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'She was very much real:' DC teacher says she was denied maternity leave after stillbirth

WJLA – Washington D.C. logo WJLA – Washington D.C. 1/14/2021 CAROLINE PATRICKIS | WJLA STAFF
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WASHINGTON (WJLA) — A DC public school teacher says she is being denied paid maternity leave after delivering her stillborn baby in December.

At seven months pregnant, Elizabeth O'Donnell went from being an excited first-time mother to experiencing an unimaginable loss.

What she didn't realize is she would face even more heartache after she says her employer, District of Columbia Public Schools, refused her request for paid maternity leave as she needed time to recover from the delivery.

"I emailed saying my situation has changed and I would only need eight weeks for postpartum recovery," said O'Donnell. "They said I was no longer eligible for the paid family leave. It was shocking and hurtful."

O'Donnell says she requested time off to recover from complications she experienced during delivery. O'Donnell says she lost more than a liter of blood and experienced epidural complications.

"To think that I didn't walk out of George Washington University Hospital with my daughter, now all of the sudden it's like I didn't even have her," O'Donnell says.

She was very much real. I held her, and my body needs to recover from that.

O'Donnell was seven months pregnant with her baby girl in late November when she stopped feeling her baby kick in her belly.

She went to the hospital on November 28 and discovered the baby had no heartbeat.

She delivered her daughter Aaliyah on December 1.

O'Donnell bravely spoke out about her experience in the hopes that others in her situation don't have to go through the same thing.

"Moving forward, my goal would be to change the policy to include stillbirth and the definition of birth of a child," she says. "One of the qualifying events of paid family leave is the birth of a child and I did that."

Despite giving birth to her daughter, she was unable to take her home but still feels she should be allowed time to physically recover.

"That qualifying event still happened. It's understandable that I won't be granted bonding time. But I should be able to physically recover and that's not even bringing in the mental health aspect of this."

In response to questions about this story, DCPS said, "We are not able to provide comment at this time."

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