I’m a bereaved mother from a deep red state who is a proud conservative and advocate for paid family leave. I came to this place in life after my infant son, Shepard, died in his sleep at a state-licensed day care facility in Oklahoma when he was just 11 weeks old. Unfortunately, the manner of Shepard’s death happens too frequently in America.
A U.S. Senate subcommittee will examine the importance of paid family leave for American working families at a hearing Wednesday. This will be the first time paid family leave has been granted a congressional hearing in the history of the United States.
American families have a long list of problems that they encounter that no other parents in any other developed country face, including the absence of a federal policy requiring paid parental leave policy.
The Department of Labor recently found that one of out every four American women return to work within two weeks of giving birth because their families can’t afford to go without a paycheck. When these parents do return to work, child care options are expensive. Quality and safety of this industry varies wildly from state to state.
The words “America First” invigorated the Republican base in the 2016 presidential election and gave a voice to those who felt forgotten and unappreciated. Yet the American family is still forgotten. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that between 3,500 and 4,000 babies die in their sleep every year in the U.S. This horrifying number has earned the U.S. the highest infant mortality rate of any developed country.
New life is precious and irreplaceable. A total of 90 percent of the 3,500 infant deaths occur before 6 months, and the very height of infant mortality comes between 2 to 4 months after birth. It is during this time that the majority of working families are already separated and their infants are forced into group care.
In my state of Oklahoma, one person can be legally licensed to watch up to five infants at a time in a home day care. Of the 3,500 infant sleep deaths that occur annually, 20 percent of those occur outside of a parents care.
As a Republican, if I were to pick one issue that supersedes all others it would undoubtedly be life. So paid leave should have always been a Republican issue.
It is difficult understanding why our friends on the left have had a monopoly on this issue for so long. We are the party of family, of a child’s right to life and of personal liberty.
The parental paid leave policy proposed by the Independent Women’s Forum checks every box. It would allow parents to make a choice to collect early Social Security benefits, enabling them to stay home with their infants during the most vulnerable time in their lives, in return for deferring benefits on retirement for a few weeks.
This policy would provide more support to lower income families who live paycheck-to-paycheck so they could actually afford to take family leave, and it wouldn’t stop businesses from offering their own paid leave programs. Finally, it wouldn’t make government any bigger; it would just use a program that we already have in a better way to serve Americans who are brave enough to start a family.
If I were so bold as to speak directly to the Republican majority in Congress, I would say: let’s give these babies and families a better chance. Let us come together, not as Republicans or Democrats, but as mothers, fathers, and grandparents to give American families more choice and more freedom. Let us as a nation reap the proven benefits of paid leave.
In 2016 a University of McGill study found that with each additional month of paid leave, infant mortality can drop up to 13 percent. Paid leave has also been associated with increased vaccination and breastfeeding rates.
What if families were allowed extra time to learn to bond and to love each other better? Allowing family members to focus on their families when they are needed the most can only strengthen our country for generations to come.
This historic policy is worth the struggle. It is worth the effort. I ask you to please remember the 3,500 babies that will die this year in their sleep. These babies are dying and American families are being torn apart at the expense of the status quo. We can do better. We should do better.
The privilege to watch your children grow up should be afforded to every family. I would hope that on behalf of 75 percent of Republicans who support paid leave, Congress will act to save lives and keep American families together.
Ali Dodd is a mother, paid leave and safe sleep advocate, and founder of Shepard’s Watch.