When my daughter was born, her lung collapsed. Our local hospital put her in the neonatal intensive care unit, but on the second day, the doctors recommended that we take her to the bigger city about 40 miles down the road that had “stronger machines.”
As staff initiated the transfer to the other hospital, they asked if I wanted to follow behind or if I wanted to ride in the ambulance. One of my strongest memories after giving birth to my daughter was how I hobbled behind what looked like a little translucent plastic coffin — a mobile NICU bed. I couldn’t walk very fast; I was stitched up in the nethers and had nearly bled out during the birth. The EMTs would slow down as they rolled her along, asking me if I was OK.
I was not, but I said yes.
I was lucky that I could sleep on the floor in a high-rise that was just down the street from the hospital. My husband had a small office space where I laid a sleeping bag, tried to doze, attempted to pump and waited for visiting hours. We did that for two weeks.
I learned that I was pregnant in the same month I learned that my job would be ending in the middle of my pregnancy. I had two bits of luck going for my baby and me. The state of New Mexico supported me with health insurance while I was unemployed, and I was hired in the seventh month, at the same company where I had just worked, in another position.
I worked as many hours as possible to qualify for the Family and Medical Leave Act. The company could combine hours from the beginning of the year in the old position and days and hours I worked in the new position before the baby was born. I barely made it across the finish line in time for me to be put on a few days of bed rest because of elevated blood pressure. I worked to make sure they couldn’t fire me, not so that I’d have any financial support. In fact, I had to pay for the company’s health insurance during that time when I made no money.
I continue to think about why we don’t have paid maternity leave in America, especially when we give so much lip service to family values. The more you think about it, the more you understand how the idea of “Family Values” is more a matter of political interpretation and allegiance to an agenda than what lengths we would truly go to help children and their families. If we did want to help them, we wouldn’t just make paid leave possible; we would demand it.
I’ve gone even further in my thoughts and demands, perhaps slightly radical. Paid maternity leave isn’t enough. Paid paternity leave needs to be part and parcel of our demands. As much as I hate the phrase “we are pregnant” uttered by a dude, they are part of the creation of that newborn as well. To me, it doesn’t seem like a radical idea that a father might want to bond with his newborn. It doesn’t seem radical to think the mother may make more money and a father might want to stay home.
A quote on Twitter, in a thread that asked if the pandemic had radicalized you, summed it up best. The tweet, based on something the author had read elsewhere, said, “I want to live in a society where we limit how far you can fall due to hard times, bad luck, or bad decisions.”
Yet, when we show up with a demand for the society we live in, that we could create this support as many other countries have, the term “radicalization” is thrown at our feet. That we have been radicalized in our generational entitlements. That we have been radicalized by a liberal agenda. Except, I was radicalized through my experience. Let’s be clear: It is not radical to have paid maternity and paternity leave. It is not radical to have universal healthcare. It is not radical to demand the basics that allow us to have a better life.
Cassie McClure is a writer, millennial, and unapologetic fan of the Oxford comma. She is also the Executive Director of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists and can be contacted at [email protected] To find out more about Cassie McClure and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.