Hey, U.S. babies: You need to start taking care of yourselves
The U.S. is one of six nations in the world that doesn’t guarantee paid leave for families with a new baby. But a recently launched collection of baby board books presents an ingenious solution: We teach our infants to take care of themselves.
The four-part book series titled, Baby, Get Your Shit Together, offers helpful advice about how to teach babies as young as two weeks old to wash and sterilize their milk bottles, video-call their pediatricians, and apply for a credit card to pay for diapers. Doctors recommend three hours of skin-to-skin contact between babies and their parents; since this is impossible for mothers who must return to work, one book suggests babies make contact with their mom’s leather purse instead.
Funny? Maybe. Absurd? Definitely. But these board books also make a point. It is extremely labor intensive to take care of an infant, and it is also expensive, especially if you have no choice but to take unpaid leave from your job after childbirth.
The books aren’t for sale. They’re part of a campaign by the nonprofit Paid Leave For All and Glamour magazine to call on Congress to pass legislation offering American families a permanent paid-leave program. Fake ads for these board books will appear online as well as on banners in Time Square. “We’re using dark humor to get people to understand what a uniquely horrible situation Americans are in,” says Dawn Huckelbridge, founding director of Paid Leave For All. “I don’t know that people are aware of how different things can be. You shouldn’t have to miss your baby’s first smile because you had to go back to work.”
Huckelbridge argues that America is in a caregiving crisis. Only a quarter of workers have access to paid-parental leave through their jobs. Meanwhile, a quarter of people who have given birth have returned to work after just two weeks—while experiencing postpartum bleeding and sleep deprivation. In some cases, such as people who have had C-sections, returning to work can be dangerous.
We’re at a pivotal moment in the fight for paid leave. The Build Back Better Act, which passed last year, was initially set to include legislation around paid-family leave. But during the reconciliation process, the caregiving components of the bill were cut largely due to Senator Joe Manchin, who was opposed to them, Huckelbridge says.
Contrary to popular belief, many businesses also support paid leave legislation. For instance, two-thirds of small businesses want a national paid-leave program to support their workers. Research has shown that passing paid-leave policies would contribute trillions of dollars to the GDP; it would also result in millions of jobs. These policies would help retain workers and reduce turnover costs.
Paid Leave For All launched this campaign to keep the momentum going and put pressure on lawmakers to pass this legislation. The organization is urging citizens to sign a petition asking members of Congress to prioritize a paid family- and medical-leave program, and publicly commit to its passage.
Until that happens, we might as well teach our infants to change their own diapers. “We’re highlighting the absurdity of the situation we’re living in here in America,” Huckelbridge says.