Saturday, 26 January 2008

Adoption, parental leave, and the medicalization of pregnancy

The Supreme Court of Canada on Thursday refused to hear the case of a B.C. mom seeking to change Canada's employment laws so that they grant maternity leave to adoptive parents.

Parental leave and maternity leave are accessable in Canada through Employment Insurance (EI). 15 to 17 weeks are available to a woman who has or will give birth up to 8 weeks before the expected due date (maternity leave), while up to 35 weeks is available to the mother, father, or both, either biological or adoptive (parental leave).

The case in BC found that since a woman adopting a child does not go through the physical and psychological challenges facing a pregnant women, the adoptive mother does not need the additional 15 weeks of maternity leave to recover and bond with the child.

I have never given birth, I have never adopted, I don't think I've even been around a newborn for more than 3 hours since I was a child. I do not know what it is like to carry a child so anything I say has no basis in experience. I just felt the need to point out something that I thinks needs to be added to the converation about maternity leave.

My first reaction to this story was a feeling that people were being discriminated against. A parent is a parent is a parent. Giving birth and adopting a child are the same life-long commitment, and while pregnancy takes a toll on a woman's mind and body for 9 months, adoption can take much longer. We've all heard the stories about the long and painful process adoption can be, maybe not as often as we hear stories about difficult pregnancies but that is because more people have biological children. I know that my mother was in labor with me for around 48 hours, I was 2 weeks early, and decided I was ready to get out the day she started her mat. leave. I'm sure in the story of an adopted child the wait between deciding it's time for a baby, and holding a child in their arms is much greater than 8 and a half months.

Back to the point. When I started reading reactions to the story on the CBC website I noticed that many people were arguing that women who give birth were entitled to the additional time off because they needed to recover from the traumatic experience of giving birth. Women needed to rest, allow their bodies to return to a "normal" state. They needed time to get their hormones back to "normal".

I started to search the comments for a reaction to this. I was wondering why these people were treating pregnancy like an illness, and if anyone would point out the thought that was running through my head. I could not find the response I was looking for, so here it is. Pregnancy is not an illness. Pregnancy is not abnormal. The way we treat pregnancy in this society is what is abnormal.

I am not saying that women do not need time to bond with a child after birth or adoption, and I am not saying that pregnancy is easy. It does take a toll on the mind and body, but we were built to recover from it. We've been doing this for millions of years! It's only in the last century that pregnancy has come under the realm of medicine. The comments from some of the other readers were making all pregnancies sound like traumatic, unnatural experiences from which women are unable to recover without extensive time away from other responsibilities.

Horse shit.

The medicalization of women's bodies is a huge drain on our healthcare system. There are cases where women need the attention of doctors before, during, and after birth, but in most cases the hospitalization of a woman in labour is overkill. Our bodies spend 9 months preparing for birth, and most women do not require hospitalization. We need help, but a trained midwife is often all we need.

That said, I feel that maternity leave and parental leave should be accessable to everyone who is about to become a parent. I agree that there should be limits in certain circumstances, and that adopting a teenager is vastly different from adopting a baby, or giving birth and this should be taken into consideration, but how often do people adopt teens?

It doesn't help that I have a huge problem with hospitals in general, that I associate hospitals with death (which is another story... I have a problem with the fact that we use hospitals and hospices to hide death behind closed doors). I personally do not want to bring a child into this world in a place that I associate with death. Unless I am in a situation where my life, or my child's life is at risk (agian with the death thing...) I do not want to give birth in a hospital.

One last time, pregnancy in not an illness in and of itself. There is no need to treat it as such.

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