I remember the day my mother took me into her room and told me she was sick.
Even though her words didn’t sound daunting, I remember her tone concerned me. She explained in language my seven-year-old brain could understand that for the next few months she would be in the hospital a lot, but everything was going to be OK.
My mother was a nurse so the hospital was a safe place for me. But the place that I knew as my mother’s office would turn into a very scary place.
I remember her mastectomy, the bandages, the bleeding and healing both physically and emotionally. Following the surgery my mother underwent chemotherapy. For months she was sick after each treatment; even the color yellow made her nauseous.
I hadn’t thought a lot about this point in my mother’s life until I became a mother myself.
I knew my mother was strong, but just how strong becomes more and more real to me every day. She was our caretaker, breadwinner, and therapist, all while fighting for her life.
My mother was sick before the Family Medical Leave Act became law. In 1989 she had to stitch together her vacation time and the few sick days she had to take time to heal. Between surgery, chemo and reconstruction, her job wasn’t far from her mind.
In 1993 the Family Medical Leave Act was passed, relieving so many people of the burden of wondering if they would have a job to return to after the pain had subsided. It was a huge step forward for so many people, but the reality of losing pay still prevents so many from taking the time they need to get treatment or to heal properly.
For women and families there is no bigger issue than how they can make ends meet while caring for themselves and their families.
At the Family Values @ Work 10th Anniversary celebration, Gloria Steinem said, “The women’s movement has always been more about the sticky floor of the pink-collared ghetto than about the glass ceiling. “In this twenty two years after the passage of FMLA, let’s keep fighting for people still working between chemo treatments, the ones juggling doctors’ appointments and midnight shifts.
Let’s organize also for those who could be fired or denied pay for taking time to get a mammogram or a physical – or for taking their mom or dad to the doctor, or staying home with a kid with the stomach flu. Families need access to paid sick days as well as to affordable family leave.
Our work is not done until everyone has time to care.