As I was scrolling through Instagram this week, I came across a pretty interesting post. The photo was a headline saying “New Zealand to offer paid leave to parents after miscarriages.” Which I think is amazing, and I was thrilled to see it, so naturally I went to the caption to read more about it and my excitement twisted into anger. The caption read “Couples in New Zealand who experience a miscarriage or stillbirth will be given 3 days of paid leave.”
If that doesn’t spark anger in you it really should. Now I have never had a child, nor have I ever miscarried a child. So I cannot truly understand the grief of the situation. However, I know it is something I never want to experience or for anyone I love to experience, because I can only assume that the grief is so great, it could nearly kill a person.
Do I think there is any allotted amount of time which could ever stop this grief? No. I think it lasts your whole lifetime, for every ‘could have been’ milestone. But that initial grief does not subside in three days. And it is an insult to think that that is enough time to process that initial grief.
Also, if it is a late term misscarriage or stillbirth the mother is likely to still be experiencing a lot of postnatal complications or symptoms. So even aside from the emotional toll of the situation there is an immense physical toll take on the woman’s body. She will still likely produce breast milk for a child who will never drink it, and she’ll have a higher risk of postpartum infections, but yeah sure all of that should be cleared up in three days.
How come maternity leave is eight weeks then for women who give birth to a viable baby? Did both women not give birth? Did both women not become mothers? Did both women not go through an obscene amount of pain from the physical trials of labor? But one woman gets three days and the other one gets eight weeks. Think about that.
Ginny Anderson, a member of New Zealand Parliament, tweeted in response to the bill “I hope [the bill] gives people time to grieve.” Yes, in those three days mothers are really gonna do a lot of grieving (this is sarcasm). Because in those three days they’ll definitely be able to process the fact that they were once carrying a life which they will never see grow old. They will be able to process that they have outlived their child who was meant to outlive them.
I feel like I should mention that yes, this bill is better than nothing (not sarcasm). Seriously, the alleviated stress those three days can provide to some families can be really helpful in comparison to having none. But it is absurd that I should be happy with families being given three days to grieve the loss of a child. The only reason why I am at all happy about this is because I know that the alternative is nothing. This shouldn’t be something we praise, it should give us awareness to think we need to do better for each other.
Elizabeth O’Donnell, a D.C. teacher, was recently featured on NBC news for her story where she was denied maternity leave after her stillbirth because she didn’t deliver a “breathing” baby. O’Donnell was set to give birth in January, and she had intended to take her maternity leave through the end of the school year by using her vacation days on top of her 8-week maternity leave. A full term pregnancy is 40 weeks, however, O’Donnell’s stillbirth occurred earlier at 31 weeks gestation. After the stillbirth, O’Donnell was no longer going to take her extended leave from her job, instead, she was only going to take her eight-week maternity leave which was pre-approved by the D.C. Public School Leave of Absence Office.
Since she did not give birth to a breathing child she was told she couldn’t take the eight week paid leave. The reasoning being that “she was only taking care of herself.” I don’t know how much this audience knows about prenatal development, but at 31 weeks you are giving birth to a pretty well formed child. The baby, while tiny, can still be held and for all intents and purposes looks like how any other newborn would. Also for reference, with modern technology viability is now at 24 weeks. So she did give birth to a nearly full sized baby, but this shouldn’t matter. It shouldn’t matter what week she gave birth at, all that should matter is that she gave birth and she deserves those eight weeks.
If that is not the biggest slap in the face after having gone through one of the most unfathomable pains I don’t know what is. The DC Public School Leave of Absence Office might as well have said that she didn’t give birth at all, heck they could’ve just said she was never pregnant at all.
I’m enraged, I’m hurt, I’m disappointed at this point, because women who go through that painful experience deserve so much more than what they are being given. And yet, in the reality we are in, people think three days is enough.