Bea lived only 36 hours, yet her brief life could have a lasting impact.
After newborn Beatrice Kathryn Alder died in November 2017, Rachel Alder was back in the hospital with pre-eclampsia, a pregnancy complication. But because the Alders’ daughter wasn’t at home with them as planned, Rachel could no longer take the paid leave she would have taken from her job with the city of Seattle. Instead, the paid-leave rules required that she be back at work after only three days.
“I’ll never forget my disbelief in that moment,” Rachel’s wife, Erin Alder, told the Seattle City Council on Monday. “My wife had just had a C-section, our daughter had just died in our arms, my wife was back in the hospital and I was planning a funeral. But no baby, no paid time off. I was at a loss for words. And frankly, I didn’t have a moment to spare thinking about that injustice because we had a few other things going on at that moment.”
The Alders’ story led the city to consider changing its paid family-care ordinance to allow city employees to take paid time off when a child dies. The City Council recognized Bea with a proclamation at its meeting Monday.
This gap in paid-leave law isn’t unique to Seattle. Parents across the country commonly don’t get paid time off specifically to deal with the death of a child, said Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda, who championed changes to the ordinance along with Councilmember M. Lorena González and Mayor Jenny Durkan. Instead, parents grieving a child must cobble together various kinds of paid and unpaid leave available to them. Seattle city employees are given a total of four weeks of paid family-care leave.
“Bereavement leave is another type of paid time off and needs to be made available,” said Mosqueda, who worked on changes to Washington state’s paid sick-leave law approved by voters in 2016.
The changes to the city’s paid family-care ordinance would cover the death of a child up to age 18 or of an adult who is incapable of self-care because of disability. Durkan has sent the ordinance change to the council, which is set to discuss the topic May 22 in the Gender Equity, Safe Communities, New Americans and Education Committee.
“As it is currently written, the Seattle Municipal Code forces grieving parents to choose between mourning the loss of their child and paying their bills,” Durkan said in a press release. “No city of Seattle employee should be forced to make this decision.”
The impact of having to make such a decision was devastatingly apparent as Rachel and Erin Alder told their story before the council on Monday. The couple, who are now expecting another child, spoke about how their friends and families took care of them while they healed and how Rachel’s colleagues donated their time off, giving her two months of leave. Rachel said she cried daily on her bus ride home.
A co-worker suggested she bring up her experience with the union, PROTEC17. The union worked with Mosqueda, González and Durkan on the proposed change.
Mosqueda hopes that the Alders’ willingness to discuss their tragedy spurs change beyond Seattle and that elected officials move quickly to help other parents — especially women of color, who suffer much higher rates of pregnancy-related deaths. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently released a study showing that black and American Indian/Alaska Native women were about three times as likely to die from a pregnancy-related cause as white women.
“No parent will want to use Bea’s Law,” Rachel said Monday, holding back tears. “But it will be there in the darkest moment when the wheels have fallen off all that seems to be reasonable and right. Bea will be there to help.”