Two weeks after giving birth to her second child, the author was still breastfeeding.
Photo by Liuba Grechen, Shirley

When I gave birth to my first child, it took me 23 hours. Sunny-side up, my daughter was facing me stomach and positioned her head down, with her skull press against my lower spine. Mila was born by emergency C-section at 3:58 AM. I felt intense pain, even during contractions. I was crying, shaking, and speechless, and I still remember the anesthesiologist telling me to “use my words.”

Four days later, I had to be admitted in the hospital. Three weeks passed before I was able to sit or stand on my own. It took me four weeks for the apartment to be able walk again. It took me two months to physically heal from Mila’s birth.

Although I was the director for operations of an important university’s research institute, that meant I didn’t have any paid family time. After using all of my sick time, I did the impossible: I quit. I decided to quit a job I enjoyed because it was too difficult to be away from my child and to go back to work.

A quarter of American mothers are required to return to work within 10 days of giving birth. I had the privilege to be able to quit, to survive on my husband’s salary. One of those lucky people was me.

Nicholas, our second child was born 23 months later. After my husband returned to work for two weeks, I was home with the babies alone and spiked a fever of 105 degrees. The moment I started to feel dizzy, I called my friend and asked him to help me.

She took me to the hospital with my mother and father, and then admitted me. My husband was to take my baby home along with the formula. I refused, and made a fight to keep my child in hospital with me so I could continue to nurse him. Because my husband came with me, they allowed me to keep Nicholas company while the doctors took care of me. Mila was taken home by my mother. I can’t imagine what I would do if Mila had not been with me.

I had retained placenta from Nicholas’ birth and got a massive infection. For one week, I was in hospital and sent home after being given IV antibiotics for a further week. After four weeks, I was as sick as a dog and had an IV. At the same time, I was nursing my two infants. In no condition to wear pants or hand over my child to strangers and go to the office, I couldn’t even put on pants. Yet, this is exactly what American women do each day.

The act of childbirth is serious. Recovery is not a joke. Paid leave for family members isn’t a vacation.

These women are sent back from work, bleeding, and in pain, with stitches. Their infants are being sent to child care facilities that are overworked and understaffed, at a high cost.

Nicholas and Mila, who were then 1 and 3 years old, ran for Congress against an incumbent Republican Republican. He had been in the office since I turned 12. Although it was not something that I planned, my congressman was continuing to vote in favor of people across the country and my district. It was a very frustrating thing.

He voted against paid family leave, voted to defund Planned Parenthood 17 times, he was against a woman’s right to choose even in cases of rape or incest, and he had voted to take maternity coverage away from 13 million American women, even though we have the worst maternal mortality rate in the industrialized world.

The campaign I started was with my two little girls and had zero child care. My mother is a teacher, so she would look after my kids every day at 3:30 p.m. I campaigned with my infant strapped to me and my toddler beside me for the first five months. Finally, I asked the Federal Election Commission to allow me to use the money I raised on my campaign for child care.

Millionaires are why we have so few moms and only 6% of them in Congress. Even though 88% of American women are mothers by the time we’re 44 years old, only 6% of members of Congress are moms with children 18 or younger. Congress is not meant for moms who work and want to win.

While I was warned that my FEC request was “political suicide,” I became the first woman to receive federal approval to spend campaign funds on child care, and now more than 100 candidates across the country have used this resource. The one-time structural change that I made has the potential to make a significant impact on the political landscape. And transformation is what we are looking for.

Even after the past 21 months, as child care centers closed down and the lack of paid leave combined with lockdown and virtual school forced more than 5 million American women out of the labor force, we still can’t pass four measly weeks of paid family leave.

President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better framework would be a huge investment in American families, including universal pre-K, an expanded and extended child tax credit, and a 7% cap on child care costs for families earning up to 250% of their state’s median income.

The Democratic caucus cannot pass this legislation without unanimous support of its senators. This reconciliation process would enable them to get support only from a small majority of senators. Original proposal had twelve weeks paid family leave, which was cut to make it more appealing to the Democratic senators. Unsurprisingly, Joe Manchin (and Kyrsten Sinema) have not given birth.

Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand, Elizabeth Warren, House speaker Nancy Pelosi and Reps. Rosa DeLauro. Katherine Clark. Katie Porter. Grace Meng. Chrissy Houlahan. Mikie Sherrill. Cindy Axne. Nikema Williams. They have restored four weeks of family leave paid for, thanks to their efforts. But anyone who’s ever given birth knows that four weeks is not nearly enough, and still leaves us woefully short of the global average of 29 weeks of paid maternity leave. Moms need more, dads need more, babies need so much more.

Since generations, women and children have suffered from our policies. For meaningful reform to be passed, it is necessary that we change the rules of who sits at the table. Following my campaign, I started Vote Mama PACOur non-partisan nonprofit arm and school board members can help you elect Democratic mothers. Vote Mama FoundationTo help moms overcome cultural and structural obstacles when serving and running.

Moms are realizing how terrible our policies really are by the time they have to start trying to survive motherhood while still maintaining some control over their careers. We don’t have time to go out and fight for systemic change, but that’s what Vote Mama is doing.

The United States is the richest nation in the globe. American billionaires added more than $1 trillion to their wealth during the pandemic, and we STILL can’t pass paid leave. We do have the money. We don’t have the willpower. We don’t have enough moms in Congress.

Mothers can bring an unique perspective to policymaking. More mothers are needed to be elected and help change this country.

Do you have a compelling personal story you’d like to see published on HuffPost? Find out what we’re looking for here send us a pitchYou can!


Share Your Comment Below


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here