I joined the paid leave fight after I watched the documentary Zero Weeks and learned just how poorly America’s paid leave policies (or lack thereof) compare to the rest of the world. I have personally experienced so many disadvantages due to not knowing about my paid leave rights and there being way too many barriers to accessing them.
Several years ago, when I was pregnant and working at a coffee shop while going through severe morning sickness, I thought my options were to go to work sick or stay home and miss a paycheck. My husband had just lost his job, so staying home was not a luxury I could afford.
I learned years later that I could have applied for disability insurance. At the time, I had no idea that I had been paying into the California State Disability Insurance (SDI) Program for over 4 years at that point, and I was eligible for paid leave.
Each time I had a child, my husband was not eligible for paid leave, so even though we both had been paying into the California SDI program for years, he still had to go back to work. I had to adjust mentally and physically to having a newborn and being a mother without the support I needed.
Not having my husband with me during the postpartum period was extremely difficult. The constant night wakeups and day wakeups to breastfeed and change diapers, the months-long struggle for my own body to heal from the birth, with no support at home meant that I was getting up a lot, and doing a lot of things on my own. The stress and exhaustion was so overwhelming that I ended up getting postpartum depression and anxiety. My husband was exhausted as well from the transition and trying to help with the baby at night that he was struggling to be productive at work, which was causing him additional stress.
I started sharing my experience with other mothers, and I found that I was not alone. There are hundreds more like me.
The fact that California and America is okay with the complete lack of adequate support for families and mothers is appalling and shows that our priorities are misplaced as a state and as a country. The people who are birthing the future of our nation deserve to have a smoother transition into parenthood and family life—one where the mental, physical, and emotional health outcomes of parents and children are improved because a national paid leave policy enables all of us to take the time we need to bond, heal, and adjust.
Research has been conducted on a global level demonstrating the positive outcomes that national paid leave policies have on public health, the economy, child development, domestic relationships, and many other areas. This is not rocket science. Paid leave is a right that millions of people have in every industrialized country in the world except for the U.S. This needs to change.
I decided to turn my anger into action by joining the California Work & Family Coalition to help advocate for better paid leave policies in the U.S. I cannot sit by hoping that our policymakers will create laws with people like me in mind. It’s time for all of us to step up and use our voices to get the change that we need.
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