What Hilton’s New Maternity Leave Policy Gets Wrong About Adoption

The Hilton Hotel chain is in the news this week after unveiling their revamped maternity leave policy for full time employees. Kudos to them for extending paid benefits to 12 weeks for mothers working full time, but shame on them for not extending that benefit to mothers who adopt.

As announced yesterday, the hospitality group will extend paid maternity leave for birth mothers from 10 weeks to 12. That is, indeed, generous in American standards and establishes Hilton as an industry and corporate leader.

Things look a little less rosy, though, when it comes to who is covered under the policy. That 12 week window is cut to just four weeks for mothers who adopt rather than birth a baby. Nope. That distinction is as sour as a newborn’s spit up for me.

Hilton’s policy makes clear that paid maternity leave is more about the physical recovery of the mother after child birth than the need to bond with said child. By providing adoptive mothers just one third the paid time off as biological mothers, Hilton is making a value judgment that adoptive mothers are less deserving of benefits than a biological mother and that biological children are more deserving of time with mom than an adopted child. That, to me, is shameful and discriminatory.

As told to CBS’ MoneyWatch, Hilton’s Chief Talent Officer, Laura Fuentes, stated, “We’re not differentiating — it’s the same for housekeepers as in the C-suite.” Except differentiating is exactly what Hilton’s new policy does, by differentiating between mothers who give birth and mothers who adopt.

I have parented three newborns and was employed when my first two children were born. After the birth of my first child, I returned to work after a 12 week unpaid leave. After my second child was born, I ended up not returning to employment. less because I had just given birth and more because at that point, my older child had relapsed cancer that required three months of out-of-state treatment. My third child was adopted.

Me and my youngest at 6 weeks.

Believe me when I say that each of those times parenting a newborn was challenging and taxing in very different ways, but each of those newborns was deserving of a mother being present in their first few months. Period. Some might even suggest, and they would not be wrong, that an adopted infant’s need to bond is even more crucial, as they are born into a kind of trauma, being separated from their birth mother in those early days.

Before my husband and I adopted, I wondered and worried what it might be like to raise a child that had not grown in my body. Would the love be different? Would the maternal bond exist? Would I see and treat my children differently, depending on how they were conceived, whose uterus they grew in? It was a consideration in the choice to adopt.

Six years into my youngest son’s life, the answers to those questions are nuanced. I have two living children, both sons, and the love I feel for them is very much the same. The maternal bond is equally strong and fierce for each — they are both thoroughly mine. But, yes, adoption has changed how I see and treat my youngest boy. Not because of how he was conceived or whose uterus he grew in and that it was not my uterus, but because he has a story and roots that are unique and specific to him and that, as his mother, I need to honor and respect.

Hilton’s maternity leave policy rewards and favors mothers who give birth over mothers who adopt and feeds into harmful and damaging prejudices against adopted children and families. Those prejudices are real, which is what enables the legal discrimination that is, at its core, what Hilton’s paid maternity leave policy is.

Me and my youngest at 11 months.

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