I am the Statewide organizer of Parent Voices, a parent-led, parent-run grassroots organization fighting to make quality child care accessible and affordable for all families. In 2009 I had my first son, Noah. That was the first time I took Paid Family Leave. As a first time parent -oh my – It’s quite difficult to summarize the crazy roller coaster that is first time parenthood. There is so much that you see on tv imagining what motherhood will be like, and then there’s reality! The biggest challenge I faced was actually breastfeeding, I never heard or knew just how challenging it was and it was while on PFL that I had the time and opportunity to seek out resources to help me break through those challenges. I was able to go on to nurse and pump for six months which I probably would have gave up on had I not had Paid Family Leave.
Fast forward 4 years, enough time had passed to decide we should have another child. Everything was going well until I got a call after my 20 wk appointment. The genetics counselor informed me that the baby had a strong chance of having bilateral club feet. I got the call while I was standing in line with my then 3 yr old for ice cream. For any mother, any parent, all you want to hear is that your baby is perfect. But there I was outside of Bi-Rite ice cream, trying to Google everything I could about clubfeet. I spent the next 5 months learning everything I could and then my precious little baby was born. His feet were curved in, he looked like a little pretzel. And today I can say to you, it wasn’t too bad. And I can say that to you because I had Paid Family Leave. I was able to access a program that enabled me to be financially secure which gave me the peace of mind to keep my eye on the prize and be there for my baby.
From the time he was 10 days old he went in weekly to get casts from toes to thigh. After 5 weeks he had an outpatient ankle procedure, casts for three more weeks, till eventually he was fitted for braces which at this point he will wear at night for the next 3-4 yrs. So basically the most difficult and challenging period of his treatment took place from weeks 2-10. These were the weeks I utilized Paid Family Leave. I didn’t have to worry about anything but him. My focus, my attention, my energy could stay on him and I didn’t have to worry about work deadlines, work projects, really anything. I could just focus on being his mom, getting the treatment he needed.
When I think about the mothers in Texas, Iowa, Florida and those other places where paid maternity leave doesn’t exist, my heart breaks. If I had to go back to work at the 6 week mark, I would have crumbled, I would have been a walking disaster both at home and at work. Whether you have an infant with special needs, a perfectly healthy newborn, you want to bond with an adoptive child, or you need to care for a sick relative, paid family leave affords us the right to care for our family members in their most vulnerable time when they need us the most.
I was also able to supplement my paid family leave with paid sick time and vacation time and that wouldn’t be true of many of the low income parents I work with. So that’s why I believe, in order for us to tip the balance so that we all live better, are less stressed, and have more stability so we can be present parents and reliable employees, working families need paid maternity and sick leave, access to quality affordable child care, and fairer wages.