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Why Are Americans Still Waiting for Paid Parental Leave?

The U.S. economy needs more babies, yet the country continues to put new families at a disadvantage.

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Illustration: Gwendal Le Bec for Bloomberg Businessweek

The first two months of my daughter’s life, I spent 28 hours a week breastfeeding her. I know this because I used an app to record her feedings—when they were, how long they took, when I needed to feed her again—because my sleep-deprived brain couldn’t retain the information on its own. I’d had a difficult delivery and spent most of those early days in bed. Sitting hurt too much, so I fed her lying down. Sometimes I slept. Sometimes I read. Sometimes I watched TV. Mostly, I just lay still. Each feed took about half an hour. Two hours later my daughter would wake up, cry, and I’d have to start the process over again. I’d lie there and watch the sun set and then rise, and wonder how anybody doing this could be expected to go back to work.

Nothing about my introduction to motherhood was unusual except it came during a pandemic. It was the summer, the vaccines hadn’t been announced yet. My family couldn’t travel to help us, and neither could my husband’s. My closest friend came over every few days with groceries; other than that, we were alone. Our only social support came from my workplace: I had six months of paid maternity leave.