We deserve paid family and medical leave NOW.
Today I had the opportunity to attend the #SavePaidLeave rally on Capitol Hill. The event, organized by Paid Leave United States, aims to put paid family and medical leave back into the Build Back Better bill. It was cold and rainy, but that didn't stop the organizers, advocates, and supportive House Representatives and Senators from making our voices heard for this important issue. As many people said today, paid leave may have been taken out of the current bill, but we are not giving up.
The stories I heard today broke my heart, inspired me, and reminded me that paid leave is not just about time off to care for a new baby, a dying family member, or heal from a medical issue. It is about giving working people the dignity and respect of being present for the most joyful, tragic, and difficult moments of their lives. No one should have to decide between a paycheck or their newborn. Keeping a roof over their head or holding their mother's hand for her last breath. Feeding their kids or taking time from work to get chemo.
I had the privilege of sharing my story about my experience with paid leave and I'd like to share it here, too. Paid leave impacts every person in this country. I want to hear your story and our lawmakers need to hear your story, too. Submit with Paid Leave US' Thousand Stories campaign here.
My Story of Paid Family and Medical Leave
Hello everyone and thank you for being here today. My name is Allison Coleman, I’m from Baltimore, MD, and I’d like to share my story with you.
When my son was born in early 2019, I started experiencing postpartum depression, anxiety, and OCD. I felt like this was supposed to be the happiest, most blissful time of my life, and yet I was consumed by numbness, rage, panic, loneliness, and terrifying intrusive thoughts. I thought I was losing my mind.
I was extremely fortunate to cobble together twelve weeks of parental leave through my job after my son’s birth, using a combination of PTO and short-term disability to supplement the leave offered by my employer. My partner was not so fortunate, returning to work after less than a week, which left me at home, by myself, struggling to take care of this new tiny infant on my own. I would count down the minutes, the seconds until he would return and I wouldn’t be alone anymore. I was drowning.
On my bad days, I thought about what it would be like to disappear to somewhere far, far away. On my worst days, I thought about what it would be like to disappear altogether.
My only safe place during this time was on my couch, under a blanket, with my son sleeping on my chest. That was the only place I felt peace. That was the only place I felt we were safe.
It wasn’t until my fourth month of motherhood that I finally got professional help and realized I wasn’t losing my mind. I wasn’t broken, I wasn’t a terrible mother… I was simply going through one of the most significant physical, psychological, and emotional transitions a person can experience. I was becoming a parent. Just like my son was newly born, I was a newly born mother, too.
And now, almost three years later, I have learned that my experience was not uncommon. Research shows that upwards of 90% of birthing people experience intrusive thoughts within the first four weeks. Research also shows that birthing people who have a parental leave of twelve weeks or less are more likely to experience postpartum depression, with the odds increasing with each less week of leave. Perinatal mood and anxiety disorders like postpartum depression are the number one complication of pregnancy and childbirth. Untreated, they have significant health, generational, and economic impacts.
I am a white, cisgender, heterosexual woman who received twelve weeks of parental leave after my son was born. I was and am sitting on a mountain of privilege and resources and support. And it is scary to say, but I do not know if I would have survived if I had gone back to work any earlier than twelve weeks. For far too long, birthing people, mothers, fathers, parents have suffered, struggled, and even died because of the failures of our society. The failures of our healthcare system and severely lacking or in this case, non-existent, social programs. No more. If Congress wants to build back better, they need to actually DO better. They NEED to give us paid family and medical leave, just like every other industrialized nation has. And they need to do it NOW.