On Thursday, February 11th, both my husband and I testified in support of Paid Family Leave before the DC Council. We feel as if our words had weight, and we hope this very important bill passes. Please feel free to share this!
I want to thank the council for giving me the opportunity to speak on this important and essential issue. My name is Nicole Coomber and I support the Universal Paid Leave Act of 2015. With my husband Bob Coomber, who serves as our ANC representative, we own a home in the Kingman Park neighborhood of Ward 7. We have four sons, including twins we added to our family on January 29th – they’re almost two weeks old.
My family has pretty much every advantage a family in the District can have. Good jobs, a safe neighborhood, our own health, and four healthy and beautiful children. We are thankful for the benefits we have living in DC: preschool from age three, DC’s playgrounds, pools, parks, and libraries, as well as the museums all around the city.
I’m also one of the lucky ones when it comes to family leave. I’m a management professor at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business. I was able to take paid leave for both my sons, and I am currently on leave for my twins as well. Despite these advantages, I struggled with adjusting to parenthood. After the birth of our second son, Gus, I suffered from postpartum depression.
I wish I could tell you what it’s like to go through postpartum depression, but I don’t remember very much of the first six months after Gus was born. What I do remember isn’t pretty. I didn’t have full time childcare even after my eight weeks of leave was up. One day I had to take Gus into work with me for a meeting, and he wouldn’t stop crying in the car. I was so exhausted and spent, I started screaming at him. “Please stop crying, just stop crying, just stop crying.” Even though I was already running late, I had to stop the car. I parked in a Boston Market parking lot and called my husband. “I can’t take it. I need help,” I told him.
Around that time I read a story about a mother in New York City who jumped out of her apartment building with her 10-month old in a baby carrier. Like me, she was affluent and well-educated. Yet this illness caused her to commit suicide. Luckily, her baby survived. At the time, with how miserable I felt, how unable I was to shake it, jumping out of a building didn’t seem like such a bad idea. I didn’t want to hurt Gus, but I seemed to be failing him as a mother.
The common statistic given in the United States is that suicide is the second leading cause of death for mothers one year postpartum. A study in the U.K. found suicide to be the leading cause of death for mothers one year postpartum. Society tells us that pregnancy and childbirth should be the happiest times in our lives, but pregnancy and postpartum hormones combined with a lack of societal support for new mothers create a potent and deadly cocktail of depression and anxiety. Even with all the advantages I have, I still almost succumbed to this cocktail.
I am disappointed that the new version of the bill drops the amount of leave from 16 weeks to only 12. I am also outraged to hear coverage for mental health leave is no longer available. Paid leave is important for helping new mothers and new families adjust to the transformation of welcoming a new child. It sends a message that the work we do as mothers is important and valued. That carrying a child for nine months, going through the labors of childbirth, and doing our best to raise that child is something that society sees as essential. And some people need more than 12 weeks. I did when Gus was born.
No mother should have to suffer the very real illness of postpartum depression because she has to return to work too early. No baby should ever lose their mother to suicide. Please, for me, for every other mother out there at risk for postpartum depression, anxiety, and suicide, for our children, please pass this bill. Without mothers, there are no babies. Without babies, there is no society. Thank you.