Out of breath and relieved to catch the elevator, heavily pregnant Lauren waddles inside. She nods a greeting to her work colleagues, and they all wait for the doors to close. But her enormous bump gets in the way. Embarrassed, she has to shift backwards before the elevator will move.
Later, paralegal Lauren sits uncomfortably at her desk in a small law firm. A tiny fan blows furiously to cool her and her massively swollen tummy down. Clearly in discomfort, she swigs some vitamin supplements from one of several industrial-size tubs on her desk.
Afterwards, in the restroom, the put-upon Denver resident heads out of the stall as the toilet flushes. She stops, however, then pauses and heads straight back in. After all, a weak bladder is par for the course when you’re 260 weeks, five days and nine hours pregnant.
Friends help to heave Lauren out of her desk chair so that she can make her ungainly way to a meeting, passing a co-worker with a relatively tiny baby bump on the way. “You’re so cute,” Lauren says enviously. Then, as she wearily listens to the presentation, her five-year-old bump starts kicking in a manner akin to the Alien movies.
Afterwards, the video shows her painstakingly climbing the stairs. She tenderly strokes her pregnant tummy, as the narrator explains that Lauren can’t afford to take unpaid maternity leave. Instead, she and her partner have decided to stockpile their vacations and not have their baby – until it turns six.
They had considered moving to another country where they would be entitled to paid time off with their baby, we’re told. But the long-suffering mom-to-be hasn’t been allowed to fly – since 2012. “Keeping a toddler in your uterus is a challenge,” the voice-over says wryly. “But she tries to think of it as extra bonding time.”
At the end of the working day, the exhausted worker makes the long walk across the car park to her vehicle. The narrator reveals that the U.S. is the only developed country not to have paid maternity leave. “So she just has to keep the kid in,” the audience is informed – as a child’s toy car appears to drop from her bump.
Of course, not giving birth to a child until it was six would be biologically impossible. Lauren is, in fact, an actor wearing a cumbersome prosthetic baby bump. And the now-viral video is a humorous commercial from the National Partnership for Women & Families, albeit one with a very serious message.
It aims to highlight a startling statistic – that 86 percent of U.S. citizens have jobs that do not provide guaranteed paid maternity leave. Which is a shocking figure in its own right, and even more so when you consider that the U.S. is the only developed country not to have mandatory paid maternity leave.
Actress and campaigner Sophia Bush is the voice of the PSA, which is aptly called “A Long Five Years.” Created with the help of Biscuit Filmworks, the film encourages viewers to ask their members of Congress to watch the video and to get people to call for change.
Only four states in the U.S. – California, New Jersey, Rhode Island and, from January 1, 2018, New York – have paid family leave. In fact, as of 2015 there was only one other country in the world where it wasn’t the law for new families to have paid time off: Papua New Guinea.
And in an open letter on the National Partnership for Women & Families website, which the PSA urges viewers of the video to add their name to, the shocking numbers keep on coming. In addition to the fact that 86 percent of workers aren’t entitled to paid leave, it states that “nearly one in four new moms is back at work within two weeks of giving birth.”
So just why are these figures so bad? Well, after the team from medical TV show The Doctors watched the ad, surgeon Dr. Andrew Orden said that while the situation is clearly “not funny,” it all comes down to money. “Our system puts the onus, the burden to this on the employer,” he explained. “In all these other countries, it’s subsidized by the government and they pay for maternity leave. What does this translate? Your taxes are going to be higher.”
And according to Dr. Orden, the smaller a company is, then the more likely it is to be affected by maternity leave. “Employers are not only financially paying them, but they’ve lost that person in the workplace. And if you have a relatively small business, it may be difficult for you to survive,” he added.
However, a special correspondent on the show, Rosie Mercado, pointed out the many benefits to spending more time at home with a newborn. “It would be so much nicer to spend quality time at home, not worry economically and give that time to your kid,” she said. “And depression-wise, not only would you have time to heal, you’d just feel better and be able to connect with your baby.”
Dr. Orden agreed. “Studies show that that initial bonding with mom and her newborn is important,” he explained. And that opinion is borne out by an increasing number of businesses, too. YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki wrote in The Wall Street Journal in 2014: “Paid maternity leave is good for mothers, families and business. America should have the good sense to join nearly every other country in providing it.”
The PSA certainly throws light on a contentious issue. The Doctors’ host Dr. Travis Stork summed it up. “There’s a sweet spot here where everyone wins, I just don’t think we’ve found it in this country,” he said. “You just have to think about all players in this, and I do think it’s a shocking statistic. And I think this PSA is very effective in its stated goal, which is to raise awareness.”
Thankfully for new families in the U.S., the National Partnership for Women & Families isn’t going to take this state of affairs lying down. Instead, it’s encouraging people to tweet or email Congress to petition for a national paid family leave policy that covers all working people.
What’s more, the organization has planned a “digital day of action” on February 5, 2018, and is asking supporters to use the hashtag #PaidLeaveMeans throughout the day. There’s even a tweet storm scheduled from 1:00 p.m. to 2:00 p.m. ET. You can find out more on the National Partnership for Women & Families website.
So, if you’re a parent to be or just don’t think that anyone should have to be pregnant for six years, it might be worth getting involved. As a member of the creative team behind the commercial told Adweek, “If a 260-week pregnant woman doesn’t move people to act, we don’t know what will.”