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Editorial
Would You Turn To Crowdfunding To Help Pay For Parental Leave?
© highwaystarz / Adobe Stock
Patrick Ball via Care.com

Parental leave in the United States is broke, and thousands of new parents aren’t waiting for government to fix it. Instead, they’re seeking crowdfunding help to subsidize unpaid parental leave.

An ABC News video from last month sought to humanize the trend, interviewing a couple of couples who relied on the generosity of friends and family to provide the financial support the new mothers needed to take unpaid time away from work and spend time with their newborns.  

If hitting up your friends and family to fund your maternity (or paternity) leave strikes you as odd, then you might take a moment to consider the world we’re living in.

The United States is the only developed nation in the world without a federal policy that provides paid leave for new moms after the birth of a child. Fewer than 15 percent of private sector employees have access to paid leave, and nearly one-quarter of new moms return to work within two weeks of giving birth. In that context, you can begin to see why parents-to-be are turning to platforms like GoFundMe, Plumfund and the cash fund options on the Babylist registry.

And that’s before you even get into the personal stories.  

Take Ross Richendrfer. His wife was just six weeks into a new gig as a construction administrator when complications caused her to deliver their baby boy nine weeks early. While her employer was supportive, she didn’t qualify for paid leave. They couldn’t afford a long stretch without her income, but still Ross wasn’t sold on going the crowdfunding route.

“We had a health crisis we had a baby. These were very intimate details of our lives that we were sort of putting out there for family, friends, for public consumption. I was really hesitant about that,” Richendrfer told ABC News. “As I kept thinking about it, it occurred to me that my pride, our privacy don’t outweigh Taylor and Aiden getting the chance that they need to spend time together at this most crucial part of our lives.”

Hits you right in the feels, doesn’t it?

A Growing Trend?

A number of similar stories surfaced around this time last year, when BuzzFeed to Scary Mommy to the Washington Post all reported about mothers-to-be turning to friends, family and strangers for financial security after giving birth.

WaPo’s coverage at the time reported GoFundMe search of “maternity leave” turns up about 1,500 results. TODAY reported there are about 6,000 campaigns with “maternity leave” or “child care.” Natalie Gordon, Babylist CEO, told ABC that families on her site are asking for between $500 and $10,000, with the majority requesting a few thousand dollars.

Still trying to wrap your head around just why, exactly, one might pitch in a few bucks toward a crowdfunded maternity leave? There are a few ways to look at this trend that could help.

On the one hand, you could make the comparison to families who use crowdfunding sites to help cover bills for hospital stays or unexpected events. On the other hand, you could think of it as more of an experiential gift, like picking up the tab for an excursion on a friend’s honeymoon.

“Women are having to get more creative about how to fund this really special time in their life,” Plumfund founder Sara Margulis said in the ABC News feature. “When you think about it as a special time, it really becomes and experience and something that friends and family can give.”

Special time indeed.

Will the U.S. #LeadOnLeave or will parents #PleadOnLeave?

Access to paid leave has well documented health, developmental and financial benefits to mothers, babies and families. “From higher rates of vaccination to increased breastfeeding to improved maternal mental health, the evidence is clear: paid leave has essential benefits for children and parents in the early weeks and months of life,” Pediatric Policy Council Chairman Dr. Paul Chung said earlier this when his organization endorsed the FAMILY Act, a bill that would provide paid family leave for all American workers.

We’ve reached the point in this piece where we remind you (again) that the United States is the only developed nation in the world without a federal paid leave policy covering new moms. Crowdsourcing leave, while understandable, is not a sustainable solution to a problem in need of systemic change.

President Donald Trump has promised (on more than one occasion) to work with both parties to make child care accessible and ensure new parents have paid family leave. His daughter, Ivanka Trump, has said any effort to re-write the tax code will address paid family leave.

Meanwhile, U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) have reintroduced Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act, more commonly known as the FAMILY Act.

The proposal calls for a gender-neutral program providing 60 days – the equivalent of standard 12 work weeks – of paid family leave to every American worker, regardless of the size of their company. It went first before Congress in 2013 and again in 2015, when it was read twice in the Senate and referred to Committee on Finance, while in the House it reached the Subcommittee on Social Security, according to FORTUNE.

Could third time be the charm for the FAMILY Act? Will Trump deliver on his campaign promise of paid leave? Or will crowdfunded maternity leave be all the baby registry rage in 2017 and beyond?

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This article originally appeared on Care.com.

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