security for the potential of next time.

It was during this interim between pregnancies that my thoughts about maternity leave began to change. I admit my changing opinions were prompted by my own flagging energy. I was tired. I needed a vacation. I worried about children getting sick, me getting sick, something happening which required time from me. I had exhausted my paid time and almost all of my FMLA time. If something unexpected happened that required more than a day or two off, I would quickly go unpaid which would be catastrophic for our family. With FMLA I only had three weeks of time off left of guaranteed employment which had to last an entire year. If anything major went wrong, we would be totally screwed. It was very stressful.

As I had to deal with this cloud of unease over my head, I watched my non-childbearing coworkers go on leisurely vacations to the Bahamas, take regular extended weekend gambling trips, go on impromptu vacations all over the country, and take whole weeks to visit family far away. None of this was possible for me. I wasn’t exactly jealous–well, perhaps–but the inequity of my equality began to clarify itself in my mind. While our employer treated us exactly the same, I was using my time to create and foster the next generation, which is exhausting, and my coworkers were using their time to relax and recharge their batteries. I was excluded from this renewal because I “chose” to have a baby and then another one and, maybe soon, another one. It was wasn’t that I regretted my decision to have babies, but that I realized that having babies is a fundamentally different activity than going on vacation. And given the length of my childbearing years, I could potentially go another decade without a vacation.

I came to the conclusion that there is no fair way to treat maternity in the workplace. You can either make allowance for women to have babies which means that non-childbearing employees will not get as much paid time off as the one who bears a child, or you treat pregnant women exactly the same which effectively means they forfeit any potential time off in favor of maternity leave. No wonder most women abandon childbearing after once or twice. It is an exhausting way to live. The question for society to decide is who will bear the brunt of the unfairness: grown adults who would be restricted from a benefit that did not apply or newly delivered mothers and their newborns?

Soon enough I was pregnant again. This pregnancy proceeded in a similar manner to the second working pregnancy. I had enough time to be able to take a handful of days off during the pregnancy, could even take time at the end of the pregnancy to start my leave before I actually delivered, and stayed home until the baby was nine weeks old. I suppose I could have been stricter with myself during the pregnancy and squeezed out another postpartum week, but coming to work day after day after day while pregnant after not having had a vacation for multiple years is a drag. I returned to work and had to start my time bank from scratch again, but a change in leave policies means that finally, after all these years, I can regularly go on vacation again.

Thus far I have whined a lot about my inability to use my vacation time as vacation time because that is the general extent of my problem, assuming all goes well. I am a professional, white-collar employee with paid sick and vacation time who was previously allowed to bank almost as much as I could. Since my income is our family’s only income, we could not afford for me to take unpaid time during maternity leave. The consequence is that I go to work everyday, we don’t go on vacation, and my leave is never as long as I am technically, legally entitled. This is tiring, but also the best case scenario for the majority of working mothers in the United States. Once my eyes were opened, through my own self-pity, to plight of pregnant women trying to live the ideal that “no one should have any obligation to pay for my choices,” I didn’t have to look far to find horror stories. I am supremely pampered and privileged compared to other women dependent on their own incomes to survive.

One woman I know had to have an unexpected, surprise emergency C-section, ending her first pregnancy when she was rushed directly from a regular prenatal visit into the operating room at the hospital. The extreme discomfort she was experiencing, which she had dismissed as the normal pains of late pregnancy because she didn’t know any better, was actually her son’s foot hanging out of her cervix at 37 weeks. Her employer at the time was a small company which did not have to comply with FMLA. She did not have paid time off. Two weeks after delivering a baby through major abdominal surgery, she returned to work. Two weeks was as long as she could afford to go unpaid. What choice did she have?

Another woman I know was a coach at a small college for a few minor sports. She had been pregnant when she got the job so FMLA, which guarantees time off after a full year of employment, did not apply to her. Her employer would not make any allowances for her to miss any time during the seasons. It just so happened she was due in the middle of one of the seasons. She looked at her game calendar and her due date. She found a stretch of time around her due date where there were five days between games. She coached a game on one day, scheduled an induction for the next day, delivered the baby, and then returned to her full coaching duties on the fifth day. What choice did she have? Missing a game opened the door for her to be fired and the law did not protect her.

Another woman I know is an immigrant to the US. She had been planning a trip back to her home country for years with her high school class reunion being the occasion. She had saved money and days for years to make it happen. Less than a year before this event was scheduled, she discovered she was unexpectedly pregnant. She had previously had some problems with infertility so this pregnancy was a joyous surprise, but also presented a conundrum. If she took a maternity leave, her time bank would be depleted and she would have to cancel her long-planned trip home. This was a severe disappointment to her. As her pregnancy progressed and she was generally healthy, she decided to shortchange her maternity leave, return to work early, and take her long anticipated trip home. Three weeks after delivering her baby, she returned to work. This is not necessarily the choice I would have made, but her opportunities for going home and seeing family and friends were extremely limited and I understand why she made it.

mother and childThese stories are not uncommon and they range from mildly vexing to unbelievably cruel. It isn’t that I know a whole bunch of unlucky pregnant women. It is that the average working pregnant woman faces these situations. As I take them in, what surprises me the most is the general unawareness that others have about the choices pregnant women have to make. I have been asked at work by coworkers how much extra paid leave I get for maternity. They are shocked when I say there is nothing extra. They have access to the same policies and documents that I do. Why do they think there is extra maternity leave? Consultants come through the building and ask pregnant women when they are going to start their maternity leave. They are aghast when the standard answer is “when the baby is born.” It is explained repeatedly that every day taken before birth is a day missed with the baby later, but they do not seem to comprehend. There seems to be this blind adherence to the widely held image of maternity leave beginning weeks before birth and extending three full months afterwards. This image has no basis in the reality of the lives of most working pregnant women. The reality is that the vast majority of every pregnant woman you see in any type of employment have had to make difficult, calculated, and usually exhausting choices to balance their health, their babies’ health, the demands of their employer, and their need for income. Most of the time, the woman’s health is deemed the most expendable by the woman herself.

If we, as a society, have decided we want women well represented in the workplace–and we have–we need to come to grips with the fact that women have babies. The act of bearing children is not aberrational but fundamental to human society. There needs to be allowances made for this one unique task that only a minority of the population can complete. An allowance that does not function on the assumption that one employee’s periodic gambling habit has the same value as another employee producing a baby. Mothers and babies deserve paid maternity leave.

Every time I make this declaration, someone always clutches his pearls and fears for the Republic. I don’t really understand this reaction. We make demands on employers and general society all the time. The standard benefit package required by law includes unemployment insurance, worker’s comp insurance, retirement insurance, old age medical insurance, and now, rightly or wrongly, medical insurance. Why couldn’t maternity coverage be added to these basic requirements? We have to stop viewing maternity leave with suspicion or idealization and begin seeing it as a normal part of a woman’s life.

What could this look like in the United States? It could take a variety of forms and I am open to many of them. We could impose a requirement on employers to provide the income, or we could impose a tax that would be paid out as a benefit by the government. Or, most interesting to me, we could require the widespread availability of maternity insurance subsidized by employers. This maternity insurance would look a lot like currently existing short-term disability, except it would be specially designed for pregnancy and the postpartum period. I don’t have a problem with employees having to pay into such insurance as long as the employers are also required to pay into the system. Currently this type of insurance is generally limited to companies who provide access to it instead of it being available to all workers, regardless of company.

I support a limited but guaranteed income for employed women on maternity leave. I do not support or approve of European or Canadian-style maternity leave. In my mind, their overly generous policies go far beyond the basic support necessary for the health and welfare of mothers and babies and have become lifestyle support. Onerous taxes are imposed, which force some mothers into employment who never would have chosen it on their own. They also set up a situation where one woman who happened to be employed at the right time can keep a paycheck coming for years while staying home with children and another women living a very similar life, but unemployed at the wrong moment, gets nothing. Long, open-ended paid leaves are not my goal, only that the health and well-being of pregnant mothers and babies are protected around the natal period.

To me, the ideal balance of the wants and needs of mothers and babies with the desire to not create extended lifestyle support would be a maternity leave policy that would begin at 38 weeks of pregnancy, to allow the mother a little time to prepare for birth, and continue until the baby is 12 weeks old. This period of time would allow the mother to completely heal, establish a good supply of milk, and bond with her baby for a short period of time beyond the intense and exhausting newborn phase. Again, this is an ideal. In my mind, anything has to be better than what currently exists which is nothing.

It is time for this country to understand that there is no equality or fairness when dealing with issues around childbirth. The burden will be borne. The question we have to answer is do we choose compassion or do we choose cruelty towards those bearing the burden. Thus far, we have chosen cruelty. I can only hope that someday we change our minds.