Under ordinary circumstances, two mothers as different as we are would never have met. One of us is from Oklahoma and is a registered Republican. The other is an unmarried liberal who lives in Brooklyn.
But tragedy has a way of bringing people together. Last year, we both lost our babies, infant sons who died at daycare, after we’d left them in childcare to return to work.
Neither of us wanted to leave our babies when we did, at mere weeks old, not yet. But neither of us had the luxury of choice. Our respective employers would not grant us any more time for parental leave, and we couldn’t afford to quit our jobs.
So, reluctantly, on an April morning in Oklahoma, baby Shepard was left at daycare. A childcare worker swaddled him for a nap, placed him in a car seat, and didn’t check on him. He slipped down and suffocated, still too little to lift up his own head.
Just as reluctantly, in July, baby Karl was dropped off for his first day at daycare near his mother’s Manhattan office. When she came back to feed him at noon, Karl’s lips were blue and a childcare worker was performing CPR. A medical examiner could not determine why this healthy baby died.
1 in 4 American moms have no choice but to return to work just two weeks after the birth of a child. 87 percent of parents have no access to paid leave through their employers.
No parent should have to choose between leaving their baby too soon and making ends meet.
Given that 73% of Republicans, 87% of independents and 96% of Democrats agree it is important for Congress and the president to consider a family leave insurance system, we are jointly calling on the candidates for president, Republican and Democrat, to publicly commit that, if elected, they will take action for national paid family leave policy in their first 100 days in office.
Most babies don’t die in day care, of course. But, as it turns out, our instinct that Karl and Shepard would be safer if we could have stayed with them a little longer was not wrong. An important study released last week found that for each additional month that a woman has paid parental leave, infant mortality goes down 13 percent.
America has the highest infant mortality rate of any industrialized nation in the world. Paid leave, in countries that have implemented it, has dramatically lowered infant death rates.
But beyond this, parental leave is good for our children. When Norway began offering paid parental leave, there were dramatic long-range effects: children had lower high school dropout rates, higher rates of college attendance, and higher incomes at age 30.
American babies whose mothers don’t have maternity leave are less likely to be taken to the doctor, and less likely to be breastfed. Toddlers of parents without access to paid leave have more behavioral problems, and score lower on cognitive tests.
Every American baby would be safer, healthier, and have a better start in life if given time with their mother or father during the first months of life.
If our political leaders claim to be pro-family, they need to put families first by supporting paid family leave.
In the richest country in the world, we should not have sobbing mothers leaving their premature babies in the NICU because they have to return to their jobs. We do not need to tear babies from their mothers’ arms before they can even hold up their own necks.
Parental leave is a necessity, not a perk.
Join us, a mom from Oklahoma and a mom from Brooklyn, in calling upon the presidential candidates of both parties to publicly commit that, if elected, they will take action for paid family leave policy in their first 100 days in office.
Through our great loss, we are now united to fight for change. We charge our leaders, both Republican and Democrat, to enact laws that protect the right of every American baby to have the loving care of a parent during the fragile first months of their life.
If elected, commit to act for paid family leave for all in your first 100 days in office
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