Like many moms, Adrienne Kromer turned to her Facebook mom’s group to chat about how nervous she was to be returning back to work after the birth of her daughter, McKenna Rose Felmly. Kromer wished desperately that she didn’t have to go back so soon, but felt like she didn’t have a choice.
On her first day back to work, Kromer checked in with the daycare three different times, visibly nervous about being separated from her 3-month-old daughter for the first time longer than an hour and a half. While the daycare reported that the baby was fine, they did say that the exclusively breastfed infant was refusing her bottle around lunchtime.
Worried, Kromer decided to leave work early to pick up her daughter. On her way to the daycare, she received the call. Her daughter had stopped breathing. And although she was rushed to the hospital, it was too late.
Words fail us when we hear a story like this and unfortunately, it feels all too familiar.
Last year, Amber Scorah also lost her infant son, Karl, on his first day at daycare. Having been denied additional unpaid leave by her company, the mother chose a daycare close enough to her work so that she could still nurse him on her breaks. Scorah dropped Karl off at 9:30 in the morning and returned shortly after noon to nurse him.
“I walked around the corner,” she wrote in a piece for The New York Times. “Expecting to pick up my son, feel his chubby rolls, see his face light up at the sight of his mommy. Instead, I saw my son unconscious, splayed out on a soft changing table. His lips and the area around his mouth were blue, and the day-care owner was performing CPR on him, incorrectly.”
Scorah goes on to explain how she believes that she should have been able to find a way to be home with her son until he was older.
“In comparison with the other new mothers I knew, I felt lucky to have three months’ paid maternity leave after Karl was born,” she wrote. “Most of the parents in my community had only weeks before they had to leave their babies to go back to work. But nonetheless, even with three months under our belts and Karl’s neck strong enough to hold himself up, I was uncomfortable with the idea of leaving him. I wanted to be his caregiver longer, until he was a bit bigger. I could see how our time together in this early infancy was of so much value, how being with me every day made him more and more comfortable navigating his new environment.”
This is not about daycare shaming. This is not about working mother shaming. This is not about shaming, period.
This is about giving parents the options to stay home with their very young babies. There are very real benefits to caregivers being able to stay with their babies during those early weeks and months. It promotes bonding, increases breastfeeding rates, and decreases infant deaths. Small daycare providers, too, are hesitant to even take on very young infants, out of fear of what could go wrong. (Even if a daycare provider does everything right, a baby could still pass away from SIDS.)
Scorah recently teamed up with Ali Dodd, another mother who lost her son on his first day of daycare. Like Scorah, Dodd was denied extra (even unpaid) leave from her work, which was necessary as the family’s health insurance carrier. In an essay for USA Today, the mothers described how despite their differences, tragedy has brought them together for a common cause: to pass paid, protected parental leave so no parent feels forced to leave their babies before they are ready.
The grieving mothers cited important statistics about the short and long-term benefits of paid parental leave, including:
- A 13 percent decrease in infant mortality for every month of maternity leave
- Lower school drop-out rates
- Less behavioral problems in children
“Every American baby would be safer, healthier, and have a better start if given time with their parent during the first months of life,” the mothers declared.
“I think we need at least 6 months with our babies, 12 would certainly be better,” Scorah told me over email last night. “We need, at a minimum, job protection and health care coverage to bridge the time until we return to work, and most mothers and fathers would need at least partial pay during that period.”
She went on to note that paid leave is not a revolutionary idea or even an unrealistic idea, even though for some reason, here in the U.S., we are slow to realize that paid leave benefits us all. “[Paid leave] is a working and successful standard in most countries that are comparable economically to the United States,” Scorah explains.
Part of the problem, as Heather Bushy, Chief Economist at the Washington Center for Equitable Growth and author of Finding Time: The Economics of Work-Life Conflict points out, is that as a society, we haven’t caught up to the reality that more families aren’t able to afford full-time stay-at-home parents.
Which puts parents like Scorah and Kromer and Dodd in seemingly impossible positions: to have to go back to work, even when what they feel is best is for their families is to be home. They are judged for “choosing” to work and they are judged for “choosing” daycare, as if it’s not an impossible choice that no one wants to make either way.
But today, there is something we can all do to help prevent tragedies like these mothers have all experienced.
Right now, Scorah told me, the petition that she is urging all of us to sign, is asking each of the presidential candidates to commit to taking action on parental leave in their first 100 days in office. “Hillary and Bernie have already said they’d pass 12 weeks,” she says. “I don’t think it’s nearly enough. But it’s a good first (baby) step. This issue has languished for too long, and our children are paying the price, in all kinds of ways. That does not reflect the family values of America.”
You can sign the petition to encourage paid leave right here.