By Kim Donoghue
When you think of parental leave, you picture a smiling cherub blissfully sleeping the day away. You might not think of the round-the-clock feedings, an infant screaming for hours on end from reflux or colic, or a mom unable to walk after a Caesarean section. But that is the reality of the first few months of our lives.
Becoming a parent is an incredible opportunity, and an incredibly challenging one. Without a safety net that enables working parents to take the time to learn how to care for their newborn, you force them to make tough decisions between their mental, physical and emotional health, and that of their baby.
This was my exact experience as I gave birth to our daughter right on the cusp of the COVID-19 pandemic. Due to a lack of a standardized program, such as Paid Family & Medical Leave (PFML), I did not have access to job protection or paid leave. I was the primary breadwinner and we didn’t have any family in the area to help.
Our situation became more complex as my daughter developed chronic reflux and feeding issues. She lost weight rapidly, due to undiagnosed tongue and lip ties. She spent most of the first few months of her life screaming and crying in pain. We barely had time to eat, nonetheless sleep, between pumping, feeding, burping and holding her upright, before we had to start the cycle again. It was the most traumatic and stressful six months of my life, trying to keep my job and meet my baby’s needs.
The research is clear: the lifelong public health, familial and individual benefits of ensuring parents are able to care for their newborns in those first couple of months are critical. It is time we stop forcing parents to choose between their job–their way of paying for food and shelter–and taking care of their newborn.
Sadly, the U.S. continues to be the only wealthy nation without any national paid family or medical leave policy. The reality is, most New Mexico workers will need to take time away from work at some point in their careers because of caregiving responsibilities or healthcare needs. PFML would create a program, administered by the state of New Mexico, to provide up to 12 weeks of paid leave for employees to welcome a new child, care for a family member with a serious health concern, or manage their own serious medical condition.
We, as a state, can ensure we are setting our families up for success by creating the right safety-net programs. It is an investment in the health of our current and future residents. PFML programs have been shown to address health disparities, close the racial wealth gap, and lessen the economic impacts of caregiving on women, especially in communities of color.
When New Mexico is able to implement PFML, our state will become more attractive to raise a family in. PFML will ensure women, and all working parents, are able to freely pursue the best professional opportunities available to them– creating a positive long-term impact on our economy.
Kim Donoghue is a proud mother of 2 children and lives in Albuquerque.