Women struggling after stillbirth are denied paid family leave, says one angry mom who wants to change the law.
Cassidy Crough, 34, lost her daughter Olivia at 36 weeks when the umbilical cord became wrapped around her neck. Crough gave birth March 17, after 16 hours of labor.
“I still gave birth to a human being. I am still suffering all the postpartum symptoms that every other female does, the heavy bleeding, the depression, not being able to lift heavy objects,” she said.
“Their approach to this is thoroughly demoralizing and disgusting,” she said of New York state.
Her nightmare began during a routine appointment about a month ahead of her due date.
“I was just on a high, thinking how thankful I was, how excited I was to meet her and be her mom,” recalled Crough, a former Bronx assistant district attorney who had just started a new job with a private law firm in the Hudson Valley.
She had noticed Olivia seemed to be less active, and asked for fetal monitoring. It wasn’t the first time the nervous, soon-to-be mom had made such a request. But this time, the unthinkable happened: medical staff couldn’t find a heartbeat, and an ultrasound confirmed the worst.
“There’s no heartbeat, no life,” her doctor told her.
Crough, 34, and her husband were rushed to the hospital, where labor was induced. Olivia arrived the next afternoon, when the couple got to spend about 90 minutes with her before having to consider questions no new parents think about.
“Do you want an autopsy? Do you want to cremate her? Do you want a religious figure to bless her? What funeral home are you using?” Crough recalled. “These are questions you don’t expect when you’re going to have a baby.”
Heading home empty handed, to Olivia’s “Pinterest perfect” Bohemian woodland-themed nursery, was devastating, she said.
Days later, it got worse when the insurance company called to ask Crough to voluntarily withdraw her request for maternity leave — because Olivia had been stillborn. They offered short term disability instead, which pays $554 total and give just six weeks off.
New York’s Paid Family Leave, which only applies to parents who are “bonding” with their baby, provides roughly $1,000 a week. Though Crough lives in Connecticut, she’s not eligible for that state’s family leave, which she was told would accommodate her under its serious medical conditions provision.
“I went through labor like everyone else and now I’m expected to recover and go back in just a couple of weeks? I think that’s unrealistic and cruel,” she said.
Just eight states have paid family leave policies, and only one, the District of Columbia, includes stillbirth and miscarriages, according to the National Partnership for Women and Families.
“In our eyes we’re still moms, whether New York State recognizes us as moms. My daughter was real,” she said, adding she refused to withdraw her maternity leave request and is now getting by on savings and the generosity of family and friends.
About 1 in 170 pregnancies in the United States end in stillbirth. At least 25 percent of those are preventable, according to the group Push Pregnancy, which is trying to reduce the number of stillbirths in America.
Crough said she reached out to several New York politicians about changing the paid family leave law to accommodate everyone who gives birth, but hasn’t heard back.
“This is a huge gap in the law. I just want women and families of stillbirth and infant loss babies to not have to suffer like we have,” she said.