In the summer of 1960, between her junior and senior years of college at the State University of New York at Plattsburgh, studying to become a teacher, my grandmother Lois got married. She was pregnant by September of her senior year. She was “invited” by the dean of students to withdraw from school. It was just the thing to do at the time – the norm, standard operating procedure. If a married woman was going to become a mother, what did she need a degree for anyway? (Grammy always said that they didn’t want visibly pregnant women giving the other students “excitable ideas.” You know, in case they hadn’t already realized sex existed.)

Lois wanted to earn her degree. Fortunately, Lois had a supportive husband – my grandfather Melvin. He was an Air Force pilot, and he “invited” himself, in full uniform, to have a closed-door talk with the dean of students. Nobody knows what was said behind those doors, but Lois was allowed to stay in school. When she graduated, she was so heavily pregnant there was a car waiting off-stage just in case she went into labor midceremony. My mother was born five days later. (Yes, Grammy got a degree and a baby in the same week and yes, I feel like an underachiever.)

One generation later, in 1989, Lois’ second daughter – my Aunt Barb  – got married and got pregnant while working at the National Association of Chain Drug Stores. Her first inkling of trouble came when they moved her from the front office to behind a giant potted plant, and told her that she no longer “fit the executive image, in my little size 2 suit.” Which is ridiculous. I’ve seen photos. My aunt looked like a woman in a size 2 suit for her entire pregnancy, albeit one who had swallowed a basketball. (Aunt Barb also said that she was “making a stink” about being put behind the shrubbery. In case you hadn’t figured it out, my family has a long and proud tradition of women making a stink about things.)

“But the Pregnancy Discrimination Act was signed in 1978,” you might say. Sure. But her bosses offered her a sadistic choice: Sign paperwork saying she wouldn’t sue them for discrimination when she was let go, and they would pay for the COBRA continuation of her health insurance up until three months after her baby was born, or keep her rights to sue, but be sent on her way immediately, with no health insurance, at 6½ months pregnant.

My aunt made the best choice for herself and her growing family. She took the deal, left with insurance and had a healthy baby.

These stories are not particularly special, except that they happened to my family. Your family probably has stories like these, too.


And what of Victoria, third generation of the line of Lois? Well, I’m not planning on being pregnant any time soon. (So nobody panic.) But it is certainly a physical possibility that I could become pregnant sometime in the next 13 years and have a mini-me. Then what? I’d have more legal protection than my grandmother did, and more options for health care than my aunt did. Legal protections, while important, aren’t everything, though – especially taking into the effect of at-will employment. What we need is a societal sea change. We’ve been making one slowly for the past 50 years, but it would be really great if the tide would just hurry up and come in already, especially if the tide includes universal pre-K and subsidized child care.

Every time I see an article fretting about how millennials aren’t having enough babies, I want to scream. Motherhood is expensive, isolating, exhausting and (if you become a mother via pregnancy and labor) physically painful and dangerous. Our ability to earn a degree or keep a job shouldn’t depend on whether or not we have an angry husband in the military willing to go argue on our behalf. It’s unfair to expect women to create and raise the next generation of society entirely by ourselves. Parents need support, from their families, friends and the larger community – and yes, this includes the workplace.

Or, at the very least, expecting parents shouldn’t be shoved behind a plant.

Victoria Hugo-Vidal is a Maine millennial. She can be contacted at:

[email protected]

Twitter: mainemillennial

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