Last week I wrote about moms Ali Dodd and Amber Scorah, whose babies both died during their first week in daycare. Both moms publicly share their highly personal stories hoping to inspire paid family leave laws.
I’ve been fired up on this topic since Day 1 of researching the May cover story for ParentMap, “The Push for Paid Leave.” How could the United States be the only industrialized country in the world without national paid maternity leave?
Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner wonders the same thing. She's the cofounder and executive director/CEO of MomsRising, an organization of more than 1 million advocating for family issues including implementing a national paid family leave policy.
In what can be a dark and dire debate, Rowe-Finkbeiner is a ray of optimism. I spoke with her about Dodd and Scorah, hoping for even more clarity about the critical push for leave.
There are those who say Dodd and Scorah’s stories are outliers and so shouldn't be taken as the norm. Why are their stories important?
Their stories underscore the reasons why we need paid family leave for all workers, moms, dads and partners, and also why we need to make sure leave can be taken back-to-back.
It really, truly does matter when people take the time to reach out to elected leaders ... together we're a powerful force.
In the United States, we are asking for 12 weeks of paid family but that’s just the beginning ... Most countries have many more weeks of paid maternity leave, so ultimately we'd like to have the policy that does the best job of boosting our economy, businesses and families.
Last time I checked, we weren’t doing so well compared to the rest of the world in terms of maternal and infant mortality. For example, Canada has 52 weeks of paid family leave and half the maternal mortality rate that we have. When a country adopts paid family leave, there is a 25 percent decrease in infant mortality. We know paid family leave not only lifts the economy — it quite literally saves lives.
Recently, I’ve seen numerous headlines about companies adopting paid family leave policies. Is our country becoming friendlier to new families even without a national policy in place?
A lot of companies are adopting paid family leave policies because it’s not just the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do for the bottom line. Even so, right now we have a ridiculous situation: Only 13 percent have access to paid family leave [through their employers] and 5 percent of low income workers have access to paid family leave.
Too often we treat childbirth like they do in a Monty Python movie: A woman just inconsequently drops a baby onto the kitchen floor and doesn’t miss a step. In fact, for many women having a baby can be a major health experience. I’ve had two of those major life experiences and believe me, I know!
We ignore that there are actual health and recovery consequences to having a baby. One in four women are back in the labor force two weeks after giving birth. That is not necessarily good for the mom, for the baby or for our communities — and it contributes to our relatively high infant and maternal mortality rates.
How much support is there for paid family leave in this country?
Support and momentum is growing for paid family leave. In fact, this year we heard from all the Democratic candidates and some of the Republican candidates that putting paid family leave on the national agenda is a priority. We’ve also seen increasing interest from Congress, and the President has moved forward some significant victories in this area.
It’s no long a question of if, but when paid family leave will ultimately pass at the national level. It's truly one of those policies that is a no-brainer: It save lives, lifts our economy, boosts business and helps families.
It's so easy to think that what I do as one person doesn't matter when it comes to changing laws in our country. What do you say to this attitude?
Sometimes it's hard to see the many ways that small actions like signing a petition, sharing your personal experience, making a call, attending a local meeting or playing a MomsVote debate game add up over time and make a big difference. They do because we are all working together.
Already, people’s everyday actions have added up to inspiring victories for moms and families this year including:
- Executive actions that help women reach pay equality
- Moving forward policies so more people have access to affordable and high quality childcare at the state and national levels
- Kicking soda off the kids' menu as the default option in major fast-food chains and restaurants and getting kids across the country access to healthier foods in schools
- Dozens of America's biggest companies proudly adopting paid family leave for their employees
- An important victory getting a special prosecutor to investigate police brutality cases in New York
- Being a part of unstoppable MOMentum for paid sick days
It really, truly does matter when people take the time to reach out to elected leaders and we really hope people keep doing this because together we're a powerful force.