HOWELL, MI – When Meghan S. shared the news about her first pregnancy with her employer, she remembers how excited her boss was. Meghan and her boss called the HR department separately to figure out what Meghan’s maternal leave would look like. For some odd reason, they got two completely different answers. When Meghan looked at their company website for clarity, she was even more confused. The website stated that while 12 weeks for leave was recommended, new mothers were only allowed six. “I remember thinking, something’s missing here,” Meghan said, “or the right hand is not talking to the left, or whatever it might be.”
After giving birth to her daughter, Meghan didn’t feel ready to return to work. She used all her vacation and sick time. However, when Meghan went back to work after the New Year, she faced a whole new set of challenges. “Fevers are happening, sicknesses, we’re trying to figure out because I pumped at work, OK, there’s this lactation space, but I have to schedule it, and I don’t want to miss my time and take up another parents’ time…and how am I bringing this big bag with parts in it?” Meghan recounted. “How am I keeping it cool? How am I transporting it? How is she doing with being at the day care? Is she safe?”
Several other parents returned from leave around the same time as Meghan, and they all felt the same: six weeks was just not enough time. Meghan, now pregnant with her second child, got together with other parents and submitted testimonials detailing their leave experience and the challenges they faced when they returned to work. Just days before the birth of Meghan’s son, they received an email announcing the extension of paid leave from six weeks, or eight for caesarian births, to an additional six weeks that the birthing person and their partner could take after having their child. “It was just the biggest weight off of my shoulders to think about this time I was going to get with him. That I wasn’t going to have to sit there and worry about taking my sick time, taking vacation time…it felt very good that we were able to have that change,” Meghan recalled.
In 2019, Meghan received an email from the Great Start Readiness Program in Livingston County. They were looking for parent leaders to join Think Babies Michigan, to help improve services for families and children 0-3. Her daughter and son were 1 and 3 years old, and Meghan felt she had something to contribute as she navigated finding safe child care, considering brain development for her children for the first time, as well as her experiences advocating for adequate parental leave. Meghan was passionate about improving those services and helping other families factor all the unexpected needs of returning to work after having a child, such as figuring out their babies’ feeding schedules. “It felt like a really good group of people trying to impact policy and change,” said Meghan.
“Maybe all the priorities didn’t fit for exactly what my background was, but it felt really good to learn about all the unique needs of families across the state, from folks who may live in rural communities, folks who use Early On assessments, parents of kids with different special needs, parents from tribal communities… it felt like we were being really holistic in our approach and really addressing the missing pieces for families.”
Four years later, as mother to a now 5- and 7-year-old, Meghan is hopeful that Michigan will pass SB332 to extend 12 weeks of Paid Family and Medical Leave (PFML) to all employees. PFML was recently adopted as a Think Babies Michigan policy priority. “It gives the person who is giving birth, their partner, much, much needed to time to recover, to bond, [and] I can’t think of anything that feels more important than bonding with our future generations.”
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