Mum denied maternity leave for stillbirth told ‘she was only caring for herself’ – Mirror Online

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A teacher who lost her baby in a stillbirth was denied maternity leave – “because she was only caring for herself.”

Grieving Elizabeth O’Donnell’s employer cancelled her paid time off despite being owed eight weeks’ leave following the birth of her first child, Aaliyah Denise.

But the 30-year-old was told she no longer had a right to use the leave when Aaliyah was stillborn seven months into her pregnancy.

She has won a battle in the US to change maternity leave rules after sharing her story to lead a public outcry.

She alleges officials told her because “she had no birth certificate” she should take unpaid family or medical leave, or use sick leave because she was “only caring for myself”.

Appalled Elizabeth called them out on social media, and last week District of Columbia Council announced a bill offering two weeks’ paid leave to employees who lose a child – including stillbirths.

Elizabeth O’Donnell with her daughter, Aaliyah Denise, who was stillborn.

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Before Elizabeth’s campaign, public employees in DC were only entitled to three days bereavement leave after the death of a family member.

Elizabeth, from Anacostia, said: “Just because my daughter is not here breathing does not mean my body heals automatically and it doesn’t mean there is no family.

“I’m just trying to get what I am owed as someone who delivered a child and to have that type of response with no empathy or understanding, no human response, was very hurtful.

“My main goal here is just reach women that have maybe experienced this or had to go back to work too quickly or had to quit their jobs entirely – you should not be put in that position because of a law we did not ask for.

“If this helps other women, other governments and agencies to figure out how best to help women and families after experiencing a loss like this, then I’m willing to put myself out there.”

Elizabeth was set to receive eight weeks of paid time off for postpartum recovery at the end of January 2021, and combined this with annual leave and sick days to extend it into June.

Elizabeth O’Donnell at her baby shower in November 2020

But Elizabeth suddenly noticed her baby had stopped moving and rushed to hospital on November 28.

She was told her daughter no longer had a heartbeat.

She said: “They took me in and what I expected to be 15 minutes and that ended up being three days.”

“It was just shock; I had had a beyond normal pregnancy, everything was consistently great, I was hitting milestones, I was never sick, had no health issues so from the start.

“I was told you’re the perfect candidate to be pregnant.

“At first I was like what do you mean? I had no emotional reaction at first I was just in shock and I just sat there staring off into space, I didn’t know what the hell was going on.”

Elizabeth was induced and delivered her little girl on December 1 after a 48-hour labour.

She had dilation and curettage surgery afterwards to remove the placenta and lost nearly a litre-and-a-half of blood.

Just a week after her loss, she contacted the District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) Leave of Absence Office to request her paid maternity leave begin immediately.

Despite having birth complications, she said the District recommended she apply for unpaid family and medical leave, or to use up sick time.

Elizabeth says the current law does not specify a live birth or say the only reason for leave is family bonding time.

She used sick leave and unpaid leave and went back to work on February 11.

But she would not accept the decision without fight.

Premature babies and baby loss

Elizabeth chose to raise awareness, and posted about her plight on social media, where he story quickly went viral.

Elizabeth said: “The outpouring of other mums that had experienced it, it really was incredible, I never knew any of this stuff existed until I experienced it myself.”

Her story caught the attention of Washington DC Mayor Muriel Bowser who called for change.

On March 2, councillors agreed to pass a bill giving all public employees who lose a child under the age of 21, including stillbirths, access to two weeks’ leave.

Elizabeth would like to see stillbirth be specifically covered under paid family leave, but added: “It’s a step in the right direction and I am very grateful for it.”

This content was originally published here.

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