While pregnant with her son Robert in summer of 2016, Bose (pictured above) planned to take some time off from her two bartending jobs before she gave birth. It was all worked out: A schedule that made sense for her and her bosses, a plan to save up enough money before taking fully unpaid leave—but Robert had other plans.
“My due date was July 15 and I planned to take time off at the end of June,” says Bose. “But the contractions started on June 4. I thought I would still be working for two more weeks.”
Robert was born just over a month early, and Bose’s steady paycheck came to a screeching halt. “It’s been amazing having Robert, but things are not really setup for moms—especially new moms—in the industry,” Bose says. “The first thing off the bat was having to take a bunch of unpaid leave.”
Though she had help from her coworkers and her boyfriend’s paycheck and health insurance, she says it was still a struggle making ends meet.
“At the time I was getting insurance through the ACA and that was a huge boon. If it wasn’t for that, I just don't know what we would do right now—I don’t think we could’ve afforded to have him, honestly,” says Bose, noting that many women in the industry can’t even afford regular OBGYN visits. “If the ACA can continue to be improved and expanded and the more women get coverage for things like OBGYN visits and childbirth—and if paid family leave is a thing that is guaranteed to everyone—things could get better. But policies have to be in place or it’s always going to be a bit harder.”
Despite the monetary setbacks and a lack of benefits, Bose considers herself lucky. Her bosses were nothing but supportive—one even threw her a baby shower and helped raise money for Robert’s delivery. But her story is not the norm; most full-time bartending mothers, particularly those who work outside of the ultra-visible craft bartending community, can’t be certain they’ll be able to return to their regular hours after giving birth.
“Bosses can say they’re going to hold that position, but what I see happen to most women is people say, ‘Well, we’re not going to take away this new person’s hours, so you can have back a couple of shifts, but we’re not going to give you the shifts that you used to have because you had to leave for a month,’” says Mains.
Even if a bartender were to get fired for taking the much-needed time off to recover after giving birth, proving that it was because of discrimination is complicated. The biggest focus with a new child may simply be figuring out where the next paycheck is coming from.
“For people pulling shifts behind the bar, that is a cash-in-hand kind of job,” says Christy Pope, who is a co-creator of Midnight Rambler in Dallas, Texas, with her husband and is a mother to a two year old girl, Coco. “They’re not going to take home the same amount every month if they miss a shift.”
But the reality is, healthcare is just the tip of the iceberg. Whether or not a woman working in this industry is pulling shifts behind the bar every night or working in a management role, what Pope calls “the other 9 to 5” (9 p.m. to 5 a.m.) presents a host of other challenges.
“Late nights for your work and early mornings for your child are probably the hardest part, especially because children are at their absolute best when they first wake up—happy and full of energy and ready to take on the day,” says Pope, who moved from bartending every night into ownership and consulting roles. But, she adds, her schedule still requires a lot of late nights. “Mornings are probably not inherently our best time,” she says about herself and other bartenders. “There is definitely that shift that you have to make to be present and I would say that’s probably one of the bigger challenges.”
When behind the bar, mothers and mothers-to-be have to consider more immediate concerns as well. Sometimes it’s finding the time for bathroom breaks while working shifts—an undeniable necessity when pregnant—and others it’s finding the time and place to pump breast milk, which Mains calls “virtually impossible.”
That’s not to mention the costs associated with finding regular and reliable late-night child care. On average, daycare costs American families $11,600 per year—that’s nearly $1,000 each month (though, that number varies widely by state). And because evening and night hours aren’t the standard, they end up costing workers with late hours even more.
“We ask more and more of people in this industry,” says Bose. “We really are asking people to educate themselves and be professionals and if you work in cocktail bars as I do, you really do go the extra mile and you are a skilled professional, yet you don’t get any benefits that skilled professionals get and know to demand.”
Aside from the lack of medical benefits and paid time off, Mains takes issue with the idea that working behind the bar is inherently un-family friendly. For one thing, she says, working nights allows her to spend more daytime hours with her son.
“I have friends who have to take their kids to daycare at 6 a.m. and pick them up at 6 p.m. and then their child’s in bed by 8 o’clock,” she says. “I do have to do things during the day, but most of the time I am able to spend afternoons with my son—we’re able to play. A lot of times I’m able to have dinner at home, even put him to bed and then go to the bar at 9 or 10 o’clock and be there for the busy time. I’ve really enjoyed that.”