It’s no secret that maternity leave benefits in the United States are dismal, to put it mildly. While other countries offer up to 2 years of at least partially paid leave, the US trails woefully behind.
Paid family leave is federally mandated in 178 countries around the world.
The United States is not one of them.
This means that a number of parents across the country are having to make the impossible choice between spending precious time with their newborns and paying the bills.
And no one knows this better than Pennsylvania mom Rebecca Shumard.
Rebecca gave birth to her daughter, Eden, at just 27 weeks. As if this wasn’t difficult enough, a mere 12 days later, Rebecca was BACK AT WORK while her daughter was fighting for her life in the NICU.
This is heartbreaking. And it’s also the harsh reality of maternity leave in the U.S.
In a now-viral TikTok post that has been viewed over 2.8M times, Rebecca gives us a firsthand glimpse at the toll our lack of maternity leave takes on mothers.
And it is devastating.
Eden weighed only 2 lb 1.9 ounces at birth. She had a hole in her heart, a condition known as patent ductus arteriosus (PDA). To say it was a stressful and terrifying time is an understatement.
In the emotional clip, the 26-year-old medical assistant sobs as a voiceover says:
“POV, you have to return to work 12 days after having a premature baby at 27 weeks, so that when she is eventually discharged from the NICU you can spend what little maternity leave you have with her.”
In an interview with ‘In The Know,’ Rebecca explains that while she was pregnant she planned to use her 6 weeks of maternity leave (offered by her employer) all at once.
However, when she realized that Eden would be staying in the NICU indefinitely, she wanted to “save” what leave she had left for when her baby was able to come home.
She had to sacrifice one for the other when she should have been able to have both.
Not being able to spend the much-needed time in the NICU with Eden was not only mentally and emotionally traumatic it had physical repercussions as well.
Rebecca goes on to say:
“You try to pump at work every three hours, but they’re understaffed. Your milk supply is diminishing at eight weeks postpartum. Will you even have milk available when she gets home?”
It’s not enough that she was crushed under the weight of worrying about her baby, or the stress of having to work rather than be with her daughter, but now she has the added toll of wondering if she’s even going to have any milk supply left.
Rebecca ends her video with the words:
“What do other NICU parents do? How can anyone afford to stay home during a NICU stay? How can anyone handle the guilt when you have to work and can’t be with your baby? This. Is. America.”
This IS America. And it has to change.
When my twins were born, they spent the first 4 weeks of their lives in the NICU. It is excruciating to have your babies born and not be able to bring them home.
Every day you leave your heart behind when you walk out of those NICU doors.
Add to that the stress of having to work as well and there are layers upon already heaping layers of guilt.
Guilt that you can’t be there when you want to be. Guilt that someone else is caring for your baby, feeding your baby, cuddling your baby because you can’t be there.
Guilt that somehow you did this to your baby (you didn’t). Guilt that your body wasn’t strong enough or capable enough to carry your baby full-term (it’s not your fault).
The guilt is overwhelming. And so is the sheer exhaustion.
Rebecca explains to the media what prompted her to make the TikTok in the first place:
“I was tired because I had only had like four hours of sleep the night before, from having gone from work to the NICU to home to commute to work. So I was at my point of exhaustion and just rushing around, finishing on my lunch break, getting ready for this next patient. And I just broke down.”
Understandably so. No parent should have to choose between their baby and their financial stability. Full stop.
Rebecca also elaborates on her feelings about the lack of adequate maternity leave telling In The Know:
“It’s just incredible that we don’t offer that to the family unit that America’s supposed to hold so close to their heart: Taking care of your family and being there for your loved ones. This is what we fight for, this family unit, but we’re not actually being fought for here.”
Yes, the US has the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) which allows eligible employees of covered employers to take unpaid, job-protected leave for up to 12 weeks. But giving up wages makes it an unrealistic option for most people.
Theoretically, you can take 3 months off, with the promise that you’ll still have a job at the end of it but you’ll have to take the financial hit to do so.
Not to mention, this only applies if you work for a company of 50 employees or more.
Which, in the land of plenty, seems anything but.
Over 20K people commented on the post, expressing their outrage over the lack of paid leave.
“Tell me you live in America without telling me”…
Caitie’s not wrong.
Access to paid leave should be a right, not a privilege only given to a select few. No mother (or father for that matter) should be forced to leave their newborn in order to keep the lights on and food on the table.
Thankfully at least, Rebecca’s story has a happy ending. After 72 days in the NICU, Eden finally came home.
And thanks to the overwhelming monetary support of her TikTok community, Rebecca is able to take advantage of the 12 weeks of unpaid leave under the FMLA act.
While Rebecca got her happy ending, so many mothers out there don’t. America, we need to do better. Our children deserve better. Parents deserve better.