Dina Bakst, Phoebe Taubman and Elizabeth Gedmark had one goal in mind when they sat down to write Babygate: How to Survive Pregnancy and Parenting in the Workplace, and it was not seeing their names on the title page. The three co-authors are colleagues at A Better Balance, an organization that advocates for family-friendly workplace practices, and the book is an extension of their activism.
Babygate, says Bakst, was written out of a “deep desire to spread the word to expecting and new parents about their legal rights on the job” and provide “information they need to make informed choices.” The book covers the laws regarding parental leave and the rights of parents in the workplace as they currently exist, and it also challenges readers to push for new laws and standards that will make employers more accommodating to the needs of working parents. “We wanted to encourage people to think about how rights in the United States are not as extensive as they could be,” says Taubman.
The co-authors wrote Babygate over the course of a year and a half—“I think we had grand ambitions we could do it even faster than that,” says Taubman, adding that “it helps to have three co-authors”—and brought the book out through AuthorHouse in May 2013. “Self-publishing felt like an accessible route for us,” Taubman says, a path that allowed them to use the book as a component of their advocacy work.
While they were happy with their decision to self-publish, the three authors were delighted when Feminist Press expressed interest in the book. “They really have the capacity and the expertise to get it out to more people,” says Taubman, who admits that book marketing is not one of the skills she and her colleagues have developed in their legal careers. “We're thrilled it's getting a second life.”
The second edition of Babygate, which will be published in August, has been embraced by prominent names. The book features blurbs from Anne Marie Slaughter (“Any mother-to-be who buys What to Expect When You're Expecting should pick up a copy of Babygate”) and Ann Crittenden (“an indispensable guide”), among others.
In addition to widening the book's reach, the decision to publish a new edition has given the authors the opportunity to update the text to reflect the changes in parental leave and related laws that have taken place since the initial publication. “It's hard when you publish a book on this kind of topic to encapsulate everything,” Taubman says, and the topic's complexity adds to the challenge. “We made some changes because the law is constantly changing.”
The world of parents in the workplace is a “very confusing, complex web of rights, even for lawyers to understand,” says Bakst. “We wanted to find a way to make it as accessible as possible,” allowing nonlawyers to understand the current regulations while providing enough detail to accurately reflect the laws that exist. She adds that before Babygate was published, “no comprehensive resource about how to navigate the workplace” was available to the average reader. The book draws on anecdotes and case studies—“all the stories in the book are real stories that come directly from our free legal hotline and clinic,” says Bakst—to make the often confusing topics accessible.
The authors decided to make the centerpiece of Babygate a state-by-state guide to the laws governing parental rights, the first of its kind. “There's no other resource out there like this,” says Bakst. “This resource will have a long life.” The authors plan to extend the book's relevance by maintaining a companion website, updating frequently to incorporate changes to laws around the country.
While informing the public about their rights is one of Babygate's key purposes, the book's other goal is to encourage readers to join the co-authors in working to improve the laws it explains. “These are issues that we believe require public solutions,” says Taubman. Bakst adds that the book is part of an active public discourse: “The president of the United States is talking about this very issue,” she says.
“This was our first endeavor to try to reach individuals,” says Bakst, who encourages other advocacy organizations looking to expand their reaches to consider publishing books. Taubman adds that there was a bit of a learning curve, as writing a book is a “much heavier and longer undertaking than your basic report or op-ed,” which the authors were more accustomed to writing, but it’s also an effective tool for reaching a broad audience. She encourages organizations to explore “self-publishing or try to seek out an established publisher.”
“It's important to pursue those long-term projects,” Taubman says, pointing out that “small organizations, especially, don't always reach as many people as they'd like” through more focused outreach. “Advocates do have an important voice and perspective,” adds Bakst, as well as a “unique perspective to share with the world.”
As they prepare for the release of Babygate's second edition, Bakst says, “right now, our goal is just to try and get this book into the hands of as many workers as we can,” particularly young people who are still years away from balancing work and parenting. The authors see the book as both a resource for immediate legal concerns and as a tool for planning and advocating in advance. “One of our goals is to try to get this book in the hands of people before they reach that crisis point,” Taubman explains. “To the extent that we can get people thinking about this in advance, I think that helps everyone,” she says. “Information is power.”
Sarah Rettger is a writer and bookseller in Massachusetts.