A video of a woman crying because she had to go back to work and leave her daughter in the neonatal unit intensive care unit (NICU) has gone viral on TikTok and is also shining a spotlight on the state of parental leave in the U.S.
Pennsylvania mom Rebecca Shumard gave birth to daughter Eden at 27 weeks. She returned to work 12 days later because she wanted to save her unpaid leave so she could spend time with Eden after she leaves the NICU. Shumard, a medical assistant, shared the video of herself, dressed in scrubs, crying over paperwork.
“You have to return to work 12 days after having a premature baby at 27 weeks, so that when she is eventually discharged from the NICU you can spend what little maternity leave you have with her,” the TikTok explained.
The U.S. offers no paid family leave for new parents. According to the Washington Post, nine states and Washington, D.C. offer some version of it but most Americans only receive six weeks of unpaid family leave.
Shumard didn’t have a lot of options and wonders what other families with babies in the NICU do.
“How can anyone afford to stay home during a NICU stay?” she said in the TikTok. “How can anyone handle the guilt when you have to work and can’t be with your baby?”
What’s more, she’s struggling to pump while working and worried she might not have enough milk left for when Eden comes home.
“You try to pump at work every three hours, but they’re understaffed,” she said. “Milk supply is (diminishing) at 8 weeks postpartum.”
After Shumard’s TikTok went viral, loads of people reached out to donate money or supplies to helpout the struggling mom. People were so supportive that she is now able to take some time off and she shared a sweet video of her in the NICU snuggling Eden as she coos contently.
“TikTok … because of you I will not be forced to choose between being with my daughter or paying the bills,” she shared. “I am eternally grateful.”
Eden passed her car seat test — where she had to sit in a car seat for an hour and a half without a dip in her heart rate or oxygen levels — and was able to come home after 72 days in the NICU.
Shumard shares TikToks about their time at home, including her experience with baby wearing and her new, wearable breast pumps. She is grateful for all the support she received. But she also feels that change is needed when it comes to family leave in this country. She believes that family leave is “the responsibility of our government and they have failed us.”
“I wanted to come on here and say, ‘Thank you.’ This is freaking crazy — so many of you guys have shown support and reached out and donated,” she said.
“It is absolutely not the responsibility of generous people like you to take something like this on and to do that. I think our country needs to realize that this is a problem that six weeks of maternity leave … is not enough. And if you do use FMLA, which is Family Medical Leave Act, those up to 12 weeks, depending on how long you’ve been with the company are unpaid."