Even the best laid plans don’t always work out, which is something that many people — and moms in particular — are all too familiar with. Take Angela Hughes of Kansas City, Missouri, whose daughter was born two months early and right after she started a new job.
“I found out that I was pregnant maybe two weeks after I started with the company,” said Hughes, who works in a college registrar’s office, in an interview with Good Morning America.
As a new employee, Hughes did not qualify for any paid maternity leave at her job — and as a mom of a preterm baby, she would have had a lot to worry about if it weren’t for her co-workers, who donated some of their paid vacation days to her.
“It was the right thing to do and I had the time,” said Kerry Norbury, Angela’s boss, to Good Morning America. Norbury personally donated a total of 80 hours of paid leave to Hughes, thanks to a policy at the college that allowed her to do so.
“I wanted to give her what I could,” said Norbury. “If it made life a little bit simpler, then why wouldn’t I do that?”
“It took a weight off of my family’s shoulder[s],” Hughes admitted, saying that she was “extremely appreciative and very humbled.”
Because the leave was paid rather than unpaid, it allowed her to keep her health insurance policy, which is critical in the care for any new baby, let alone a baby in the NICU.
My heart swells hearing this, because I know what it’s like to have to place work before family. It’s not an easy place to be in. As a new mom for the third time and a working freelancer, I was one of the 1 in 4 moms who return to work within 10 days of having a baby, because I could not afford to take more time off than that. Still, I won’t complain, because I chose this career due to the flexibility it has to work around my family — something most companies do not offer.
However, that isn’t the case for everyone. With the U.S. being only one of two developed countries in the world to not mandate paid maternity leave — Papua New Guinea being the other one — employees have had to become creative in finding ways to take care of their own.
New parents Taylor and Ross Richendrfer certainly know what that’s like. When their child, Aidan, was born nine weeks early, it left Taylor significantly short of the paid time off that she needed. So, Ross ended up crowdfunding maternity leave for his wife last year, raising over $5K as well as valuable awareness surrounding the issue.
“It occurred to me that my pride, our privacy, don’t outweigh Taylor and Aidan getting to spend time together, and this most crucial time in our lives,” Ross told Good Morning America.
His wife, Taylor, further explained:
“We were doing everything that they tell you to do. We were saving money, we both had good jobs, you know, we did it all the right way. But clearly, that wasn’t the plan.”
Although Taylor was able to crowdfund her maternity leave, Mariana Velasquez, a retail worker in Roswell, New Mexico, wasn’t so lucky.
“I went back to work the day after I was released from the hospital,” she tells Babble. “I’m a single mom, and if I don’t work, we have nothing. My friend was kind enough to watch the baby but I never got the chance to breastfeed, and going back to work so soon meant that the healing process took twice as long for me.”
When asked what it would have meant to her to be able to spend time recovering with her baby, and not have to worry about the lost income, she tears up and says simply: “It would have meant everything.”
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, although companies with more than 50 employees are required to give employees 12 weeks of unpaid maternity leave, currently only 15 percent of private American workers and up to 25 percent of state, local, or government workers are eligible for any type of paid maternity or family leave. This means that although the law provides time off for many workers after they give birth, it doesn’t provide any financial protection for them during that time.
“The way we support or don’t support new mothers and fathers makes it really hard,” Ellen Galinsky, president of the Families and Work Institute, told CNBC. “It’s a house of cards that people patch together to build the arrangements for their child.”
It’s a problem that voters are well aware of, as evidenced by a poll showing that 81 percent of people agree that paid time off to care for family is necessary. However, with no plans in place to actually make that happen, parents are left turning to their co-workers for help.
Still, Nicole Wood, who received 30 donated paid leave days when she was a teacher in Virginia and delivered premature twins, says she’s torn on this issue. While she knows the added stress of going without income would have made things harder for her, she’s unsure of how a U.S. paid maternity leave policy would function.
“While it absolutely would be nice to have been paid, who would have covered it?” she asks. “My employer? They were already laying teachers off due to a lack of money, so I couldn’t imagine being paid but having a co-worker laid off for it. Or maybe the government? Ours is already so messed up with money. Would it be covered for every child? Some working women have six children and some have one.”
She isn’t alone in her thinking, because that same group of voters that said they wanted paid leave were also spilt down the middle when they were asked who should pay for it.
“The debate is no longer whether we’re going to have a policy or not, but how do you actually get it done?” David Mermin, with Lake Research Partners, told The Washington Post. It’s a situation that has left individual employers to figure out how to take care of their employees.
Obviously that’s a question that remains unanswered. But while it’s amazing that employees are pulling together to make sure that their fellow co-workers are taken care of, I think it’s also a little bit sad that in a country as developed as the United States, without any actual paid maternity policies, there are many times when newborns need their moms — but that mom has already left for work.
h/t: Good Morning America