Senator Tammy Duckworth introduced legislation Tuesday that would provide three days of paid leave for women following a pregnancy loss, a failed adoption or surrogacy arrangement, an unsuccessful fertility procedure or a related medical diagnosis.
It’s a condition the Democratic senator from Illinois has suffered herself; she had a miscarriage during her 2016 Senate campaign.
“I found out in the morning I had a miscarriage and had to go back to work in the afternoon, and I really needed time to process,” Duckworth told CBS News in an interview. “It’s so deeply personal, that journey to parenthood for families, and to have to go back to work that same day and not be able to grieve…Or sometimes you need to pull your resources together and figure out what you’re going to do next and not have that time — to me it seems like this is something that’s an oversight when it comes to family leave policies.”
Currently, there is no federal paid leave program in the U.S. The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) allows those who are eligible to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to care for a newborn, newly adopted child or to care for oneself or a family member with a serious health condition.
In March, New Zealand’s parliament made headlines for approving three paid leave days for women after a miscarriage or stillbirth.
Duckworth’s “Support Through Loss Act,” which she is introducing along with Massachusetts Rep. Ayanna Pressley, would require employers to provide at least three days of paid time off after pregnancy or related loss. It would also direct the Department of Health and Human Services and the Center for Disease Control to provide additional support resources and public information related to pregnancy loss. And it would provide $45 million annually to the National Institutes of Health for research programs related to pregnancy loss.
According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, at least 10% of known pregnancies end in miscarriage. But Duckworth notes how cases can often go unreported because of apprehension over cultural stigmas. The experience is isolating, she said.
“Immediately I thought, did I do something wrong? Did I not give myself the progesterone shots at the right time? Is it my fault that I’ve had this miscarriage?” Duckworth said, recounting her own experience with pregnancy through in vitro fertilization.
“I was getting mixed messages as I was dealing with my miscarriage. On one hand I was grieving the loss and I was on the phone crying with a friend over the loss. On the other hand my doctor was saying this is perfectly normal, women have miscarriages all the time, he was trying to comfort me, saying I did nothing wrong,” she said. “My doctor was trying to normalize it…and I didn’t feel normal. I felt devastated.”
The senator hopes the legislation will enable more women to share their experiences and make them feel less alone.
“I think it will allow more people to come forward and say, ‘Hey, I’m having a tough time right now and I need time to deal with this,'” said Duckworth, who has also been open about her long road to pregnancy that included IVF treatments. Duckworth was the first U.S. Senator to give birth while in office, and pushed to change the Senate rules to allow her newborn on the floor while she voted.
Duckworth told CBS News she is speaking with Republican members in the hopes of getting bipartisan support for her bill. She recalled legislation she wrote while in the House to provide lactation support for traveling mothers. She approached Republican colleagues who were doctors who “understood the importance of breastfeeding for childhood health” and plans on following a similar strategy with this legislation.
“It’s a lived experience and why diversity matters in Congress,” Duckworth said. “I think it takes women in office who have gone through this to really bring it to the forefront.”