New Bedford, MA
In May 2013, I was blessed with the gift of motherhood. Throughout my pregnancy I was faced with serious health concerns. I was being monitored by my physician as well as an oncologist. Being a first-time mother and never having any serious health problems before, the pregnancy was very scary for me. I was seeing both physicians on a weekly basis. A couple months later, my once-a-week appointments turned into twice-a-week appointments. I found myself using a lot of my earned sick time just to keep my pay checks at a livable wage.
It was time to start planning my maternity leave. I was offered 8-12 weeks unpaid leave by the shelter where I work and was given the option to use my earned sick time and vacation time. I would have had a total of 3 weeks paid – that was all the time I had. However, while I was pregnant I used two weeks of that time for all the doctor appointments. After all the testing, some things were ruled out but my diagnoses were always the same: Unknown. Not only was I concerned and worried about my health and my baby, but I was faced with the uncertainty that I might not be able to financially support my child.
So I did what any parent would do in that situation: I worked as many hours as I was allowed. How was I going to cover 12 weeks of maternity leave when I could barely cover one? It was suggested that I remain on bed rest for the last month of my pregnancy but I refused the suggestion and continued to work. I put in as many hours as I could, including holidays and 12-hour days to save money.
I started my maternity leave on January 6, 2014 and had my beautiful son on January 9 – only 3 short days to relax before my child was born. I quickly realized how expensive a newborn was, between diapers, wipes, formula and doctor appointments, my savings was quickly depleted and my earned sick and other time exhausted. I had no choice but to seek state assistance. I was turned away by the local office, told I was ineligible. Because I was employed, I couldn’t seek unemployment. I had to make one of the most heartbreaking decisions of my life – to leave my child and return to work when he was only 4 weeks old.
I missed a lot of critical bonding time and first moments with my son. I missed his first smile, his first laugh, the first time he rolled over, his first tummy time, the first time he discovered his hands and feet and how amazed he was. All these priceless memories I will never get back.
Once I returned to work, due to unpaid leave I was behind on bills and had no savings to fall back on as I usually do. So I found myself once again working longer days and holidays, spending more time at work than I did at home. The sad truth is, instead of being on maternity leave enjoying my bonding time and first moments, I was working 12-hour days, barely getting any sleep, just to catch up on lost wages.
I just kept thinking how amazing paid family and medical leave would have been for me and my family, and how hurt I was that I had to sacrifice so much because I had no other options. That’s when I decided to get involved. I had to tell my story so others would not have to make the same heartbreaking sacrifices that I had to make.
Not only do I support paid family and medical leave because of my own experience, but because of how much it could help other families. One would be able to care for a sick loved one and create memories they might never have another chance to create. To care for those who cared for us. To spend time with a newborn child and cherish the first moments and build the lifelong bond needed between a child and their parents. To care for a newly adopted child or foster a child who is unfamiliar with their surroundings being able to take the time to make them feel welcome, loved and safe.
So many people would benefit from paid family and medical leave in such a positive way. It would not only give someone financial stability, but something else so priceless and that’s time to spend with a new child, a seriously ill loved one, or to care for their own illness.