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On maternity leave

Oh, press. Why is it no good deed goes unpunished?

On Tuesday, in the middle of a totally crazy day, a reporter reached out to talk to me about my feelings on the maternity leave ruling that happened on Monday in MA. I gathered my thoughts, dropped everything and spoke to the reporter, hoping that I was able to clearly communicate my dual perspective on the issue. She sent a photographer, and I was happy to help with that, too, swallowing my self-conscious anxieties that I think are typical in these sorts of situations.

Now today, there I am in the Globe, and at first I’m just worried about the hint of my belly in the picture, still soft from three kids no matter how many crunches I inflict on it. And then I realize that one big detail is missing from a key quote.

Here’s the quote:

“It’s my dream that someday Magic Beans is big enough and secure enough that anyone who works for us would get three months maternity leave, but that’s just not an economic reality right now,”

Here’s what I actually said:

“It’s my dream that someday Magic Beans is big enough and secure enough that anyone who works for us would get three months fully paid maternity leave, but that’s just not an economic reality right now,’

That’s a big difference.

In fact, as I told her in the beginning of our conversation, Magic Beans has enough employees that we are subject to the FMLA, not the Massachusetts state law. We would never consider anything less than 12 weeks time off for our employees. I told her that from the perspective of most working mothers, 8 weeks is nowhere near enough time.

When I had my second child, I was just starting Magic Beans. I came home from the hospital and got right back to work. The store opened a little more than 3 months after my daughter was born, and there was so much that needed to be done. I was the only “employee” at that point. It was crazy, it was exhausting and it was certainly not ideal.

Four years later, when I had my son, I still had work to do here and there after he was born, but with a bigger company, I was able to take off the time I needed. It made a huge difference.

I told her that story. I also told her that I sympathize with small business owners, who are sometimes just scraping by in this economic environment. Every employee is so important and it can be hard to lose someone for 8 OR 12 weeks. That’s a reality of small business. But it doesn’t change the fact that women need to take time to recover and get into a groove after their babies arrive.

Those early months are incredibly challenging, precious and wonderful, and I wish more than anything else that this country had better infrastructure in place to make sure that all women could be home for as long as they wanted without fear of losing their jobs or missing a paycheck.

I also think, that the point is not really whether Eli and I get a paycheck every month (the reporter sounded surprised by this, but no small business owner I’ve ever met has experienced anything different). We’re really lucky to have incredibly supportive families who have helped us make our Magic Beans dream a reality and who have enabled us to quit our jobs and go down the complicated path of retail start-up. We’ve been able to help so many mothers along the way, and I’m incredibly grateful for that every single day.

I fear, with the omission from my quote, this article gives the impression we aren’t completely supportive working mothers, which is ludicrous and couldn’t be farther from the truth. We support working mothers, we support stay-at-home mothers and we support fathers, too, by the way, but we weren’t talking about that.

The maternity leave system in the USA is broken, along with a lot of other really complex things that come along with running a big, huge country. Most of the other nations have figured it out – the US is one of the only countries in the world that doesn’t guarantee some sort of paid leave to new mothers. It’s a shame, and it needs to be addressed in a way that will not create huge burdens for small companies who are trying to get their businesses established or are struggling in a not-so-hot economy.

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