‘Facing the Facts’: The push for expanded parental leave in United States

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) —The ABC Owned Television stations’ Race and Culture and Data teams have launched a new series called “Facing the Facts,” featuring data-driven stories on topics affecting our communities, from the economy to the environment.

The latest episode focuses on maternal health.

ABC7 News Anchor and Race and Social Justice Reporter Julian Glover looks at the growing movement to expand parental leave.

Anu Sharma, co-founder of Millie Clinic, shares her tough journey to motherhood.

“I had a long journey into motherhood,” Sharma said.

VIDEO: Facing the Facts: Maternal health | Watch full special

In this episode of “Facing the Facts,” we’re focusing on maternal health. Learn about people looking to change the trends and improve outcomes for women at all stages of motherhood.

Her experience included multiple rounds of IVF, a 2.5-day labor ending in an unplanned C-section, and a rare post-birth condition that required an emergency hospital visit.

“Fortunately, I was okay, but my recovery on the postpartum side took several weeks,” she said.

During her recovery and while adjusting to life with a newborn, she said she spent hours on the phone with California’s Employment Development Department to correct a form and secure paid family leave.

“I remember sitting on the front steps of my home, crying on the phone, while struggling with everything,” Sharma said.

Navigating the patchwork of family leave policies is a frustration shared by many new parents.

MORE: Woman calls for separate waiting rooms for those experiencing pregnancy loss

“In the United States, families are kind of left on their own to try to figure out how to navigate this, you know, super critical, important life-altering juncture in their lives,” said Maya Rossin-Slater, PhD.

Rossin-Slater is an associate professor of health policy at Stanford University and studies maternal leave. Her research reveals that only 60% of U.S. workers are eligible for the Family Medical Leave Act, which provides just 12 weeks of job-protected, unpaid leave for new parents. Even fewer parents are eligible for paid leave.

“California was the first state in the nation to pass a paid family leave policy,” said Rossin-Slater. “About a dozen other states, including Washington D.C., have implemented their own paid family leave policies, most of which range from six to 16 weeks in duration.”

However, paid leave is significantly capped. In California, new mothers receive approximately 60% of their pay for up to eight weeks, forcing many parents back to work too soon.

In response to these challenges, Sharma founded the Millie Clinic with her midwife-turned-business-partner Talia Borgo.

MORE: California DOJ finds implicit bias still impacting health of pregnant Black women

“Milli Clinic is redesigning maternity care from the ground up,” Sharma said.

Borgo highlights another financial strain on new parents: “There’s a certain income level where it doesn’t even make sense to go back to work, because paying for childcare is more expensive than the income.”

Navigating return to work and childcare are among the topics discussed in weekly postpartum groups organized by Millie Midwives.

“I think the answer ultimately has to be a policy shift at the government level,” Sharma said.

Rossin-Slater emphasizes widespread support for paid parental leave: “The vast majority across all states, both Democrats and Republicans, are supportive of paid parental leave policies. The American public is kind of there.”

Now, it’s up to lawmakers to take action.

You can watch “Facing the Facts” streaming now on our website and the ABC7 News app.

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