Not all working moms are entitled to the same maternity benefits under British law.
A 30-year-old new mother of twin girls was denied paid maternity leave because her babies were carried by a surrogate. Jane Kassim, a teacher's assistant, was born without a womb, but was able to conceive through IVF treatments using her own eggs. Her cousin Amy carried the twins, Isla and Ivy, who were born five weeks ago.
“Under current law people like me don’t have the maternity rights that mothers who give birth themselves or women who adopt are entitled to,” Kassim told The Daily Mail.
That current law allows up to one full year of maternity leave, including 39 weeks of paid leave. Kassim was granted just 13 unpaid weeks under an agreement she reached with her employer.
“Preparing for the birth of the twins should’ve been the happiest moments of my life,” she says in The Mirror. “But instead I couldn’t help but worry how I was going to be able to afford to look after them.”
“The time off was going to be even more special for me as I hadn’t had those nine months to bond with them beforehand," she added.
So now she and Amy are leading a campaign for surrogacy rights aimed at helping others in Jane’s position. They've asked their local Member of Parliament to try to change the law.
MP John Healey has submitted legislation to Parliament to extend full maternity benefits to parents of children carried by surrogates.
“She had confidently expected to take up to 52 weeks leave,” Healey told the Daily Mail. “She'd expected to get 39 weeks maternity pay, just like any mother giving birth to their own child or adopting a child is able to do.”
"Maternity rights," he said in an address to the House of Commons, "are there to help mothers and their newly born babies through the earliest months of the child's life, when time together is most needed.”
A government statement explaining the status quo says: "There is no specific statutory leave or pay provided to those families who have a baby through a surrogacy arrangement. There are no current plans to change the law."
Of his effort to change the law, Healy says there's a "good chance we will win in the long run."
Britain's maternity benefits already are largely more generous than those in the United States, where paid leave is not mandated for any new parents, including those who opt for surgery.
Policies vary widely across states and employers, but the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) doesn’t specifically mention anything about surrogacy. Those eligible for FMLA could be granted leave -- paid or unpaid, at their employer's discretion -- under the FMLA provision of "placement of a son or daughter with the employee for adoption or foster care."
Last year, a Long Island woman filed a federal lawsuit against her employer for not extending full, paid maternity leave for her and her husband’s child delivered by a surrogate.
Opinions on these type of claims depend on how you interpret the intention of maternity leave. Is it to allow time for new moms to physically recover from the ordeal of child birth? Or is it so moms and dads can bond with and nurture their newborns and adjust to their new lives? Perhaps a little of each?
Back in the U.K., Kassim makes it clear where she stands on that question.
“Mums of children born through surrogacy shouldn’t have to go through this [what she went through to get her employer to grant her leave]," she said. "They should be entitled to the same rights as women who give birth or women who adopt."
Do you think employers should grant leave for parents of newborns delivered by a surrogate? Tell us your thoughts in the comments.