Austin, Birth, Elena Andres, stillbirth, stillbirth

Black Texas Mom Denied Maternity Leave After Having Stillborn Baby

Elena Andres of Austin, Texas, is living a nightmare after being denied maternity leave after giving birth to her stillborn daughter, the Texas Tribune reports.

After being in labor for 15 hours, the stillbirth took a toll on her body, and her grief was severe. Andres notified her employer, Austin Public Health, that she would take leave early, only to be told by human resources that her situation didn’t qualify for the city’s eight-week paid parental leave. Andres said she was crushed. “I felt so small, like they were saying my stillbirth pregnancy didn’t count,” Andres said. “Like my daughter didn’t count.”

Under company policy and the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), employees can take eight weeks of paid parental leave after “the birth of a child or the placement of a child for adoption or foster care.” However, parents of stillbirths or babies who die soon after birth don’t qualify for paid parental leave. A City of Austin spokesperson said federal FMLA guidelines for parental leave do not include stillbirths, which is why the city’s policy doesn’t either.

“It was like a kick in the face,” said Andres. “Apparently our paid maternity leave is only for bonding with the newborn, it’s not for recovering from birth. … The whole pregnancy, physically, whatever it does to the body of the person, they don’t care about.”

She told Today that the baby’s name was Maxine and she was born on May 7, weighing 8 pounds and 13 ounces.

Jenny LaCoste-Caputo, the deputy communications director for the city of Austin, offered other alternatives: accrued sick and vacation time, three days of bereavement, and a leaving bank where employees donate time off but that can only be used when all accrued leave is exhausted. In order get the time she deserved post-birth, Andres used up all her sick and vacation time and received short-term disability coverage for six more weeks off, thanks to a note from a doctor.

After Andres’ story broke, the HR department at her job offered her four more weeks of paid time off and urged a policy change from Austin city council members like Vanessa Fuentes, who said, “I stand with the new parents who have undergone horrific loss and urge they be provided the full eight weeks of paid parental leave.”

Andres returned to work on July 18.