Losing a baby can be incredibly traumatic and take a mental and physical toll on the body that needs healing.
Editor's Note: This article was originally published on June 10, 2022. It has since been updated.
Losing a child can take a massive physical and mental toll on parents. Yet they are often not given the due time to recover. Barring a few states, paid family leave is not available to those who suffer a stillbirth. While paid family leave is available to parents of newborns, it hasn't been available to those who've had a stillbirth. This is unfortunate, considering the grief, pain, trauma and recovery process of parents who suffer their painful loss. According to the Bipartisan Policy Center, America is one of six countries in the world that doesn't offer national paid parental leave. Paid parental leave, which does exist in the U.S., varies by state and employer. Often the people who need it the most do not have access to it.
Cassidy Crough is one of many parents who suffered a stillbirth and was subsequently denied paid family leave to recover. “(It) was an emotional slap in the face,” she said, as reported TODAY. Her insurance carrier said she didn't qualify for family leave as it’s only applicable to parents bonding with their newborns. “A mother buries their child that they carry nine months—when they go through all the physical aspects of birth and undergoes all the postpartum horrific symptoms that every other female goes through—and now you’re telling me that because my baby didn’t live I’m not entitled to the benefits?” asked Crough. “I’d say (it was) four full weeks of bleeding and lactation, was probably about three weeks to get it to stop.”
Crough is raising her voice to fight to cover paid leave for parents of stillborn babies at the federal level. She wants it changed to "postpartum leave," so everyone who gives birth can become eligible. "If you birth a child, whether it’s C-section or vaginal, you should be getting paid family leave because your body is undergoing a trauma,” she said, before adding that forcing women to return to work six weeks after giving birth is a medical concern.
America is woefully behind when it comes to providing paid parental leave. “We’re one of the only developed countries in the world that does not offer paid parental leave to all citizens and one of the few countries that don’t offer paid family caregivers and paid medical leave,” said Adrienne Schweer, a fellow at the Bipartisan Policy Center and head of its Paid Family Leave Task Force. “One in four moms is set to go back to work within 10 to 14 days of giving birth, which is outrageous.” Parents also require time to heal from a loss, which can take a severe toll on them and potentially strain relationships as well. Crough described the loss of her child as the "most horrific moment of my life” and recalled the pain, “Knowing that she would never cry was just awful. It’s also the worst day of my life.” She said being denied paid parental leave left her depressed. "It really made me feel as if New York state didn’t recognize that my baby was real,” said Crough.
America still doesn't have paid parental leave at the national level and people depend on the state they reside in or their employer. Among states that provide paid parental leave, California and New York have had laws in place for the longest. Those who desperately need it rarely have access to paid parental leave in America. “In some parts of the country, where workers might be struggling the most, where you have a lot of low-wage workers or rural workers, (people) are less likely to have access to paid family leave,” said Schweer.
Elizabeth O’Donnell, a public school teacher, also suffered a stillbirth. She was told she could not take leave or use the federal Family and Medical Leave Act. She shared her story before eventually translating it to legislation in Washington, D.C., affording 10 days of bereavement leave for those who lost their child during birth. O’Donnell stressed that lawmakers were still missing the point. “I keep saying to the D.C. council that it was very kind of you to do, but I’m not talking about bereavement,” she said. “I’m talking about: Does a woman not have a right in this country to heal her body after delivering a child? I guess the answer for some people is ‘no.’” Advocacy groups are calling for intervention at the federal level to help women heal after a stillbirth.