America is currently one of the few developed countries that doesn’t offer a single week of paid federal leave for new parents. While the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), does provide up to 12 weeks of parental leave, it’s unpaid and doesn’t take account the financial burden new parents so often face. With the introduction of the Build Back Better Act, more and more people are speaking out about the long overdue need for paid leave and financial support for new parents. Now, one new mom is adding her voice to the conversation.
Rebecca Shumard gave birth to daughter Eden at 27 weeks. She went back to her job as a medical assistant just 12 days later, wanting to save her unpaid maternity leave for when Eden was released from the NICU. Upset over the choices she was having to make, Shumard posted a now-gone-viral TikTik video of herself crying at work.
“You have to return to work 12 days after having a premature baby at 27 weeks, so that when she is eventually discharged from the NICU you can spend what little maternity leave you have with her,” the video said, adding that her breast milk supply was also running out. “You try to pump at work every three hours, but they’re understaffed. Milk supply is [diminishing] at 8 weeks postpartum. Will you even have milk available when she gets home?”
The video continued to ask, “How can anyone afford to stay home during a NICU stay? How can anyone handle the guilt when you have to work and can’t be with your baby? This. Is. America.”
Unfortunately, many parents face similar challenges following the arrival of baby. Several people commented on Shumard’s video with words of encouragement, as one woman reminded her that not being able to provide milk wasn’t a failure. “[Your] baby can drink formula. You’re doing your best.” Another person wrote, “If it makes you feel any better, any and all of your NICU nurses understand you cannot be there 24/7 and are NOT judging you.”
Many people also reached out to ask how they could help. In a follow-up video, Shumard thanked her followers for their support, donations and help. “It is absolutely not the responsibility of generous people like you to take something like this on and to do that,” she said. “I think our country needs to realize that this is a problem that six weeks of maternity leave…is not enough. And if you do use FMLA, which is Family Medical Leave Act, those up to 12 weeks, depending on how long you’ve been with the company, are unpaid.”
Since her initial video, Shumard has been posting updates of how Eden is doing. She shared a video of herself holding a sweet, sleeping Eden, alongside the message, “TikTok…because of you I will not be forced to choose between being with my daughter in NICU or paying the bills. I am eternally grateful.”
In a video shared shortly before Christmas, Shumard posted a video of Eden coming home after her 72-day NICU stay. While Shumard is grateful for the support and encouragement she’s received on her journey, she says that our government needs to provide immediate change. “It’s the responsibility of our government and they have failed us,” she said, adding that it’s eye opening to see comments from other people around the world. “[They] get so much time with their kids. That’s amazing and I don’t know why we don’t have that.”