How a lack of paid maternity leave hurts workers

When Kim Donoghue, 35, and her husband moved to New Mexico, she knew she wanted to seek out a new job as quickly as attainable. Her husband was in a PhD program, so he was solely incomes a stipend on the time, and in addition, they have been anticipating their first baby. After months and months of job searching, Donoghue lastly bought employed into a advertising position for a authorities company in New Mexico.

“The factor that shocked me is, I’m pretty well-established in my subject, and I’ve a lot of marketable expertise,” she says. “However once I moved to New Mexico, I had a actually arduous time discovering a job. I believe that’s as a result of for a lot of the positions, they’re searching for individuals from New Mexico.”

Donoghue and her husband additionally couldn’t have foreseen how little her employer would do to help her being pregnant—or how the pandemic would distort their plans. As a new worker, she struggled to get readability on how a lot leave she might take after giving beginning; finally, she tried calling the hotline for the nonprofit advocacy group A Higher Steadiness (and she or he has since turn out to be a group advocate for the group). Right here, she shares what it was prefer to turn out to be a new mother or father through the pandemic and cope with the monetary pressure of taking care of a sick child with none paid leave. This interview has been edited for readability and house.

“I didn’t hear again till I used to be sitting there, 9 months pregnant”

I used to be having bother discovering solutions as to what I’d be allowed to soak up phrases of leave, paid or unpaid, with my being pregnant. I had requested my supervisor once I first began, after which I requested the HR division. Nobody was giving me a solution. I used to be looking for out: What are my rights? What am I entitled to as a pregnant individual in the USA? Since I hadn’t been there for a full 12 months, I wouldn’t be getting FMLA. So I type of fell into this gray space: It was as much as my employer to resolve what I’d be allowed to take. I might apply for unpaid emergency medical leave, nevertheless it needed to be accredited, so I wasn’t even entitled to that.

I moved to New Mexico for my husband’s job, and we don’t have any household right here. I used to be making an attempt to plan: If I get accredited for 30 days [of leave], what do I do with my child at 4 weeks? As a result of daycares don’t settle for youngsters till six weeks. I used to be going into daycare facilities asking, “Would you are taking a four-week-old?” They usually’re type of giving me these seems to be like I’m probably the most horrible individual on this planet for wanting to place my four-week-old in daycare and saying, “No, they’re too younger to be separated from their mom at that age.” And I’m like, “Properly, I’m not being given a selection right here. I don’t have every other choices.”


I really didn’t hear again till I used to be sitting there, 9 months pregnant, three or 4 days earlier than my due date. HR lastly known as me and mentioned my unpaid leave was accredited. It was very informal. I ended up having a C-section, and I had requested for 4 weeks to make money working from home if I had a C-section, as a result of I used to be touring from Albuquerque to Santa Fe, and that’s an hour-long commute every manner. My physician wrote me a word, in order that they mentioned you may make money working from home for 4 weeks, as properly. However my daughter was born April 2020, which was a month after the shelter-in-place order, so all the pieces shifted on-line. Everybody was working just about anyway, so it was type of a moot level. I ended up working from house till I completed at that job.

“I couldn’t do my job whereas taking care of her”

We couldn’t discover anyplace that will take [our daughter at four weeks]. The pandemic exacerbated our state of affairs as a result of my mother was going to return out for a few weeks to assist us throughout that point, however she couldn’t journey throughout COVID-19. My husband’s a scientific psychologist, so we might simply change off between conferences, taking care of the newborn. I keep in mind we each had a massive assembly, and we have been like, “Who’s going to take the newborn?” She began screaming throughout my assembly, so he got here and bought her. After which I heard her scream, so I closed up my assembly early to get her. [He] was doing remedy, and it’s a little extra awkward to have a screaming child throughout remedy than it was for me in a group assembly.

We appeared into a nanny, however we couldn’t afford one. We didn’t actually have every other choices. At the least with daycares, we knew they’d be sporting face masks and implementing protocols. We felt prefer it was the very best different. As a result of [our daughter] has been in daycare, we’ve had COVID-19 two or 3 times now. However I couldn’t do my job whereas taking care of her. I do know some persons are capable of. I hear tales of individuals having to take care of a child and work on the similar time, [but] I did that for a short while, and it made my mind wish to explode.

[My daughter] additionally had persistent reflux, and we had bother seeing docs. She had a tongue tie and a lip tie; she was having feeding points and reducing weight actually quickly. So we have been making an attempt to juggle not solely having a new child, but in addition making an attempt to get her assist in a pandemic state of affairs, the place individuals didn’t wish to see you in individual. Our solely choices have been to go to an ER or wait on this actually lengthy record to see a main care doctor. She was crying for hours and hours and hours as a result of she was in misery. I used to be simply . . . occurring breastfeeding help teams and speaking to everybody who would take heed to me just about—describing her signs and chasing down leads.

Luckily, the daycare director’s son had had persistent reflex as properly. I ended up establishing a system with the daycare the place I mentioned, “If [my daughter] doesn’t cease crying inside this quantity of time, or if she doesn’t eat this a lot meals, I’ve to return get her.” So there could be days the place I’d drop her off at 8 a.m. after which go choose her up at 10 a.m. as a result of she simply wasn’t having a ok day to be in daycare.


We lastly bought her identified and discovered what was really unsuitable round six months. Nevertheless it was a actually intense six months coping with all that and dealing and making an attempt to maintain a job. I used to be surviving on two to 3 hours of sleep. “Traumatized” could also be too massive of a phrase for a way I really feel once I mirror on that interval of time, however one thing near it—at all times feeling panicked, confused, exhausted, and like a failure as a result of I couldn’t give my daughter the time and a spotlight she desperately wanted.

“I wanted to proceed working to pay my mortgage and my medical payments”

I believe individuals who aren’t getting paid leave are those who want it probably the most. This different lady at my job was afforded paid leave. She was extra senior to me and in a higher socioeconomic state of affairs; she might afford a nanny. She might have taken that leave with out pay, no downside. I wanted to proceed working to pay my mortgage and my medical payments.

A nanny would have been the best for us, particularly with the medical care and the pandemic. If we might have paid all our payments and made it work, we might have performed it. It was $900 a month for a daycare with a 1:3 teacher-infant ratio. The naked minimal that you simply’d be paying for a nanny is $15 an hour, and that’s not accounting for taxes or medical insurance coverage. That may be $2,400 a month. For those who get a higher nanny, they’re extra within the $20 to $25 vary. My husband was solely incomes a stipend; he wasn’t getting a full-time worker wage. So we have been actually getting it on each ends. We didn’t have paid day without work, and we didn’t have the wage to type of make all the pieces simpler.

We certified for stimulus funds, and so they have been actually useful. They lined her tuition for daycare. It provides you a little respiration room while you’re going paycheck to paycheck.

I used to be type of shocked by not solely the protections that weren’t in place for parental leave at my job, but in addition their flippancy about it. Their perspective about it made me really feel like I wasn’t a valued member of their staff. I didn’t get the help once I wanted it, so I began searching for a job as quickly as I might get round to it. The pandemic actually opened up the job marketplace for me, so I’ve been capable of finding distant work now that I wasn’t capable of finding earlier than. Earlier than I accepted a new job, I discovered their parental leave coverage. I began speaking to a few individuals concerning the supervisor and the way they cope with dad and mom, and I bought good suggestions from them.

If we worth these household relationships, paid leave is step one to placing our cash the place our mouth is. Within the being pregnant and new child stage, you don’t know what you’re gonna get. You’re so susceptible. Even if in case you have probably the most good child on this planet who sleeps frequently and doesn’t have any well being points, that’s nice, nevertheless it’s nonetheless arduous for fogeys. And you need to take into consideration the opposite finish of the spectrum—when you’ve got a child who has tons of well being points, and you’ll’t afford to take the day without work, and it’s essential go to docs. How are we supporting these dad and mom?


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