In mid-December of 2014, my daughter, Bailey, had a stroke. She was four years old. At the time, I was going through a divorce and working in the retention department of Comcast. My job was to try to hold on to customers who wanted to cancel service. That morning, I noticed Bailey was unable to sit up straight and seemed to have lost feeling on the right side of her body. I took her to Children’s Hospital, where an emergency MRI confirmed she had suffered a stroke on the left side of her brain.
I informed the company right away. A counselor at the hospital helped me send in all the forms for a leave through the Family and Medical Leave Act. This was my baby and I wasn’t going to leave her side. It was hard enough that FMLA was unpaid. But because I hadn’t returned to work in the beginning of 2015, the company wouldn’t allow me to access any benefits that would have started that January, even though I’d worked there for nearly four years.
In March they fired me. They made it seem as if I quit, that I just didn’t return to work. The firing meant I wasn’t eligible for unemployment insurance. I ended up cashing in my 401K just to survive. I lost my house to foreclosure.” I’d been supporting myself and later my three kids since I was 17. After this, I had to move in with her mom and grandmother. Too late, I found out about an organization that helped people pay back taxes. I was in the middle of a cataclysmic melt-down. Everything was trial and error.
I thought I had grounds to sue my former employer. But the lawyers I talked to were either unwilling to take the case or needed a large down payment, which I didn’t have. Some people didn’t want to touch a case involving Comcast. I had to pick my battles – my main concern was getting my daughter to be okay.
After Bailey was out of the hospital, her routine involved seven doctors and three therapy sessions a week – one each for speech, occupational and physical therapy. I couldn’t find a job that worked with that schedule. Employers would say, “You do this schedule or you can’t work.’” So I wound up on public assistance. My health insurance ended with the firing. But because Michigan had accepted Medicare expansion money under the Affordable Care Act, my children and I were able to get on the program.
Fox news ran a story about Bailey’s recovery. After two months in a wheelchair, she was walking, running, going up and down stairs in leg braces. She does a lot with one hand. A leader at a grassroots women’s organization called Mothering Justice saw the story and called me to talk about their campaign for Earned Paid Sick Time. Had I been able to accrue paid sick time, or had I had paid family leave, I would have accrued paid time that could have prevented me from being fired.
I didn’t mind going on assistance, but I do mind how that’s become associated with being lazy and uneducated. Everybody at some point will need this. Financial aid for college is public assistance. The goal is to have it available for those who need it short-term. I can’t imagine it not being available. How do you survive if there’s no job, or no bus that goes to where a job is?
After Mothering Justice reached out, I started volunteering and became part of a 6-month internship program. Now I am a full-time staff person. I finally found a job that works with Bailey’s schedule. I love the work I do, talking to people in similar situations. I’m blessed to have the support system with my mother and grandmother. Otherwise I would also be affected by the fact that there is no access to affordable child care.
What most motivated me to become an activist was realizing that all the people that make decisions based on me and my family’s needs have never had a conversation with me about how I feel, and that pissed me off. I went to school and got good grades and moved up in every job I had. I did overtime, applied for a management position and didn’t get it and still hung in there. Yet someone sitting at the table in Lansing is making decisions about single Black mothers in Detroit, and that person is not single or Black or a mother. I saw it was a much bigger picture.
Paid family leave is key to having a sense of security. The worst feeling in the world is feeling helpless. Being able to feel somewhat secure in that moment of sheer hell, the fact that you know your lights will still be on. No one should have to make decision like that, do I put gas in the car or buy food for my kids. Those are real things that happen to everyday people.
Bailey remains a constant source of inspiration. She’s a fighter, a very lively, curious little girl. Sometimes she likes purple and pink and tutus and fairies, but she can also wrap foil on her head and turn into a knight in shining armor. She’s so independent, wants to be able to do things on her own. To see my baby run, even with leg braces – that’s an awesome feeling.
Sometimes you don’t know how strong you are until you have no other options. Part of me believes it was always in me.