Teacher Elizabeth O’Donnell wins battle for paid maternity leave after baby stillborn | 7NEWS.com.au
A teacher has won a battle to change maternity rules after she was allegedly refused paid leave because her baby was stillborn.
Elizabeth O’Donnell, 30, was set to receive eight weeks of paid time off for postpartum recovery following the birth of her daughter Aaliyah Denise.
Tragically, seven months into the pregnancy with her first child, the baby was stillborn, and Elizabeth asked to begin her scheduled leave immediately.
But the grieving public elementary school teacher was appalled when she was allegedly told she no longer qualified for maternity leave.
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.
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, Washington DC, 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.
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“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.”
She added: “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.”
‘Just because my daughter is not here breathing does not mean my body heals automatically.’
Elizabeth was set to receive eight weeks of paid time off for postpartum recovery at the end of January 2021.
She combined this with annual leave and sick days to extend it into June.
But Elizabeth suddenly noticed her baby had stopped moving and rushed to the George Washington University Hospital on November 28, 2020.
She was told her daughter no longer had a heartbeat.
“They took me in and what I expected to be 15 minutes and that ended up being three days,” she said.
“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 at 5.30 am local time on December 1 2020, 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.
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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.
She said she now only wanted to use her eight weeks of maternity leave – not her extra holidays.
“I thought I was doing them a favour by saying I was only taking the physical recovery time so when I got the response I did I was shocked,” she said.
‘I was hurt’
The following day, DCPS rejected her request for any paid family leave at all – because she had no birth certificate, she claims.
“I was hurt,” she said.
“I feel like I could have essentially just said that she was born and that my leave was starting early and not be honest with them.”
Despite having birth complications, she said the District recommended she apply for unpaid family and medical leave, or to use up sick time.
She claims the current Paid Family Leave Act 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 instead of quietly accepting her response, Elizabeth chose to raise awareness, and posted about it on her social media, which quickly went viral.
“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,” she said.
The caught the attention of Washington DC Mayor Muriel Bowser, who called for change.
‘The outpouring of other mums that had experienced it, it really was incredible.’
A month later, on March 2, council members agreed to pass a bill giving all public employees who lose a child under the age of 21, including stillbirths, to two weeks’ leave.
Elizabeth would like to see stillbirth be covered under paid family leave, but added: “It’s a step in the right direction and I am very grateful for it.
“But in the same vein, I am still eligible for paid family leave as it is defined.”
This content was originally published here.