Why male physicians should care about maternity leave

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You all have prostates.

Seriously.  But let me explain further to those people who simply can not fathom as to how a woman could dare ask for maternity leave and expect her other team members to “pick up her slack, because she chose to get pregnant.”  (Yep, check the comments section on my last post. Pretty entertaining, in fact!)

Life happens to everyone.

If my profession as a trauma surgeon has taught me nothing else, it has taught me this.

“Life happens to everyone,” and unfortunately, a lot of “life” isn’t pleasant.  Car accidents, strokes, heart attacks, broken legs, and ill family members are just a few examples of life situations that happen to everyone, whether or not you have a uterus.  And guess what they all have in common?  A need for time off of work.

Now, the distinct disadvantage here is that women usually need a set block of time off for maternity leave that seems relatively long (to some, at least) and at an age where they are usually young and healthy, but let me tell you gentlemen, people are going to be covering for you when your prostates need to come out, and your coronary artery needs a stent.

No, you may not need 12 weeks all at once, but, between doctor’s appointments, procedures, recovery, and complications, or at some other point in time in your life, you are going to need significant time off of work, with your partners/coworkers/etc. chipping in and helping out.  And, often without the six month’s notice that your pregnant colleague can give.  And guess what else?  That is OK.  That is what life is about: building relationships and working in teams to get the job done, even if someone is having a bad day, a stroke, or a baby.

Oh, and just as an FYI, let’s just say you break your leg while skiing and you need at least six weeks off of work … I don’t think people will judge you and say that went skiing and break your leg — accidents happen.  So being judgmental and saying that every woman chooses to get pregnant is pretty inane.  You chose to go skiing; she chose to have sex. Get over it.

Maternity leave equals family leave. (Or, hopefully, will equal family leave at some point soon in the future.)

I have to admit, I was blown away by the responses I received on our blog, through Facebook, Twitter, and even my own personal email from my last post.  Women from all walks of life shared their stories, and overall, as Americans, and as humans, we should both be encouraged and appalled.  Some female physicians wrote how supportive their partners were, but as a group, would have to sneak around HR to get her time off.  Some women went back to work in less than one week to preserve their family’s income and sometimes their job.  Office administrators refusing to allow 15 minutes breaks for new moms to pump breast milk.  A new mom, forced to use a surrogate, being allowed zero time off because she wasn’t actually birthing the baby herself.  The stories, unfortunately, go on and on.

Yet, the stories of finding support from male coworkers were encouraging.  And, I do think most men and women without children also, absolutely see the value in family leave — whether it is paternity, maternity, sick leave for themselves or to care for an ailing family member.

Bottom line, every single one of us is going to need time off of work, expected or unexpected, and we are all are going to have to rely on each other, and a system to help us out.  Unfortunately, for most of us, that system does not yet exist … and at the end of the day, we can do this better — for ourselves, and each other.

Jamie Jones is a trauma surgeon who blogs at Hot Heels, Cool Kicks, & a Scalpel.

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

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