Amber Scorah is turning her personal heartbreak into a public crusade.
This summer, her 3-month-old son Karl died just hours after she dropped him off at his first day of childcare. Now, the heartbroken New York mother is pushing for paid leave for all new parents — and against what she feels is a culture that forces women back to work too soon after giving birth.
"When a child is that small, especially in that infant stage, they almost feel like an extension of your body,” Scorah told TODAY.
After hearing about Scorah’s tragedy in July, first lady Michelle Obama sent Scorah a letter of condolence. And now, White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett, in a partnership with Spotify, is calling for states to legislate mandatory paid family leave.
Scorah wrote about her campaign in a post for the New York Times parenting blogthis week that described the heartbreak and grief she still feels.
"There's no words really to really describe the horror, and just the disbelief,” she told TODAY.
In her Times blog post, Scorah describes how she wasn’t ready to return to work but had no choice because she would have lost her job, as well as her family’s health insurance. On that first day back to work, she went back to her son's daycare just hours after dropping him off to nurse her baby. Instead, she found him unconscious and the center’s daycare owner attempting to perform CPR.
A medical examiner's report released last week said the cause of death remains unknown.
Scorah made it clear that her campaign has nothing to do with her own employer, which gave her three months of paid leave. She knows that was more generous than what many Americans get — and that’s the problem.
While some tech companies like Microsoft, Netflix and Google are grabbing headlines for extending their parental leave programs, about 87 percent of private sector employees don't receive any such benefits.
"Many of these countries have had paid parental leave, not just for women but for men for decades,” said Brigid Schulte, author of “Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time.” “It certainly hasn’t broken the bank. Businesses have not gone out of business.”
The issue of paid leave has made its way into the 2016 presidential campaign. Republican Carly Fiorina calls it “hypocritical” for the government to tell its people how to live when it “hasn’t gotten its basic house in order.”
Democrat Hillary Clinton, meanwhile, wants the government to “recognize the incredible challenges that so many parents face, particularly working moms.”
Scorah said she’s glad for the conversation. She recently launched a website named after her son, ForKarl, to help people voice their support for paid family leave by contacting lawmakers and presidential candidates.
"As a society, we should be encouraging women to stay in the work force,” Scorah said. “Not doing everything we can to make it impossible for them to have a children and stay in the workforce."