On Mother’s Day 2013, I had been a mother for all of four days.
My son was born the previous Wednesday, after two days of labor, and my new family of three had just been released from the hospital. My goals for that Sunday were to try to figure out breastfeeding, nap while my baby napped, and attempt to take a short walk around the block, which is harder than it sounds given the reality of recovering from childbirth. The one thing I wasn’t worried about that first Mother’s Day was having to rush back to work immediately.
When my son was born, I was working for a small employer with fewer than 50 employees, which meant that I wasn’t eligible to take leave under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act. In Connecticut, as in most of the country, that would have meant that my employer could have asked me to go back to work immediately after giving birth or face being fired. Even if I had qualified for FMLA leave, the leave would have been unpaid, which wouldn’t have been sustainable for very long.
Fortunately, I was living in California when my son was born. California has state disability insurance and paid family leave programs funded through a payroll tax. Under these programs, California workers are able take several weeks or months of paid leave to recover from childbirth and bond with their new babies while receiving partial wage replacement. The programs cover most workers in the state, and other laws provide many workers with job protection while they are on leave.
The process to get paid leave was easy. After my son was born, I completed some simple paperwork with my doctor. For the following 12 weeks, I received partial wage replacement which allowed me to stay home with my son without worrying about paying bills. I was able to physically and emotionally recover from childbirth and settle into the rhythms of motherhood without having to rush back to work. Above all, I was able to care for and bond with my baby and establish a strong breastfeeding routine with him.
Since becoming a parent and moving back to Connecticut, I have supported the various paid family and medical bills that have been proposed in the legislature over the past few years because of my experience with California’s paid leave system. In one of the wealthiest states in the wealthiest country in the world, many people are forced to make a choice between work and health. If the legislature establishes a paid family and medical leave system, Connecticut’s workers will no longer have to face having a baby, taking care of a sick relative, or dealing with their own illnesses while being afraid of losing their jobs or watching their savings dwindle.
My son celebrated his sixth birthday last week. I vividly remember how much it meant to me as a new mother to be able to spend the first few months of his life with him at home without facing serious financial consequences. It is time for Connecticut to adopt the paid family and medical leave policies needed to ensure all parents in the state can do the same.
Jessica Labrencis lives in West Hartford.
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