This letter to the editor originally appeared on Southcoast Today on January 7, 2020.
I did everything society told me to. I got an education. I earned a state-certified career. Yet my baby would not be able to gain the proper cognitive development for a newborn because I didn’t have access to paid leave.
I was born and raised in New Bedford. My love of children inspired me to pursue higher education as an early childhood educator. I became a state certified EEC teacher in 2003. I worked in the field for a decade before I got the surprising news I would welcome my own child. On August 12, 2013 I gave birth via cesarean section to a beautiful baby boy.
Love doesn’t seem strong enough a word for what I felt. And there isn’t a strong enough word for the pain I felt when I looked at my bills and realized that, in order to keep a roof over our heads and warm water for bottles, I would have to return to work three weeks after giving birth.
Although all the research shows that a newborn’s cognitive and emotional development is critical via bonding with their mother during the first three months, my baby wasn’t going to be afforded this most important time of brain development. I returned to work. I assure you, as I sat on the floor taking care of other mothers’ babies, that the pain of the not-yet-healed c-section stitches didn’t compare to the pain of not being with my own brand new baby.
In order to keep a roof over our heads, I had to return to work three weeks after giving birth. As I sat on the floor taking care of other mothers’ babies, the pain of the not-yet-healed c-section stitches didn’t compare to the pain of not being with my own brand-new baby. Bethany Fauteaux
A civilized country should never leave behind innocent babies; or elders who need the comfort of loved ones when they are sick; or workers who might need time off to recover from cancer, surgery or other illnesses. A civilized country would offer paid leave that is inclusive, reflecting the diversity of families and their caregiving needs; it would provide guaranteed job protection, so workers didn’t have to worry about whether they’d have a job to return to after taking leave; and it would include adequate and progressive wage replacement and benefit levels that would make taking leave financially possible for everyone. Any civilized society would want to encourage that mother and support that baby, that worker, or that elderly family member. I am asking that we become that civilized society by passing and implementing a national, comprehensive paid family and medical leave law.
Realizing I wouldn’t be able to spend time with my child was the first time I’d ever felt unlucky to live in the only developed country to not offer a real and comprehensive paid family medical leave plan. This is why I worked with so many across our great state of Massachusetts to pass paid family leave. This is also why I joined the Worker Advisory Group for Paid Leave for All — a new campaign that launched December 10 — because everyone will need care or time to care at some point in their lives.
The nation needs comprehensive paid leave legislation, one with an inclusive definition of family, job guarantee, and progressive wage replacement. Families should always come first. It wasn’t soon enough for me to use it for my family, but I’m continuing to fight so other families have paid leave.
Bethany Fauteux is a resident of New Bedford, and the Coalition for Social Justice’s anchor on Family Values at Works’ national worker’s advisory council.