What if RiRi wasn’t RiRi? A commentary on the reality for expecting parents

Did you hear the news? Rihanna is pregnant! The news broke the internet earlier this week, accompanied by some iconic photos. We’re beyond excited that the singer/actress/businesswoman is expecting her first child. But what if RiRi wasn’t RiRi? What if she wasn’t a billionaire? What if she didn’t have the resources, networks and access she has? 

Here’s what pregnancy can look like for people who don’t have a net worth of 1.7 billion dollars and how politics plays a surprisingly big role in this human experience. 

The truth is, while pregnancy can be an exciting journey, it’s also very expensive and varies based on your state. The average cost of delivering a baby in the U.S. is $15,070, ranging from $8,805 (Nebraska) to $29,048 (New Jersey). For those who don’t have insurance, this price tag can place a huge financial burden on expecting parents. 

And, if we’re going to talk about childbirth, we have to talk about the disparity in medical care for people of color. Black women are 3-4x more likely to die as a result of pregnancy-related causes. Native American women are 2x more likely to die as a result of pregnancy-related causes. 

What about those who are pregnant and employed? Over 120 countries offer national paid medical leave to pregnant workers, with some countries even offering an entire 7 months of leave. However, it’s a different story in the U.S. At the national level, four weeks of national paid family medical leave is being considered by Congress. At the state level, just 9 states and the District of Columbia have passed paid family medical leave laws

Source: New York Times 

For those who aren’t in states that offer paid medical leave, the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) comes into play. FMLA offers expecting parents 12 weeks of unpaid leave* and there are many hurdles to eligibility. To be eligible for FMLA, employees must have worked for their employers for at least 12 months, at least 1,250 hours over the past 12 months and work at a location with more than 50 employees within 75 miles. When you take these requirements into account, FMLA only covers about 60% of the workforce, and many don’t use it because they can’t afford to miss work. This lack of support leaves new parents with the tough decision of finding an affordable daycare or forgoing their paychecks to care for their newborns. 

*Under title 5 of FMLA, federal employees receive 12 weeks of paid parental leave 

You might be wondering, how does politics play a role in an expecting parent’s journey? The answer is that politics are personal. 

Whether it’s the roads that you walk on or the water you drink, your life is continuously affected by politics. For pregnant people, there are policies in place like The Pregnancy Discrimination Act, which “forbids discrimination based on pregnancy.” There are also policies like FMLA that aim to help expecting parents, but place them in difficult situations  – choosing between time with their children and a paycheck. Then, there are the policies that should be in place to protect pregnant people but haven’t received enough support to become law. 

More than 80% of Americans support paid family leave. Yet, when I rotated into the mayor’s office in 2020 – every councilmember in Eastvale serves a year as mayor – there were no changing tables for infants at City Hall. People asked me if I’d have time to serve as the mayor, assuming that as a new mother my responsibilities lay elsewhere. They would never have asked the same question of a new father,” says Jocelyn Yow, IGNITE’s Legislative Advocacy Director. 

Pregnant people deserve protections and accommodations that help ease some of the burdens of parenthood. If you want to support pregnant workers, take a moment to advocate for bills like the FAMILY Act and the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, which would prohibit employment practices that discriminate against making reasonable accommodations for qualified employees affected by pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions. Support the Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act, which aims to invest in maternal health equity and diversify the perinatal workforce. You can advocate for these bills in three easy steps on our Advocacy page. 

Advocacy is one step in ensuring that change happens, but creating sustainable and meaningful change is much deeper than just advocacy. We need to elect leaders who are dedicated to creating policies that positively impact communities. We need elected officials with lived experiences that reflect all of us. And, if we don’t see these types of leaders running for office, then we need to run now.

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