The United States is one of the only countries in the modern world, that has not passed laws requiring companies to offer paid maternity leave.
I, however, am an incredibly lucky mother… because I live in Denmark!
52 Weeks of Maternity Leave!
The Danish government, since the 1960s, has made it every danish mother’s right to have paid maternity leave for 14 weeks and in 1984, they gave fathers (almost) the same right.
Yup, you read correctly, 14 weeks of maternity leave for the mother and both parents can split another 32 weeks of parental leave. If they choose to, the parental leave can be extended for another 14 weeks. That means parents can receive 52 weeks of paid maternity/parental leave per child. On top of that, you can add in 6 weeks of paid vacation (per parent!), two “care days” per year and voila…
More than a whole year of paid maternity and parental leave!
Actually, that is not all, because that’s just after the baby has been born. Depending on your job agreement, you are given 4-8 weeks of pre-birth maternity leave. 4 weeks is the bare minimum. This is just for the mothers though, as they are the ones giving birth. 😉
Fathers have a right to the first 2 weeks off with pay after the baby is born, to help the family settle in and enjoy their new little baby. This promotes the chance for mothers to breastfeed and is said to have a counteractive effect on the chance of new mothers being afflicted with postpartum depression.
How much would it have meant to you to have had a whole year of maternity leave?
Or even just the possibility to choose for yourself?
The fact is not all Danish women choose to utilize their entire maternity leave – but they can save it until their child turns 7 years old and use it at any time. They have to coordinate it with their work. How amazing is that?!
How My maternity Leave Made a Difference
My pregnancy with my little girl was a BIG surprise! You can read my full story here. Although I originally had planned to share the leave with my husband, it turned out it was a better fit for us that I took the majority of the leave.
I LOVED every second of it!
Hindsight is 20/20 of course. Thinking back it all seems positive. As I read back through my journal I’ve stumbled across some entries which were less positive.
I had days when I;
- Doubted my worth as a mother
- Didn’t sleep
- Felt useless
- Was worn out and exhausted
The benefits of a full year of maternity leave was the confidence I gained as a mother. A chance to find my own voice and for us to come together as a family.
And I don’t think we would have had the same result in just 12 weeks.
Not Everything Goes as Planned
My little girl was planned to have a completely natural childbirth (yeah I know… haha). My midwife had measured her to be a bit big (8.8+ lbs), so my labor was induced after I went one week past my due date. All seemed well, but 32 hours into labor and she was not budging. I later found out she was stuck in my pelvis and no amount of pushing would have gotten her anywhere.
I ended up having a c-section. It was a great success and an okay experience. However, because I had a c-section, I couldn’t support her weight entirely all the time and was only allowed to hold her the first day, when she was breastfeeding.
And that was the fun part because let me tell you.. it hurt! I had pain for literally weeks! How any American woman goes back to work after only 12 weeks of unpaid maternity leave after having a c-section, I have NO IDEA?!
I am so grateful that my husband could stay home with me for 2 weeks, while the pain was at it’s worst. I am even more thankful that I could stay home for an entire year. Long enough to be healed completely and having had time to bond with my baby.
All the Benefits
Brian has felt involved every step of the way. We had 12 weeks of parental leave together and that has made a huge difference in our family life. Dianna asks just as much for Daddy as she does for Mommy.
I feel he really understands what it’s like to be alone with an infant. Some men don’t get it because they’re working all day and it’s usually the mother stuck with the laundry, dirty diapers, and no sleep. He understands because he’s lived it. There is no substitute for experience.
Because we had those 12 weeks of parental leave together, I could rest a little easier. Everything wasn’t entirely on my shoulders and I felt we were in this together as a couple. I had time to take care of myself and my health after the c-section and that’s very important too. Most women are always so busy taking care of everyone else. With Brian I at home, I was able to take time for myself to heal completely.
When the time came to go back to work, I felt ready. I didn’t feel cheated because I hadn’t had enough time with my baby.
Most importantly of all, I was able to find my confidence as a mother. Mothering is hard work and our instinct doesn’t kick in overnight. We need time to hone them and get in touch with what being a mother means to us.
Society demands so much of mothers today, the pressure to be the “perfect mother” has never been higher, and I really feel that I can stand my own because I had time to find my own way.
I can honestly say that our marriage has never been stronger. We spent the most amazing 12 weeks together during our mutual maternity leave and I got to see him as a father (and fell even more in love with him!). He learned to respect my way of doing things, but most importantly, I learned to let him do things his way too.
A lot of the time, things are done “the motherly way” because we’re the ones taking care of the children. The truth is men and women have very different ways of being a parent.
My husband is more carefree, relaxed, and spontaneous. I am more organized and planned. Since we were able to share our maternity leave, I am able to appreciate his way of doing things too. It doesn’t always have to be my way, and he feels more involved because of this.
Our little girl is incredibly happy. Everyone always comments on her sunny disposition and she is a sound sleeper. She has slept through the night ever since she was 3 months old. Although I can’t say 100 % it has anything to do with the fact that both her mom and dad were home with her… I believe it played a part in it.
She has (knock on wood!) never been really sick. We do spend a lot of time outdoors, so she’s used to every temperature. Like my mom says – there’s no bad weather, only wrong clothes! Statistically, maternity leave is said to show an improvement in the child’s health.
I feel that the Danish maternity and parental leave model has had a great impact on our society. It is not seen solely as the woman’s job to raise children, but just as much the fathers. In turn, this produces children who have a close bond with their father.
Speaking from a feminist viewpoint, when fathers receive the same rights as mothers, we become equal. In time, so will our paychecks.
Hats off to you guys!
As I wrote in the first paragraph – I am lucky! I didn’t have to fight or find room in our economy for me to have a long maternity leave and neither did my husband.
I am in awe of all American mothers out there, trying to make it all work. 12 weeks of maternity leave (if you’re lucky!), a new baby and keeping your family lives running.
I applaud you!
My dream for my little girl’s future is to have paid maternity and parental leave as a right for all parents everywhere. I really do believe that this is the best way to give our children a good start in life and further equal rights all over the world.
If you are a woman or a man – keep this in mind whenever you vote for change in your society.
We are birthing, feeding, raising and teaching the next generation.
“We can change the world together!”
About the Author
|Pennie of Naturemama is a momtrepreneur. She shares her personal journey to a more natural living as a family and her struggle with infertility and how she overcame it by changing her diet and health choices.|
She blogs at Naturemama, where she provides tips and recipes and much more for the busy, healthy family.