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When Parental Leave Leaves Us Out

Written By: Nicole Blank

TW: Infant loss

Six weeks. Forty-three days.

That is the amount of time my son spent in the NICU before eventually passing away. It was not an expected course of events, but it is what happened. Forty-three days until he died in my arms, in a chair in a NICU that did everything they could.

I went through one of the worst things imaginable as a parent, and I was lucky.

I was lucky my company gave me three months of paid maternity leave.

I was lucky that my son's time in the NICU and the time we lost him fell within my window of leave.

I was lucky that I had enough time on my clock to choose when I went back to work after the loss (two weeks for those wondering - the emptiness of our house was deafening).

I was lucky.

Miscarriages. Time in the NICU. Infant Loss. There are other scenarios too. These are all things that the rallying cry around parental leave is oftentimes still missing out on.

Parental leave is amazing. This country is far behind where it should be. But we need more!

We need to take into account that pregnancies and births don’t always go smoothly. Babies aren’t all born rosy-cheeked and ready to go home in the picture-perfect outfit a day later.

Trust me, I wish it were smooth sailing for all, but it isn’t.

I was lucky. My events occurred in a way that allowed me to focus on my child, the hospital, the choices, and be with him as much as possible. I was also one of the only parents in a fairly full NICU who got that opportunity. I understood the privilege my company policies afforded me in this awful situation. I understood, I was lucky.

But it regularly had me asking, where are the leave plans for those of us that didn’t get the screaming, sleepless, snuggly ending? Why are people forced to choose between being by their child's side and going back to work so they can save those precious weeks for when their child hopefully comes home?

No one should miss time with a child they won’t get to bring home, because they can’t afford it.

I was broken after my loss, the system is still broken.

When I did go back to work, the timing was my choice. My (now former) team members had spent all nine months watching me grow another human. These people had been there. I spent more time growing my son in that office than I did in my own house. They got it. They were there for me. I knew they would be because only six months earlier, I had announced to that same team that I was expecting. An announcement I made at a company meeting I was attending for a few brief hours, before returning home to my daughter, who was recovering from open heart surgery. She is doing great now. But it furthers my point. My son wasn’t my first unplanned uncertainty as a parent.

These people had been there. They were there for me. That is not always the case.

I had my son with us for six weeks. Forty-three days. I was lucky. No one should need that kind of luck, ever again.

This post supports Friends of Prentice, an organization that funds innovative and leading-edge research and clinical initiatives that benefit the lives of women and infants in our community and across the globe.


Meet the Author

Nicole Blank

Nicole Blank is a mom of two active kids and a member of the infant loss community. A proud board member of Friends of Prentice, she is always looking for ways her loss can make a positive impact in the community and elsewhere.


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