OP-ED | How Paid Family Leave Helped My Family
I wandered around the white, neutral smelling room on the fourth floor wondering what just happened. One moment I was holding my wife’s hand trying to be a pillar of calm and reassurance but secretly filled with a bubbling uncertainty that I prayed would not show up on my face.
The next moment she was gone! I wondered where they had taken her and why I couldn’t go?
She needed me. I promised to be there for her. I made a commitment. It was public knowledge. There were photos to prove it and witnesses. My heart filled with fear and uncertainty. “What do I do now?”
I paced aimlessly around the room that was now suddenly empty of all the white lab coats. “Wait here!” the nurse told me in a commanding tone that I did not appreciate or have time to process. I felt like a caged animal. Unrecognizable fluids and antiseptic bandages were strewn all over the white floor and the room was gripped with an abrupt silence that stood in stark contrast to the recent onslaught of alarm bells and people shouting just a few moments ago. I was suddenly all alone.
My mind raced. “Where is she? Are they okay? What is going on?” I grasped for answers but none came. Finally, someone came in and handed me a blue gown. “Put this on and come with me!” Bewildered I dressed quickly and followed the masked woman down a long hallway. As we approached a set of double doors we stopped abruptly and her hand went up, “Stop. Wait here.” My heart raced.
Suddenly, they wheeled her out and a sea of relief washed over me. I grabbed her hand and said nothing as tears filled my eyes. I followed beside her as she was wheeled into another bland, white room nearby. “Where are they?” she asked. All I could mutter was, “It’s going to be okay,” in a tone that betrayed my usual confidence. Even in the haze of medication she sensed my uncertainty. After 11 years you get to know someone and see through their words. She saw me clearly and I avoided another round of uncomfortable questions only because she slipped back into unconsciousness. Miraculously, after what seemed like an eternity, she slowly regained her strength and the room began to fill with family and doctors. She was okay. They were okay — for now. Relief mixed with a fragile hope filled the room.
Against doctors orders, I wheeled her into the intensive care unit so she could see them. They were in these little plastic incubators and wore little blue hats barely the size of a small orange. The sounds of heart monitors filled the room as white coats milled around checking charts and conferring with each other. Half smiling through tears, a strange peace began to fill our hearts. We had survived.
After four days in the hospital, Rebecca came home but the boys had to stay. I gradually began to grasp the extent of what had happened and a new stress emerged. “She’s going to be out of work for some time.” “She is going to want to be in the hospital with our sons everyday until they leave.” “I want to be there for her and our sons too. Can I take time off?” “What about the mortgage?” “Our bills?” My mind began to race and a new stress settled in.
About a week later, I discovered that both my wife and I qualified for generous paid family leave. We were relieved beyond words! Now we could be in the hospital with our boys and provide them with all the love and attention they needed.
Sadly, too many families in Connecticut do not have this kind of support. I learned that many places around the world do a much better job of supporting families during their time of need. In fact, the U.S. is the only high-income country in the world that does not offer paid leave after the birth of a child. In Chile, workers receive 30 weeks of paid family leave. In Japan it’s 58! And, in Australia workers get 60 weeks!
More perplexing, study after study shows the positive benefits to employees, families, and businesses that offer generous paid family leave.
For instance, workers that have paid family leave are less likely to suffer from postpartum depression, anxiety and are more likely to breastfeed their infants (providing numerous health benefits). Further, paid family leave can reduce infant mortality by as much as 10 percent. Paid family leave laws also reduce stress on families and decreases the likelihood of families falling into poverty. Businesses also benefit because companies that offer paid family leave are more likely to recruit and retain talented employees and experience less employee turnover. Companies with paid family leave also report more employee work satisfaction which can boost productivity.
Our boys were in the hospital for 10 weeks and we would have never been able to be there for them like we were without generous paid family leave. Paid leave allowed us to organize our lives better which made our transition to parenthood smoother and less stressful because we had adequate funds to pay our bills. It freed us to focus more of our time and energy on what mattered most — our new family.
If we really value children and families then we need to pass paid family leave in Connecticut. The research is clear. It was good for my family. It will be good for all families.
Jorge Cabrera is a Hamden resident who recently ran and lost a race for the 17th state Senate district.
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