Our Maternity Leave Policies Endanger Mothers And Babies

by Michelle Dempsey
Originally Published: 
kieferpix / iStock

I woke up to the news this week that yet another beautiful baby had died in day care—just a few hours into her first day, no less. And I’m furious.

At just 3 months old, McKenna Felmly’s mother dropped her off at a day care facility not knowing that she’d never see her precious girl’s smile ever again, only because it was time for her to return to work even though she was desperately looking for a way to extend her maternity leave and stay home with her child. And my heart sank as I remembered what it felt like to have to leave my daughter for the first time because I, too, had no other choice nor was I ready in any sense of the word.

Whether or not this is the fault of the day care is not the larger issue. The issue is our nation’s maternity leave policies, and they need to to change immediately. How can we consider ourselves the land of the free when we, the mothers of today’s youth and tomorrow’s future, are not free at all? We are held captive by the constraints of our careers and severely limited by the rules placed on us when it comes to enjoying time with our children after enduring the emotional and physical effects of childbirth—all without much of a choice.

The United States is in a time of critical change; an election is upon us and the political world is an absolute circus. If we’re going to talk about making America great again, let’s start by discussing the need for a major overhaul when it comes to maternity leave. Not a single mother in the world looks forward to the day when they have no other option but to leave their child in the care of complete strangers, all before their bodies have even healed from childbirth. It is not natural, and it goes against all maternal instincts. More importantly, it is not emotionally healthy for a mother or her child.

Trust me, I’ve done the very painful research here. Way before I was ready, I, too, had to leave my infant in day care when the option of being a stay-at-home-mom just didn’t come to fruition. After receiving no pay from the job I had during my pregnancy, my husband and I happily blew through our small savings so that I could have ample time at home with our newborn daughter. But it wasn’t enough. Time and resources ran out quickly.

I will never in my life be able to forget the feeling I had leading up to my first day of work, let alone the pit in my stomach that I carried each day that I had to kiss my daughter goodbye and leave her in the care of others. The ache in my heart was palpable—my entire spirit changed and the thought that I had no other choice was as overwhelming as it was detrimental to my already anxious postpartum state of mind. It’s not that her day care wasn’t terrific—it was. The teachers were warm, welcoming, and loving, but they weren’t me, and my daughter knew that.

She was sick all the time. And when I say sick, I mean multiple visits to the emergency room with dangerously high fevers, breathing issues that required specialized treatment, and rashes that left her in pain—all before she made it halfway through infancy. With each passing day, I’d ask myself, “Is this the best our country can do for mothers?” I started to hate my job. I started to hate the people around me who would say, “But everyone puts their child in day care,” and even worse, I began to hate myself.

It was only three months into our new world of full-time work and day care illnesses that my motherly instincts and gut intuition overcame everything else, and I did what I felt I had to do. I figured out a way to work from home with my child. I left behind my job that made me increasingly resentful and more miserable each day, and I never looked back.

This should never have been my experience though. I should have been granted the choice of deciding what my family needed most. America, “the land of opportunity,” offered me zero choices when it came to the most critical time in my life, and with each tragic story that comes across my newsfeed, I am reminded of the struggle we women face each day.

While I’m lucky to have found a job that I can do from home, I realize that is not a possibility for most. I am so relieved that nothing serious happened to my daughter when I had to leave her so early in her life. It’s clear that others have not been so lucky—all without a choice. We can do better for our mothers and our babies.

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