Advocates for paid family leave at rally in Texas

Advocates for paid family leave, including Vicky Badillo (center), at a rally in Texas. (Photo: Pamela de Marion Silva Diaz)

Lives Are on the Line: It's Time for a National Paid Leave Policy

There is no economic and racial justice without access to paid leave.

My husband and I dreamed of starting a family for so long. Our beautiful son, David, is the light of my life. But when he was born 11 years ago, those first few months were a very difficult time for our family. I had a c-section, so I needed time to heal as we brought David home. But neither my husband nor I had jobs with paid leave, and there are many expenses that come along with having a child.

This curtailing of our rights and dignity forces so many families to make difficult decisions.

My husband took a week to be at home with me as I recovered and we acclimated to life with our baby--but he wasn't paid for that time. He had to go back to work just a week after my c-section, and I was home alone with our new son trying to heal myself and take care of our child on my own. We had no family nearby to support us.

It was a stressful and overwhelming time for me. I experienced postpartum depression that lasted several months, and I was unable to breastfeed my son. After hoping for a family for so long, the pressures we were experiencing left me feeling depressed and empty.

Those early months would have been so different for my family if we'd had access to paid leave. But we didn't - in fact, only 23 percent of workers have access to paid family leave through their job. One in four employed mothers are forced to return to work just two weeks after giving birth. It is shameful that our elected officials allow this to happen.

We need more lawmakers to walk the walk when it comes to ensuring families have access to critical care policies, like paid leave. Congress has yet to advance a national paid leave measure--even though it's one of the most popular policies in the nation, with support across political parties. In the wake of the Dobbs ruling, many states now ban abortion - but don't even offer any type of paid leave. Many of us now live in states forcing birth, while lawmakers do nothing to support families.

This curtailing of our rights and dignity forces so many families to make difficult decisions: Can you spend time with your ill loved one, your new baby, or take time for yourself to heal; without losing your pay or even your entire job?

I still live with the fear of getting sick. I need to be healthy so that I can work and provide for my son. If I'm not healthy and working, it will harm him. This is an overwhelming feeling to bear, and I'm not alone.

So many lawmakers are focused on taking things away from women and families - our autonomy, our basic need to care for our loved ones, our ability to go to work and earn a living. If these lawmakers are serious about supporting families, they'll get behind a national paid leave policy. Paid leave is a human right and a matter of dignity--it's something every single one of us should have access to, regardless of who we are, where we live, or what we do.

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Lives are on the line. This is an issue that causes harm for families like mine over and over - not just when starting a family or caring for a sick parent; but whenever unexpected illnesses come up. A few years ago, I had to have emergency gallbladder surgery. It was a lot to deal with, but I couldn't miss a beat at home or work. I couldn't afford to miss work and not be paid. We deserve better--we deserve time to heal.

There is no economic and racial justice without access to paid leave. Ensuring people have the time they need to be with and care for themselves and their families is morally the right thing to do - and it also makes sense for our economy and our national well-being. Investing in paid leave will help our families, our communities, and our nation.

My dream for David is for him to come of age in a country that honors everyone's dignity and encourages social equality. A country in which every single one of us has the same opportunities and the same rights. This dream is what motivates me in my own advocacy every single day. I know I'm not alone in this fight, and it's time for our lawmakers to deliver what so many people are calling out for: a national paid leave policy.

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