Thursday, March 15, 2012

Birth of an Advocate

In 2008, my husband and I received the exciting news that we would soon be parents.  Interspersed with our excitement was a maze of informing the appropriate people, filling out FMLA, disability, and benefits paperwork, training coworkers and redistributing work.  I remember specifically musing during that time, ‘I’ve never had six weeks off before, what do you do with that time?’.  Following a difficult birth resulting in an emergency c-section, I soon learned. While healing from surgery, I was awake every 2-3 hours for feeding, changing and becoming acquainted with our new little one. I had the opportunity to see his first smile, coos, learn his cries for hunger, changing and boredom, and his preferences for play and interaction, which were fundamental in establishing our bond and a pattern in our lives.  Ironically, after six weeks I was still healing and wondered how some return to work that quickly.  Nevertheless, at 8 weeks my doctor signed my ‘Fit for Duty’ paperwork and I returned to work.

While discussing my story with others, I quickly realized how lucky I was to receive that time off.  With no parental leave policy in place at Creighton, stories were prevalent of the difficult situation new parents face.  Often, faculty members return to work days or weeks after childbirth to fulfill teaching or other obligations. Staff members and students are not immune either.  For example, a staff member depleted her leave while on bed rest and had to return to work early while her daughter was still in critical condition in the neonatal intensive care unit.  Another staff member had two children too close together and hadn’t had time to accrue sick or vacation time to cover her leave.  Notably, job security isn’t the only risk, if an employee doesn’t have accrued vacation or sick leave, or for whatever reason do not have short-term disability coverage, the employee may have to take an unpaid leave. Likewise, a graduate student had to be back after three days, because ‘student workers’ do not qualify for FMLA and there is no guarantee the position or stipend will be held. Complicating this situation, daycare centers will not accept infants prior to 6-8 weeks, so the new parent must have a stable support system in order to achieve this early return.  Furthermore, whether or not travel to another country is involved, adoptive parents are only able to use vacation to cover their leave, diminishing their ability to bond with their child.   Unfortunately, these are merely examples of a systemic problem.  While reflecting on these experiences in relation to the Creighton University mission and how it recognizes “the importance of family life” and the core Jesuit value of Cura Personalis, I struggled with how we live out these principals.  In accordance with our mission, I believe we can do better!

As a result, I have had the distinct privilege of working with a group of amazing and talented individuals on the Committee on the Status of Women as we crafted a proposal requesting paid parental leave for Creighton benefits eligible faculty and staff, which will be presented to the cabinet soon.  I believe this plan better adheres to our core values and will be strategic in recruitment and retention of talented faculty and staff. In addition, members of our committee have put together a checklist for leave that Human Resources can provide to expectant parents to dispel the mystery associated with appropriate forms and deadlines regarding parental leave.  Together, I hope these steps are effective in alleviating some of the stress associated with becoming a new parent. 

When aspiring to improve your world, one doesn’t always need to look far.  What is your passion? How do you strive to impact your world?  What can you do to be an agent of change?


Marsha Pierce
Graduate Student, Biomedical Sciences

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