New Parents Need to Know about Paid Family Leave
By Janet Zamudio, BANANAS, Inc.
I am a mother of three children ages 14, 11, and 7. My youngest child Maya just turned 7. And it was about at this time, seven years ago, that I used California’s Paid Family Leave (PFL) program.
When Maya was born, I took 6 weeks of pregnancy disability (postpartum) leave, and then took an additional 6 weeks of leave using the PFL program right after that. So, I returned to work 12 weeks after giving birth to Maya. When I had my oldest 2 children, California didn’t have the Paid Family Leave law yet. And I can really attest to how this law helped me to bond with Maya, allowed me to rest and recuperate from childbirth, and provided me with much needed income so that I could do those things.
I nursed my three children. Of the three, Maya had to be the one that did not want to take a bottle. I struggled with this. This may seem like a simple problem that could be resolved easily for any mother. Well, it’s not. Especially not when your baby is at an age when they are only taking milk as their daily nourishment, and you have to return to work and leave your baby in child care. PFL allowed me extra time to work with her and make sure she would take a bottle by the time she got to child care. Maya and I would have been an absolute mess if I didn’t have this extra time with her to acquaint her with, and get her use to the bottle.
Spending an extra 6 weeks using PFL with Maya at home allowed me to spend more time with Maya, bond with her, and actually let me be a Mom. Out of my three children, I felt closer to Maya because I did spend more time with her as an infant at home – before having to return to work. I felt valued as a mother, for once, by our state – but also felt even more valued by my already family friendly work environment that facilitated my own process for taking PFL.
I didn’t feel like I had to race back to work at 6 weeks, feeling exhausted as I had felt previously with my other two children. And I want to emphasize that point. Returning to work at 6-8 weeks after having a baby is hard! Babies aren’t sleeping a full night yet, they are a lot of work, and caring for them is emotionally and physically demanding, yet so rewarding!
Upon returning to work at 12 weeks postpartum, thanks to PFL, I felt much more rested, better equipped to focus and be more productive on the job. And I felt like I spent quality time with my infant. I went to work without having to worry whether or not she was taking a bottle, I felt like I knew Maya better and felt more comfortable having her start child care at 12 weeks, instead of at 6.
Child care is very expensive. Currently, child care can costs $9,000- $13,000/year on average depending on the program. At the time, I was looking to pay around $900 per month for Maya’s child care. For families who cannot afford to pay child care and do not have access to child care subsidies, taking PFL could alleviate potential immediate costs of child care. However, in speaking to families and through my work at BANANAS, I have found that they have already made a plan to return to work by a certain date, or are just finding out about the PFL program.
It’s crucial to inform and educate families about the PFL program during early stages of pregnancy so that they can plan around it. I find it is especially important to educate and inform the Latino and immigrant population, as well as low-income families. I find that it is within these populations, low-wage and immigrant workers, there little to no knowledge about the existence of PFL.
PFL allows for additional time to figure out child care arrangements and to plan around child care. For low-income families and moderate income families like myself, having PFL allowed me to stay home with my infant and not have to pay for child care sooner. PFL also helps replace income that is lost while not working and being home to bond with an infant. Although it certainly does not cover a full salary, knowing the full scope of the law ahead of time, and that I would get a percentage of my salary covered, I was able to plan ahead with my finances. Had PFL only been a law to secure time off from work, without the financial piece attached to it, there would absolutely have been no way that I could have stayed home those 12 weeks with Maya.
To learn more about PFL visit www.paidfamilyleave.org.
Janet Zamudio has been working for 12 years at BANANAS, Inc. in Oakland, CA. BANANAS is a non-profit child care referral and support agency serving diverse families.