I’m the proud mother of nine children, and I know first hand just how important those first few months are for bonding with a new child. Unfortunately, over the course of my seven pregnancies, I never had access to paid family and medical leave. As a result, my family and I have struggled to make it all work.
Only four weeks after my now-teenage daughter was born, I had to return to work. My body was still healing from giving birth, but without paid family and medical leave, I had no choice but to leave my infant daughter at childcare too soon and return to my job.
I had tried to plan for the lack of paid leave. When I found out I was pregnant, I started working two jobs to save as much as I could before the new baby was born. But no matter how hard I tried to save, it wasn’t enough. I had to go back to work — I just couldn’t afford to stay home any longer.
Leaving my newborn daughter, who was still breast-feeding, was heart-wrenching. I worked only about a mile-and-a-half from her childcare, and every two hours my job would give me 15-20 minutes off to go feed her.
But often by the time I got there, the childcare provider had given her a bottle already. I felt like I was failing my daughter, and soon, she wouldn’t breast-feed any more.
I know those first months are crucial for children and their parents. But don’t just take my word for it. Research shows that paid family and medical leave decreases infant mortality and increases breast-feeding rates, which leads to both short- and long-term health benefits for babies.
Time is something you’ll never get back — and I missed out on those early months with my daughter because I couldn’t afford to take time off work.
Sadly, my story is all too common for families and parents in this country. The majority of Americans must make the impossible choice between being there for loved ones — whether it’s a new child or sick parents — and making ends meet.
In fact, lack of paid, job-protected family and medical leave is why 1 in 4 new mothers are back at work within 10 days of giving birth and why 1 in 5 retirees leave the workforce earlier than planned to care for a spouse or loved one.
But in Washington state, that’s about to change. Our new paid family and medical leave law will be life-changing for working families and on Jan. 1, employees and some employers will begin contributing to a statewide insurance pool to fund the new program, which will begin paying out benefits on Jan. 1, 2020.
The average worker will contribute just over $2 per week from their paycheck, less than the price of a cup of coffee.
And for just over $2, the program guarantees up to 16 weeks of combined paid family and medical leave for workers to bond with a new child and care for a sick family member or themselves.
Paid family and medical leave would have made all the difference for me and my family. No one should be forced to choose between providing support for their family and putting food on the table.
Fortunately, Washington’s Paid Family and Medical Leave program will ensure that stories like mine will become the exception instead of the rule. And this milestone for Washington’s families, workers and economy is worth celebrating.
Alina Swart is a Clarkston, Wash., resident, mother, and member of MomsRising.