Equal maternity leave rights for military adoptive parents
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Active duty military members are entitled to 12 weeks of paid maternity leave. This was a recent change from the previous entitlement of 6 weeks of maternity leave. Why the change? According to the former Secretary of Defense, Ashton Carter, “We want our people to be able to balance two of the most solemn commitments they could ever make: a commitment to serve their country and a commitment to start and support a family.” It was not a decision based on medical necessity, but rather emotional well-being of the family unit. Medically speaking, the required time for convalescence from childbirth is 4-6 weeks. In fact, most women are cleared at 6 weeks for full participation in physical/sexual activity. Which means the recent change to maternity leave policy from 6 to 12 weeks is NOT for the purpose of convalescence; rather for mother-infant bonding and emotional well-being of the child.
It might surprise you, then, to know that adoptive parents are only entitled 3 weeks of “leave”. The policy actually does not even fall under leave policy, but is rather called permissive TDY (temporary duty). These 3 weeks of TDY are easily used in the administrative tasks leading up to adoption (home study, court dates, appointments with birthmothers, etc); which essentially leaves adoptive parents little to no maternity leave once taking the adoptive child home. As a woman with infertility, who is pursuing adoption as a means of having a child, I find this completely offensive and unacceptable. Furthermore, it is discriminatory. As we have established, the purpose of extended maternity leave is for emotional well-being of the family, and for mother-infant bonding. This is just as important, if not even more critical, when adopting a child. As a pediatrician, I can attest to this as a subject matter expert. Infant development is most crucial in the first 12 months of life. Parent-infant attachment is key, especially mother-infant attachment. Not only that, it has been established that breastfeeding is best for infants – both from a nutritional/immunological standpoint and also as part of the mother-infant bonding process. Did you know that it is possible for adoptive mothers to breastfeed their infants? Unfortunately, exclusively breastfeeding while working is nearly impossible for many mothers; especially if an adoptive mother is expected to return to work after 3 weeks (or less).
Per the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), the definition of a 'son or daughter' is not limited to a biological child. "The FMLA defines a 'son or daughter' as a biological, adopted, or foster child, a stepchild, a legal ward, or a child of a person standing in loco parentis. The broad definition of 'son or daughter' is intended to reflect the reality that many children in the United States live with a parent other than their biological father and mother." The U.S. Department of Labor recognizes the equal significance and necessity of mother-infant bonding for biological AND adopted children; however the military is still discriminating. Although the military has made many advances in terms of women’s rights and equality, this is an area that I feel is still severely lacking. It may be that it just has not gotten enough attention, or because it’s a very small subset of military members who are affected. But for those few service members, it is severely impacting their quality of life, and their ability to balance “the most solemn commitments they could ever make”. I have reached out to my state senator, and I am hoping he can step up and be a voice for me and others like me. I am fighting for an overall policy change for military service members who are growing their families through adoption. We need the same amount of support as those growing their families the traditional way. This is a matter that deserves attention.
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