'American maternity leave' or 'Reason #127 why being a postdoc sucks'

There's been a lot of talk in the media lately about how maternity/paternity leave allowances (or lack thereof) here in the States pale in comparison to other countries. Essentially, there's no 'guaranteed' paid leave at the federal level, and individual states vary with respect to their rules (as with everything here, they tend to be complicated).

Despite mandated rules, individual firms can offer improved leave, and tech companies have been making headlines about their generous benefits. Since I work for a Silicon Valley tech firm, my paternity leave has been painless. My gf, on the other hand, is a postdoc.

Prior to taking time off, she attended an informational seminar about how leave works. She was told that the university's disability insurance would cover between 55 and 70% of her salary during the first ~8 weeks of leave [1]. The difference between the high and low coverage would come from whether she had paid into 'State Disability Insurance', something neither she, nor I, had ever heard of.

This week she received a letter explaining that she would be receiving 55% of her base salary, up to a maximum of ~$680 per month. Let's all think about that for a second: they're basically saying that they'll cover 55% of a maximum annual salary of  ~$15,000!!! The rent on our undesirable one-bedroom apartment is ~$22,000 annually, and that doesn't include food, gas, and all of those other things you suddenly have to buy now that you have a baby. Apparently, the HR folks weren't aware that such a maximum existed. 'Did we say 55%? We meant more like 17%. Oopsie!' More seriously, if I hadn't scored this 'adult' job before we had the baby, we would've been digging into credit cards and throwing emergency fire-sales not to end up on the street. 

I'm not sure if folks realize this, but since the American Association of Pediatrics recommends that you breastfeed your child every 3-4 hours round-the-clock, and lactation consultants recommend not bottle-feeding before ~4 weeks, it's pretty difficult for mom to get back to work for the first month-and-a-half. So while a male postdoc can be back in the lab in a matter of days, retaining that full, awful postdoc salary [2], postdoc moms get to struggle through all of the added responsibilities of motherhood while dealing with a few months of below minimum wage income.

I suppose that the solution is not to have a kid until you're done postdocing!

Stay classy academia.  

[1] Her first week was actually unpaid due to some weird concept of a 'waiting period', which neither of us can understand.

[2] Now in the thick of it, I am blown away by the idea that people go back to work within days of having a kid. I went back after 2 weeks and it's been pretty tough: first, because our son still doesn't sleep much and requires almost constant soothing, and second because I'm not getting enough sleep. But then again, I want to make a good impression at work - someone has to pay the bills (see above).