At seven months pregnant, the doctor took one look at my blood pressure during a routine check-up and told me I was going to have my baby that day. He actually said, “Meet me in the delivery room in four hours.” I didn’t have anything for the baby – his shower was scheduled for the next weekend. I hadn’t even packed a hospital bag yet. So, I went to the laundromat. I figured, whatever happens next, I’m going to get this laundry done. The things you think when you’re pregnant and you find out you’re having your kid two months early; “Well, this laundry will be done!” I finished the laundry and had my son by 8 p.m. that night. He spent a week in an incubator and had a heart murmur, but that closed up. “No worries,” or so I thought. I originally moved to Nevada to go to college. When I first got pregnant, I thought about moving back to California to be nearer to my family, but the cost of living is much higher there. I needed to have some savings, a job lined up and a place to live. I had a job in Nevada and things moved really fast with my pregnancy, so I stayed. That meant passing up California’s paid family leave policy that covers people who can’t work during or after their pregnancy. Not having access to a medical leave policy plagued me when I couldn’t work for three months after my son was born because of his complications. My family helped me with rent, but then my job told me they wouldn’t hold my place anymore – even though I wasn’t being paid while I was out – so I had to put my son in daycare and go back to work. I’m a case manager for the homeless. I help my clients overcome one hurdle at a time until they have employment and a safe place to sleep. But the truth is, I often feel that if even one thing goes wrong, I’ll be where they are. I have employment and housing, but I’m scared I could lose it all at any moment. Without more paid time off and the guarantee that my job will be there if I use it, the line between me and the community I serve is very, very thin. Last month, I blew a tire. Then, my son—who’s normally a happy, easy baby—started to cry all night and wouldn’t stop. I took him to the emergency room and he had a fever of 102.7. They gave us some Motrin and sent us home. By the next day he hadn’t had anything to eat or drink in 24 hours, so I took him back to the hospital and refused to leave until they figured out what was wrong. They put my baby on a saline drip, did some blood work, and told me he had Herpangina. It sounds terrible, but it’s a common daycare infection that was causing the fever and sores in his mouth, which was why he wouldn’t drink anything. He was too contagious to go to daycare, but I had to get back to work to be able to afford daycare, so I quickly had to find someone I could trust who was willing to watch him on short notice. I have a friend who usually watches him when I need help, but her phone was disconnected and I couldn’t reach her. I finally found a friend from college who offered to take him. I took a day off work when I took my son to the emergency room. I took two more days off to be with him while he was sick. Because he was premature, he isn’t meeting all of his developmental milestones yet, and he needs physical therapy, for which I take time off (you might be seeing a pattern here). My job is very generous about allowing me time off when I need it, but once my paid time off is used up, I don’t get paid if I don’t come to work and there isn’t a whole lot of flexibility. If I can’t be there the hours I’m supposed to work, I can’t make them up and I can’t pay my rent. When you’re doing it by yourself, everything is hard. My son’s name is Nasir; it means “helper sent from God” in Arabic. He just turned seven months old. He’s happy and independent. He likes to play with his toys and chill in his own world. He’s learning to crawl and hold his bottle and do baby stuff. He’s perfect and makes every struggle worth it. I want us all to have the space to be good parents, the time we need with our children and the support that will keep families strong. Working parents like myself get so little support in our society—that’s one reason I became active with the advocacy campaign, Make It Work, to help fight for stronger work-family policies. I want to see the U.S. have paid family leave, paid sick days and affordable child care. That would be a helper sent from above.
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