The Politics of Having a Baby

It’s not politics, really, and yet everything having to do with juggling your life after having a baby is political — largely because women do the baby-bearing and patriarchy is alive and well in our society. And since my last post was called “The Politics of Being Pregnant,” I figured I’d stick with the theme… And mostly: pregnancy — what happens before, during, and after — is this thing no one really talks about openly. It shouldn’t be a secret, and no one should apologize for doing it. And places of employment should encourage, not discourage, it. At least in my humble opinion…

My son will be 9 weeks old in a few days, and I feel lucky to be in the position that I am. He arrived mid semester, and I was able to be home for the rest of the semester to care for him. Although I have to work at home for part of the time to make up for sick days I didn’t have, I will have been able to care for him, almost 24/7, for nearly 5 months of his life by the time I return to work full time. This scenario is pretty unheard of in our society. While I thought the lack of new-parent leave was problematic before becoming pregnant, my understanding of just how ridiculous it is has skyrocketed since actually giving birth. Allow me to explain:

The Birth Process
Gratefully, my labor and delivery were largely without incident. I went into labor at 3:00am early on a Saturday morning and delivered 18 hours later. My contractions were random and easy for a few hours, but around lunch time, they got very painful (I’m talking the-wind-got-knocked-out-of-me-and-I-can’t-put-words-together-to-make-sentences painful), and by 4:30pm I wasn’t sure if I could handle it getting worse. We called our doula, Mary Riley (who is amazing!!), and headed to the local birth center. The drive was 40 minutes, and I arrived at 9cm dilated. I can’t even begin to describe the pain — I kept saying to Mary, “but I can’t get comfortable!” and she would say, “that’s right — you’re in labor — but you know what? Your body won’t give you anything more than you can handle.” She was right, but wow, did it hurt. More than words can describe. More than I could ever have imagined before going through it. But I didn’t question my decision to do it without drugs, and I kept thinking about something that my partner had read in the book The Birth Partner: “in the end, there will be a baby.” And eventually there was. Allen arrived at 10:06pm, and our tiny family of two grew to three.

And Then the Afterward Part: My Body and Breastfeeding
I had no idea how much blood there would be. Every woman is different, but I bled (like a lot) for days. Weeks, actually. I didn’t know beforehand: I was so focused on the birth process that I never thought to read about what happens next. And I felt like I’d been in a car wreck. Walking, sitting up, bending down — it was all a challenge for weeks to come. I’m currently battling some pretty gnarly lower back pain that resulted from sitting in bed funny one night. Amazingly, I didn’t have back pain during my pregnancy, but it took one plop onto the bed for a breastfeeding session, and I haven’t been the same since. The afterpains, aches, and throbs that would continue for weeks on end weren’t something I anticipated — I kind of (naively, in retrospect) expected that I would just bounce back physically. And, I didn’t have a C-section or forceps or vacuum suction, interventions that many women need that add a whole other layer to recovery. I never heard anyone talk about what it’s like for the mother after she gives birth. And after all, there’s a kid to take care of now — I thought (naively again), maybe our bodies just kick back into gear because they have to.

And they do. Sort of. But to take care of baby; not do that and go back to work.

I now think new moms are incredible superhero-like creatures who do everything and then some. And I’m not tooting my own horn here — dust bunnies are abundant, mail is piling up, and I can’t generally start and finish a task without being interrupted by a tiny being who’s almost always strapped to my body these days. But on a miniscule amount of sleep and while being bathed in a wash of hormones, I’ve managed to sustain the life of a newborn. If that’s not superherodom, I’m not sure what is.

Which brings me to breastfeeding. Another thing I didn’t think to research. I knew I wanted to breastfeed — breastmilk is the most nourishing food you can give a newborn. A mother’s breastmilk is literally tailored to meet the needs of the baby she just carried around for 9 (give or take) months. And I figured it was something innate that would be easy to learn in the hours after giving birth.

Wrong.

While many mothers have no problem initiating breastfeeding with their newborns, many women struggle to lactate at all, others have issues with supply, and still more have a whole host of latching issues. The latter was my issue: it seemed that no matter what I did, breastfeeding was the most painful thing I’d ever done aside from labor. A few hours into my son’s life and my nipples were already bloody. Several weeks (6 and a half, to be exact) of bleeding, cracking, and radiating pain followed before it got markedly better. And I probably would have stopped long before if it weren’t for the support of a group of women I’ve met through a nursing circle in Poughkeepsie at Waddle n Swaddle, an amazing haven of a shop devoted to all things parenting.

Which leads me to the real reason I wanted to write this post — SIX WEEKS OF LEAVE IS NOT NEARLY ENOUGH. I had no schema to understand before, but now, now I get it. At 6 weeks postpartum:

  • I was still bleeding from giving birth.
  • My back had given out and I was seeing a chiropractor twice a week.
  • My breasts were sore from the challenges of breastfeeding.
  • I was (and still am) getting up three times each night to breastfeed, putting my average hours of (broken) sleep per night somewhere around 4 or 5.
  • I was consumed (and still am) by the mountain of information I don’t know about parenting, developmental milestones, vaccinations, and the list goes on.
  • I couldn’t (and still can’t) fit into any of my work clothes that aren’t maternity. And it turns out wearing maternity clothes when you’re not pregnant doesn’t work so well.
  • I was emotionally erratic from the sleep deprivation and ocean of hormones that followed giving birth.
  • I had no clue how pumping worked so that I would be able to feed my baby when I was back at the office (that’s a whole other post in itself).
  • I didn’t (and still don’t) have time to wash my hair very often.
  • I was just (and still am) getting to know my son. He changes a little every day, and I couldn’t (and still can’t) imagine putting him in someone else’s care.

There’s more, but I really can’t fathom how working parents of new babies are expected to go back to work so soon. The recommended six weeks seemed like a lengthy amount of time before I experienced it. It’s not. It goes by in the blink of an eye. And some places of employment require a return to work even sooner, which is terrible. I have such strong feelings about this for obvious reasons right now, but it’s edging on criminal that our society claims to value family as much as it does, but literally punishes people for choosing to have children. I’m glad that legislators are talking about changing the policy to 12 weeks of paid leave. But honestly, even that isn’t enough. In some European countries, parents have up to two years to care for their newborns, and after that, there’s socialized childcare until their little ones are ready to start school. We are doing it all wrong in this country.

But to end on a positive note, this:Allen 8 and a half weeks

 

 

 

The Politics of Being Pregnant

28 weeks and countingI’ve weathered a growing (no pun intended) stream of unsolicited advice, comments, and thoughts on the shape of my pregnant body in the past few weeks, as I’ve begun to show in earnest. While I welcome any bit of conversation about pregnancy from people I know (whether it be family members, friends, colleagues, or students), I am increasingly shocked at how often strangers feel the need (and the right) to comment on my shape, offer predictions, and ask probing questions about name, gender, and philosophy that my partner and I are still figuring out. Of course everyone’s different, and perhaps I unknowingly welcome it, but the comments about what I look like have started to get under my skin.

As someone who was tall for my age as a child and teenager, I have plenty of practice with unsolicited comments about my shape, height, and amount of space I take up in the room. That being said, pregnancy is a very stressful, sometimes unpredictable, often exciting time that is quite personal. And I’m growing weary of juggling the daily challenge of just being pregnant (and everything that goes along with that) and the mounting commentary about my belly, largely from people I don’t know. At the gym this morning, this dialogue with a woman I’ve never spoken to before illustrates just what I mean:

“When are you due?”
(I remove my headphones.)
“End of March. We’re very excited.”
(I smile and put my headphones back on.)
“It must be a girl.”
(I remove my headphones again.)
“No, it’s a boy.”
“Are you sure? You don’t look like you’re carrying a boy. Your body is just so, well, round.”
(I replace my headphones and don’t know (or care) if she’s still talking, and busy myself with another round of reps.)

Other things I’ve heard in passing:

“You’re carrying so high.”
“You’re carrying so low.”
“You don’t look pregnant.”
“You’re huge.”
“Are you sure it isn’t twins?”

And so on…

So what is appropriate to say when someone is pregnant? I’m not sure there’s a rule book. But what I do know is that going through the process for the first time has opened my eyes about it in ways I hadn’t expected. Thanks to the lengthy history of deeply rooted sexism in our society, women are already judged for their appearance in numerous ways. And despite the fact that we are — literally — built to bear children, pregnancy and the resulting physical effects on women’s bodies appear to produce an irresistible topic for conversation that, based on my experience, is sometimes more about the person asking questions than it is about the person answering them.

Again — friends, colleagues, etc. — don’t feel like you can’t ask me questions or engage me in conversation or comment on what I look like. I have no problem with this. It’s the individuals I don’t know who feel the need to insert their opinions front and center that I’m having a hard time wrapping my head around.

And all of this takes me to how women navigate our so-called maternity leave system in this country. Well, it turns out that most places of work don’t have maternity leave — SUNY included. It wasn’t something I even thought to question when I accepted the position at a public university. I naively assumed it was part of our contract. After all, we have a union! But after taking up work around Family Leave policy with colleagues on campus, I was surprised to find out that not only do we have to borrow time from our accumulated sick leave, there isn’t a hard and fast policy that helps women know what they’re facing when they choose to get pregnant. (Not to mention that pregnancy isn’t an illness; therefore, using sick days doesn’t make logical sense.)

Since I haven’t gone through the process quite yet (I’m only 30 weeks and expect to work up until my water breaks to preserve the sick days I do have), I can’t speak to what will happen. However, I can say that I have felt incredibly supported by my Chair, Dean, colleagues, and representatives from Compliance and Academic Affairs. While their hands are tied by the official language in the contract and Trustee Handbook, they’re all working with me to figure out a plan that will, as one administrator put it, keep me “whole and healthy.”

In preparation for a Teach-In on Family Leave on our campus last November, I did research on what maternity leave looks like locally and globally. I was shocked to find out that the U.S. is one of only 8 countries in the world that doesn’t offer paid maternity leave:
maternity leave NY Times

I also discovered that there’s been a bill stalled in Congress for over a year that calls for 12 weeks of paid maternity leave. Despite the fact that many countries offer more than 12 weeks, it would certainly be a start.

I could go on, but have said enough for one post. I encourage people to raise awareness about the abysmal state of maternity leave in our country; to talk to colleagues and family members about what has historically been an individually-fought-for, mostly-hidden negotiation in many workplaces; to consider the effect of words when offering them to pregnant women, especially those you don’t know; and to honor pregnancy as something that is exciting and incredible — as opposed to a burdensome hindrance.

I absolutely can’t wait to meet this little boy I’m carrying around with me for roughly 10 more weeks. And while I know it will completely change my life — and my body — in ways that I can’t yet understand, the experience has already shifted my paradigm when it comes to further understanding how destructive and unfair issues of sexism and gender discrimination still are in our society, and how they determine the policies by which we are bound in our workplaces. Till next time…

 

#BlackLivesMatter

Perhaps it’s my own naiveté, but I was sure the grand jury would come down on the right side of history this time. But once again, I have lost faith in our criminal justice system to serve justice. Michael Brown’s death was unnecessary, as was Eric Garner’s. Both were the result of excessive force from law enforcement officials. Makes you really step back and wonder what laws are being enforced — and for whom.

Just after Michael Brown was shot on August 9, I co-organized a demonstration in New Paltz in solidarity with those who had taken to the streets in Ferguson and across the country to protest racist acts by police. It was the first time I was involved in a country-wide action in a location other than New York City in over fifteen years. As a New Yorker, I’d become accustomed to scouring my Facebook and Twitter feeds, emails and texts with info on ad hoc protests that would evolve within minutes or hours after events that warranted civil unrest — and I’d grab a home-made sign and take to the streets. The demo in New Paltz was a far cry from the Trayvon Martin demo that stopped traffic at multiple junctures throughout NYC and actions by teachers for Trayvon, or Liberty Square during the Occupy Movement and the marches that packed NYC streets during that time. But even though the crowd we drew was small, our voices were loud. It was clear that here, too, there are people who are aware of and angry about the fact that racism still exists in both overt and tacit ways.

In the days following the Ferguson grand jury decision not to pursue a trial investigating Michael Brown’s death, a colleague in the Black Studies Department at SUNY New Paltz encouraged faculty to take a moment of silence at the start of each class to reflect on what had just happened. I took this request a step further, and planned a writing and discussion activity to talk about what had happened and the implications of living in a racist society on our work as teachers. As an educator who teaches aspiring teachers how to teach reading and writing, I cannot teach a course without hitting on topics of diversity and the many -isms that continue to pervade our society’s dominant discourse. I saw talking about Ferguson as a natural extension of the work that I already do.

IFerguson Demo in Kingstonn one class, the discussion went well — one student piped in that she saw me in a photo on Facebook at a protest in Kingston, NY, and others expressed how much it influences what they hope to do as future educators of young children. Other students expressed being unclear of what had happened and wanting to know more about why and how the decision had been made not to pursue a trial and indictment.

In another class, the discussion didn’t go as well. What began as a well-intended carving out of safe space to talk openly about what had happened erupted into a contentious conversation about, in large part, whose fault it is that racism still exists. I wondered in the process of where I’d gone wrong as a facilitator. How did our discussion go from a reflection on the racist underpinnings of recent events and their ramifications for our work as educators to a debate on whether or not white people should be held responsible for slavery generations later?

I was able (somewhat inelegantly) to bring the conversation back to the purpose at hand, and concluded the discussion by asking students to write me an anonymous note on what they were thinking and feeling in the moment as the discussion concluded. It took me several days to take a look at these pieces of paper, which I knew would be swollen with personal feelings and thoughts on how or why talking about Ferguson matters (or doesn’t).

For the most part, students expressed that they felt uncomfortable talking about race, but that they were glad I’d brought it up.

More than half of them expressed that no one had brought up Ferguson in their other classes, and they felt it needed to be talked about more.

On the other end of the spectrum, a few students felt alienated by the discussion and asked why we were talking about this when they were here to learn how to teach literacy.

I haven’t been able to stop thinking about this experience and what needs to shift in my teaching and that of my school community as we work collectively to move toward a more aware, more diverse, more just society. I am in discussion with colleagues around campus who are committed to anti-racist work in both their personal and professional lives. In the meantime, something urgently in need of attention was revealed to me in the discussions I had with my students that I hadn’t been fully aware of before: I’ve been operating from a place of assumption. I assumed that in a small Hudson Valley community that is known for its liberal ways of thinking that we were all on the same page about race — namely, that we’re aware racism is still at work in communities of education, and talking about and acting in resistance to it is part of what we do. It turns out that’s not a safe assumption at all.

I am saddened by this new knowledge, but will not stop fighting for what I know is right; will not shy away from raising difficult topics of discussion in courses on teaching literacy when it’s so obvious how all -isms are deeply embedded in literature we may choose to share with young learners; will not stop naming racism as something worth examining in our daily practice as teachers and teacher educators. I thank the colleagues and students who have openly and honestly engaged in discussions with me over the last few weeks about the work that we do, and how racism places a role. Our work has only just begun.

It’s (Already) Been (Only) A Year

Jean at the waters edgeIt’s a year today since Jean Anyon passed away. That length of time feels simultaneously like the blink of an eye and forever. She was respected, admired, and loved by many. And though I can make no particular claim about the relationship she and I had while I was her student over that she had with anyone else, there is an undeniable ache in my heart still when I think of her.

I often return to this photo of her when I miss her. Although I think it was taken at the Jersey Shore, it reminds me of the Breakwater in Mattituck, NY, which I lived near for a brief time as a child, and where I used to go to escape. I like thinking of her this way — at the water’s edge, contemplating the possibilities, her thoughts known only to her.

Like so many people I know, death has punctuated my life, has made me hurt, has brought sadness when I’ve needed hope. But it has also cemented connections with other people in ways that I never could have predicted. After Jean’s death, I have been grateful to be held — both digitally and in real-time — by individuals who were also touched by Jean’s life, ideas, and dedication to her work. The love I feel for that group of people was established when we met under Jean’s tutelage, but has been concretized in the last year by the outpouring of care, advice, and there-ness that we have shared with one another.

The biggest challenge to me in Jean’s absence has been the ability to write. It sounds silly — it’s completely psychological — but for eight years, she read everything that I wrote. Without her feedback as a safety net, the keyboard has felt more like an obstacle than a tool. Only in the last week or so have I been able to start facing drafts that, for a year now, have been frozen in time. It feels good to move to a new place with writing, though I am somewhat surprised it’s taken as long as it has. It’s amazing what a year can (and cannot) do.

RIP, Jean. We miss you still, and as you wished on your last night with us, we will always — always — remember you for your work.

Hands Up Will Still Get You Shot

Racial profiling just got another stamp of approval. That’s not justice.

I am beyond words after reading the coverage of what happened in Ferguson, Missouri, this past week. I’m brought back to the anger and deep sadness I felt when the Trayvon Martin verdict came down in favor of his shooter (the photo here is from the march that followed the verdict in New York City). I’m reminded of the disbelief and outrage I felt when Black Hurricane Katrina victims were called “looters” while white victims engaging in the same act — gathering supplies from local stores and businesses during a horrific emergency — were called “survivors.” I think of the shock and taste the bile in my mouth from the first time I saw the truck that drives around local communities near where I live flying a confederate flag as big as a bed sheet.

What is wrong with (white) people??

[And in case you’re wondering: yes, I fall into the ‘white’ category. And yes, I still believe this question needs to be asked, despite how uncomfortable it makes both me and some people I hold dear.]

My thoughts aren’t flowing out of me academically and aren’t even quite fully formed, but as I read and process more, and the rage percolates just beneath the surface of my skin and my eyes, I know one thing for sure: we can’t be silent on this. Michael Brown is just one of many innocent victims of a system that isn’t working — a system that, as my friend and colleague Nelson Flores puts it in a phrase borrowed from Jonathan Rosa, exercises a “fundamental disposability of black and brown bodies.”

Michael Brown died because of racism.

An old friend of mine used to say, during the days of the Iraq war protests when anti-Bush sentiment grew in leaps and bounds in this country, “we’re sitting on a powder keg, and it’s just a matter of time before something wakes us up.”

Well, that was almost 10 years ago, and I don’t know about you, but I’m ready to be woken up, America. Something’s gotta give. As long as we stay silent on the ways in which patriarchal, white supremacy plays a role in dictating both the explicit and tacit policies that guide our society, we play a part in allowing what’s wrong to be right.

I stand in solidarity with the protesters in Ferguson, Missouri. No justice, no peace!

 

Writers’ Choice

Every semester, SUNY New Paltz sends undergraduate teacher candidates who are just starting out in the Elementary Education program to Duzine Elementary School in New Paltz for their first fieldwork experience. The teacher candidates each partner with a cooperating teacher and classroom, where they spend 40 hours over the course of the semester. I had the privilege of supervising the partnership for the first time this past spring, and it was incredible to see the teacher candidates’ growth as they learned all about literacy instruction from their cooperating teachers at Duzine.

photo (8)When the semester ended, I asked Rebecca Burdett — a first-grade teacher whose love for writing emanates from everything she does — if I could come back for a visit. Every morning, Rebecca and her students engage in Writers’ Choice, a thirty-minute period of time in which students choose what and how they’d like to write. And I wanted a chance to soak in more of this magical space, where students are authors who find their voices without hesitation. They conduct surveys, choose lines in poems to illustrate, observe objects from nature (like antlers, crickets, turkey legs, feathers, etc.), write letters (and then mail them), make signs, add notes to a kindness jar, and the list goes on.

There are many amazing things to me about this sacred time in which students write, uninhibited by curricular mandates, standardized assessments, and all the other things that go along with today’s high-stress educational policy environment. It reminds me in some ways of how I watched my own 5th-grade class transform when I introduced the idea of a Writer’s Notebook. But perhaps what struck me most of all about Writers’ Choice is that it demonstrates the ability and possibility of first-grade students to write because they want to, not because they have to. Each student is engaged, willing, and ready to participate fully, and does so enthusiastically.

Teachers and students in K, 1st, and 2nd grades throughout Duzine Elementary engage in Writers’ Choice in some capacity, and one thing is absolutely crystal clear: students’ choices about their own writing matter.

At the end of my first year as a faculty member, I’m grateful to Rebecca and the other educators at Duzine who have so graciously invited me and our teacher candidates into their classrooms. I can’t wait to return in the fall!

Remembering Jean

On March 28, we held a memorial in Jean Anyon‘s honor at the CUNY Graduate Center. It was an amazing tribute — packed with speakers who made us laugh, cry, and think about her important contributions to research on the political economy of education. I think she would have been glad it wasn’t a completely somber event, though many of us shed tears throughout. I couldn’t help it — I still miss her every single day. She was, as Michelle Fine put it, great at “momtoring” her students.

I made a video to share at the memorial, and have been meaning to post it on this blog:

Last Day/First Day

A coughing fit woke me up again this morning, which is how I’ve been waking up most days lately. I haven’t been able to kick the back end of an allergy/asthma attack that took me by storm early last week. I know I’m under a lot of stress and pressure, and with everything going on at work and the new house, I find myself in the midst of a combination of exhaustion, a depleted immune system, and figuring out how to hang on by a string just a little bit more. Which brings me to my love-hate relationship with the tempo of the school year — the whole reason I started this blog post.

People often think that teachers — and especially professors — get the summers off. But in reality, few people in education make enough money to not work during the summer. Whether it’s been taking on proofreading jobs, making pizza, tutoring, teaching summer courses, teaching knitting lessons, consulting, and a variety of other random jobs I’ve had over the years, I haven’t had a summer off in fifteen years. Not until last summer.

photo (3)It was glorious. I had just graduated from the CUNY Graduate Center, and for the first time since college, was no longer a student. I went on a week-long vacation with my family on the Oregon coast, and read fiction for the first time in nearly a decade. If I stare at this photo for long enough, I can almost imagine what that week was like…

This summer, I’m teaching two new courses. Not that I’m complaining — I love to teach, I need the money, and most importantly, I teach my very first graduate class at SUNY New Paltz tonight. I’m thrilled to be teaching graduate students (no offense to my undergrads — I enjoy both age groups very much, but I admit that teaching graduate students back in 2004 for the first time is what made me want to become a teacher educator in the first place).

And herein lies a conundrum with the school year: I love to teach, but if I want to keep my job (i.e., get tenure), I also need to write and publish. Everyone says professors write in the summer. I guess I’m still figuring that one out.

I can no longer count on two hands how many colleagues have counseled me to say ‘no’ to things and have advised me to set aside more time to write. Which leads me to my current challenge — how to find the time, and also find the right “homes” for my work. So far, 0 for Greene in the scholarship arena.

I have submitted two single-author pieces of scholarship for review this year — an abstract for a special issue in a journal that would have been based on my dissertation, and a grant proposal to build something I called SCOPE, the SUNY Community of Practice in Education. SCOPE would have been a learning commons, or a virtual bridge, between SUNY New Paltz and a literacy education project I’m working on in Newburgh City.

Both the article and proposal were rejected. I know that rejection is just part of the process, but it’s hard to buck up and try again — especially when the one person who read every piece of writing you’ve written for the last eight years is no longer around.

I’m not trying to make excuses. I’m just saying: today marks the day that grades are due for the spring semester and the first day of the summer semester…and being able to take a breath (literally and figuratively) seems at once impossible and necessary.

But for now, I’m focusing on tonight: my first class with a new group of students. We’re going to talk literature reviews and research questions, and I’m going to channel the teachings of some of my favorite research and writing teachers — Jean AnyonMaria Jerskey, and Sondra Perl. I’ve learned so much from them over the years, and I’m looking forward to paying that knowledge forward.

May Day

megaphoneIt seems apropos to post this photo here — in honor of both May Day and #tbt. It’s from a long time ago, but still represents how I feel about speaking out: if we don’t do it, who else will? I spoke on behalf of the United University Professional (UUP) Women’s Rights and Concerns Committee today at our May Day rally at SUNY New Paltz. Here’s what I had to say:

The most recent Census Bureau analysis showed that women—still, after several decades of organizing and awareness raising—make only 77% of what men make, or 77 cents to the man’s dollar. In 1955, nearly 60 years ago, women made roughly 65 cents for every dollar men made. Given the amount of information we have today about the disparities between men and women, I believe we can do much, much better. According to a study conducted by the UUP in 2009, male SUNY employees make roughly $11,000, on average, more than their female counterparts. That’s a little more than 20% of my current salary. And I’ll be honest, I could use that extra money every month, given how inflated food, gas, and housing costs are in this region. According to a pay disparity study conducted several years ago by the SUNY New Paltz UUP Women’s Rights and Concerns Committee, this pay disparity is alive and well right here on our campus. I’m here today to talk to you about why it’s not enough to be aware that men still make more than women—it’s time to take action so that we can close the gender gap in pay. After all, as my sign says, “everyone deserves to make a decent living wage.” 

When I agreed to speak at today’s rally, most people were supportive. But, a few people raised the concern that maybe I shouldn’t speak because I’m only in my first year, and I don’t have tenure. I admit I got a little nervous. But then I thought, if we keep acting in fear of what might happen when we stick up for ourselves, raise our voices, and point out what’s not right, we just feed right back into the status quo that keeps it acceptable to think that the value of women’s work is lower than that of men’s.

Aside from the fact that women aren’t paid as much as men on our campus, there is something else that concerns me—both personally and philosophically. And that is our family leave policy. While we, like other institutions of employment throughout our country, operate under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) of 1993, this legislation is not realistic.

Previous to the implementation of FMLA, families struggled to cobble together a patchwork quilt of care that often proved inconsistent, unreliable, and expensive. If loved ones got sick, became pregnant, or adopted a child prior to 1993, there was no legislation that protected their jobs or allowed them the necessary time to cope with the circumstances that come with caring for ailing family members or young children. But the thing that no one talks about is that this legislation guarantees employees up to 12 weeks—or 3 months—of unpaid leave. Unpaid. FMLA essentially punishes workers for having babies, getting sick, and being the primary caretakers for their loved ones. What kind of logic is that?

I’m going to be very honest with you right now. As a woman in her late 30s who has worked since she was old enough to get her working papers, and who has always wanted to have children, I’m terrified of getting pregnant, because I don’t know if I’ll be able to afford to take a leave without pay. And that brings me to the subject of maternity leave.

There is no clear policy on our campus for maternity leave—or paternity leave, for that matter. I’m told that if I were to become pregnant, I could borrow days from my sick bank. After working here for a full academic year, I will have accumulated about 12 sick days. That means that at this point, if I were to get pregnant, my paid maternity leave could be up to 12 days, or roughly two weeks. Anything after that would be unpaid. With a partner who can’t afford to pay for our expenses on his own, I’m not sure what to do about this lifelong dream I’ve had of having children. I feel incredibly lucky to have been hired in a full-time, tenure-track job, and I absolutely love coming to work every day, but the reality is, I’m not sure I can afford to have a child.

I use myself as an example not to make this all about me, but to say 1) we shouldn’t be afraid of talking about what is real, and 2) arguing for a fair family leave policy for our work should be the norm, not the exception.

I believe the policy should be that if you get sick, pregnant, adopt a child, or have to care for a sick loved one, you get a minimum of 12 weeks of leave and you get paid. They do that and more in other countries, and in one of the richest nations in the world, I think that’s the least we can do for our SUNY workers.

Bullhorn Spotlight

I was interviewed this month for our union chapter’s newsletter, the Bullhorn. I was surprised to see that Jean Anyon makes a cameo appearance!!! I mentioned her in the interview, but didn’t know the author would pull photos from my websites. The picture is from 2007 at an anti-war march in Washington, DC. Something tells me Jean wouldn’t mind being featured in a labor union newsletter…

You can see the full issue of the newsletter here.

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