Our second son, Jack, recently turned 2. As he has grown into a toddler, we have experienced all of the wonder, joy and unending kinetic energy of toddlerhood all over again. Jack remains in near constant motion.
He absorbs so much of the world around him and mimics behaviors with the rapid assimilation that only the developing brain can display, especially behaviors demonstrated by his older brother. There are times when I feel I can almost see his brain growing.
As are many great rewards, our joy with Jack was hard won. He entered our world after a difficult pregnancy that required nearly a month of bed rest. My then-employer had no paid leave plan. I had no choice but to use accrued vacation to take care of myself and my baby. By the time Jack was born, my vacation time was exhausted and I had to take unpaid maternity leave. At the time, my husband was awaiting his re-entry to U.S. military service. This meant our family no longer had a paycheck coming in.
Jack was born vigorous and healthy but still nearly a month early. When he was barely 4 months old, his father received his ship date and was sent to Naval Officer Candidate School for three months. Imagine the rapid adjustments to our family with a newborn baby, 4-year-old big brother, dad wholly out of contact for months, and mom returning to work to repay debt accrued from leave.
These were difficult times to be sure. But I shudder to imagine how much more difficult of a road we could have faced had I not followed the mandate of our physicians and gone on bed rest, which ultimately got Jack as close as possible to full term. Following his birth, the necessary time for healing and the priceless time of bonding allowed us to devote ourselves not only to building a relationship with him, but to fostering the relationship between Jack and his brother.
This early time with Jack also was critical because I know that his experiences during the first few months and years of his life will have an enormous impact on his future learning and growth. There is no substitute for the early bonding and healing time spent with a growing family, but I wish that this early time with Jack had not come at the expense of our economic security.
Taking unpaid leave depleted our savings. After returning to work, I had to pay my employer back for the health insurance I carried for all of us while on leave. We still have not fully recovered financially from the months of lost wages. To say I am disheartened by the obstacles manufactured by our lack of fundamental support structures such as paid family and medical leave falls short of telling the whole story.
I have invested thousands of dollars in graduate education and spent more than a decade working to support the health of those most critically ill in my community, only to find that the most basic foundational support was not available for my family when we needed it most. This is why I was so excited to join 50 other families from across the country on Capitol Hill earlier this year for Strolling Thunder, hosted by early childhood development nonprofit ZERO TO THREE. Together, we encouraged Congress to create a comprehensive, national paid family and medical leave program.
I’m now calling on Sens. Tim Kaine and Mark Warner to make good on our conversations and support the Family and Medical Insurance Leave (FAMILY) Act.
As a society, we should not compel parents to choose between having time to bond with and care for their babies and their economic security. Our children are always at the forefront of our minds. Our children also should be at the forefront of our policy decisions. By co-sponsoring and moving the FAMILY Act, Kaine and Warner could help ensure we do right by our babies here in Virginia and across the country.