Maternity leave creates mother of all problems
Published 27/09/2012 | 08:00
It had to happen eventually I suppose. A woman who has not actually given birth is suing the government for the right to maternity pay. The lady in question had a child - a little boy - after she'd used a surrogate. But it's the surrogate who is, under law, entitled to the leave.
So where does this leave the new mother?
She says that "being treated differently by the state feels like being judged for not being able to give birth in the conventional way."
On first reading you may not feel an automatic surge of sympathy for mother RKA, as she is referred to by the court.
But delve a little deeper into her background ...
She and her husband had tried for years to have a child and after IVF treatment were eventually able to produce an embryo.
The mother however, could not carry what is biologically her own child.
Hence the use of a surrogate who truly is a surrogate. (I always feel uncomfortable about using the term 'surrogate' when the 'surrogate' in question is actually the child's biological mother).
RKA's lawyers argue that she should be entitled to a period of leave to bond with her child.
The Department for Work and Pensions on the other hand, says that the leave entitlement (and maternity allowance) are meant to help the mother (in this case the surrogate) recover from giving birth.
But, counters RKA, what about adoptive mothers who are entitled to maternity leave even though they too haven't given birth?
You have to admit. A fair point.
But you also have to wonder - where will all this end?
At a time when businesses in general, and small businesses in particular are so seriously under the cosh, you have to accept that something's got to give.
And sadly it would seem, what employers are inevitably going to be giving is fewer jobs to women of child bearing age.
Of course working women should be entitled to time off when they have a child (through whatever process.)
The problem is just where do you draw the line on the amount of leave to which they - and their partners - should be entitled.
Bonding with a baby? How long should that take? Weeks? Months?
I'm quite sure some might even argue years.
Is it fair, in these straitened times, that employers, the state and, by extension, taxpayers (and yes, I know half of them are women) should have to pick up the tab for this?
The double whammy of both mother and surrogate claiming they're entitled to maternity provision (and their partners to paternity leave?) adds to an already burdened system.
I do feel tremendous sympathy for RKA. I do think she has a case. I do believe in fair maternity entitlement.
But I also fear for the young women who will not get a job in the first place because employers will view them as an expensive risk.
The very thing that is supposed to even the workplace playing field for working women may scupper their careers even before they begin.
And who are we to blame for that?