Activists, leaders push to give paid maternity leave to moms who experience stillbirth

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(NEW YORK) — Cassidy Perrone said that the day she learned that her unborn daughter would be stillborn was one of the most heart-wrenching moments in her life, and even more difficult was delivering Olivia after 37 weeks of pregnancy.

“I had to come home to my house with a fully prepared nursery, with everything that you could need for a baby and suffering the postpartum effects that every female suffers and had to relive every morning the fact that my nightmare was my reality,” Perrone told ABC News Live.

She said the day after Olivia’s funeral she found out that her employer and New York State’s Labor Department revoked her paid maternity leave and was only offered $170 a week for disability.

“I need to physically recover and heal from the postpartum effects. And they said, don’t worry, we’ll give you temporary disability,” Perrone said.

Perrone’s story is common among many mothers and birthing persons across the country who suffered stillbirth pregnancies, according to legal and medical experts, but a new push by activists and political leaders is aiming to change that policy and allow those women the paid time off after their tragedies.

About 21,000 babies are born stillborn annually, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Dr. Joanne Stone, the chair of Mount Sinai Hospital’s OBGYN department and the head of the hospital’s clinic for women with a history of stillbirth, told ABC News Live that many of the common causes of stillbirth often don’t appear until late in pregnancy such as placental abruptions.

“They have the same kind of recovery issues that patients who have had a live birth have,” Stone said of patients who have to deliver a stillborn baby. “On top of the physical recovery, they also have to recover mentally.”

Activists said that federal and state laws have created extra burdens for those mothers.

Paid leave policies vary from company to company, but most exclude women who experience stillbirth deliveries, according to experts.

Women and birthing persons in New York are offered up to 12 weeks of paid time off after they deliver a baby. However, it has a loophole that makes women who deliver stillborn children ineligible.

New York State Sen. Tim Kennedy, whose daughter died four minutes after she was born, introduced a bill in 2021 that would close the loophole.

It was passed in the state Senate in 2022 and again during this year’s session but is still awaiting a vote in the New York State Assembly.

“I can talk with full and complete confidence that the children who were lost to stillbirth have that same impact on these mothers’ and families’ lives that my daughter, who was with us for four minutes, had on our life. And our state needs to recognize that. Our nation needs to recognize that,” Kennedy told ABC News Live.

Kennedy wasn’t the only parent spurred into action by a stillbirth tragedy.

Activist Jaye Wilson said she changed careers from nursing to maternal health education after she was forced to go back to work two weeks after a stillbirth delivery.

Wilson said the issue is harder for Black mothers as they are two to three times more likely to experience a stillbirth than other women.

“So understanding how that is really impacting women who look like me and who are still seeking care in the same spaces that you are, like, we have to really pay attention to that,” she said.

Wilson, Perrone, and other mothers have been ramping up their calls for change and lobbying across the country and hope that elected officials will hear them out.

“Women and birthing persons deserve better. We give life and we should not be punished when we don’t have the opportunity to care for our child because they have died,” Perrone said.

 

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