The state of the country’s reproductive justice is bleak, to put it delicately. More and more states are losing access to safe and legal abortions. Roe v. Wade’s repeal is all but imminent. And for those who do want to start a family, the option to take unpaid time off in lieu of federal parental leave isn’t always on the table.
The US is one of six countries without federally provided paid parental leave. Even in the few states that do offer paid leave, not everyone who goes through an entire pregnancy is eligible for the benefits. Such is the case for pregnancies that result in stillbirth.
Cassidy Crough was devastated when she lost her baby girl, Olivia, at 36 weeks. Living in New York, one of the eight states that offers some form of paid family leave, she assumed she would be able to use her time to grieve and heal. Her insurance request was denied.
“A mother buries their child that they carry nine months — when they go through all the physical aspects of birth and undergoing all the postpartum horrific symptoms that every other female goes through — and now you’re telling me that because my baby didn’t live I’m not entitled to the benefits?” Crough said to TODAY Parents.
“[It] was an emotional slap in the face.”
The aftermath of a stillbirth requires the exact physical healing of a live birth, with the additional grief and emotional healing of losing a baby.
“It should be changed to ‘postpartum leave’ because that will encompass everyone that gives birth to a child. If you birth a child, whether it’s C-section or vaginal, you should be getting paid family leave because your body is undergoing a trauma,” Crough continued. “It’s quite frankly a medical concern to have women returning to work before at least six weeks.”
Cassidy and other moms who have gone through the trauma of stillbirth and had to return to work immediately afterwards are teaming up with family leave advocates to make paid leave for stillbirths a reality.
Elizabeth O’Donnell, a Washington D.C., resident who had a similar experience to Crough, started Aaliyah in Action, named after the daughter she lost. The group gives care packages and offers emotional support to families coping with the loss. Jackie Mancinelli, who lost her son Richard shortly after his birth in 2016, founded Start Healing Together, which aims to support families and provide education about infertility and infant loss.
According to Bipartisan Policy Center, California, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Washington, the District of Columbia, and Connecticut have some form of paid family leave. Oregon, Colorado, Maryland, and Delaware have programs that haven’t gone into effect yet.
Each year, there are around 24,000 stillbirths, which the CDC defines as the loss of a baby at or after 20 weeks of pregnancy.
We need federal paid family leave for everyone. Now.