A Texas mom had her maternity leave revoked after delivering her baby stillborn. Elena Andres was 37 weeks pregnant when she was told her daughter no longer had a heartbeat. After an induction and a 15-hour labor, she gave birth to a stillborn baby girl. The baby, named Maxine, weighed 8 pounds and 13 ounces.
“It was very traumatic,” Andres told TODAY.com during an emotional interview. “Immediately when they held her up you could just tell — she was gray. She was gone.”
After returning home from the hospital, Andres, who works for the City of Austin in the Austin Public Health Department, said she informed her HR department that she’d need “to go on maternity leave a little bit early” because she had lost her child.
She was then informed that she no longer could take any of her paid eight-week maternity leave.
“They said: ‘Oh, I’m sorry to hear that, but you don’t qualify for (leave) anymore,’” Andres said.
Andres was told by HR that the Austin Public Health Department’s maternity leave policy does not apply to people who have experienced a stillborn birth. Instead, the policy is used for people who “give birth and care for a healthy newborn baby.”
What happened to Andres speaks to the absolute lack of education when it comes to what happens to a woman’s body after pregnancy, as well as labor and delivery. While Andres does not have a healthy baby at home, she is still experiencing all of the regular postpartum symptoms, not to mention the unbelievable amount of grief she is processing through.
Andres said her postpartum experience was nothing short of awful, from horrific pelvic pain to the normal bleeding postpartum women deal with. When her milk came in, “I had to put cabbage and ice (on my breasts) to help with the swelling. It was miserable — a constant reminder of what happened. The body doesn’t just go back to normal.”
Andres also had her 2-year-old son, Adrian, to look after.
“I was devastated. I lost 40 pounds. It was hard to get out of bed. I just cried all the time, but life doesn’t stop — I have a toddler,” she said. “I love him so much, so he made things easier at times, but a 2-year-old is going to make everything also way harder.”
In order to take the time off, Andres used up all her sick days, vacation time and received short-term disability coverage for an additional six weeks off with a note from a doctor.
In a statement to TODAY.com, a spokesperson for the City of Austin said that “the loss of a child is an unthinkable tragedy for any parent” and that they “will ensure any city employee experiencing such a devastating loss receives the support and time they need.”
“While the death of a child is not covered under FMLA, there are several other leave options available in the City, such as accrued leave, emergency leave and the City’s leave bank that fellow employees contribute to,” the spokesperson said.
“We care for and value our staff members and are continuously looking for ways to provide needed support and will update policies to do so when those needs become evident. Our Human Resources Department is currently developing a leave program for when an employee loses a child for consideration and approval by City leadership.”
After Andres got some media coverage, she says HR offered her four more weeks of paid time off. She has since returned to work.
“The anger that I have at the policies of the city — I’m never going to forget,” Andres says. “It’s so unnecessarily and unbelievably cruel.”
Andres story is another example of how much parental leave polices lack in the United States, especially in more conservative states.
In a statement to The Texas Tribune, Austin Mayor Pro Tem Paige Ellis said the city should stand with Andres and other parents experiencing similar tragedies.
“Paid parental leave not only allows for bonding with the baby, it also supports women’s physical health,” Ellis said. “Beyond her physical health, she will need time to grieve, on top of the heart-rending logistical and paperwork nightmare that accompanies a stillbirth.”
Austin Mayor Kirk Watson agreed, saying he was committed to working with the city manager and the council to “explore how we can amend our policies so that we are helping our employees to heal, not adding to their profound sadness.”