Parents in the United States deserve federal paid family and medical leave. That’s why they’re mobilizing to demand critical change from Congress.

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Courtesy of the Chamber of Mothers
Credit: Courtesy of the Chamber of Mothers

You've probably seen this image—of two blood-colored hands in union—popping up on social media today. Maybe someone you know has even shared it. That's because a major social media campaign calling for the government to protect paid family and medical leave in the U.S. is taking off on Instagram and Twitter. But what does the image actually mean, what does it have to do with parental leave—and should you share it, too? Here's what you need to know about the #BuildBackBleeding paid leave social media campaign and the Chamber of Mothers behind it.

What Is the Chamber of Mothers?

Playing off of the Chamber of Commerce, the Chamber of Mothers is made up of Founding Mothers who are real moms themselves—with, ahem, large social media followings—who are all focused on mothers' rights, assembling advocates willing to fight to secure federal paid family and medical leave, and demanding Congress keep paid leave in the Build Back Better bill. As it stands now, four weeks of paid parental leave are being proposed—which isn't great, but is progress compared to the zero paid weeks currently offered to American parents.

These are just some of the Founding Mothers you should know:

The Campaign's Mission

The movement to secure federally mandated paid family and medical leave is nothing new, but with four weeks currently proposed in the Build Back Better plan—but not yet secure—it's never been more important for Americans to be vocal about how important paid parental leave is to them. 

That's why the Chamber of Mothers—in partnership with organizations such as Paid Leave for the U.S. (PL+US), MomsRising, Family Values at Work, and Caring Across Generations—are amplifying the movement to win paid family and medical leave for everyone, this time with a social media disruption across Instagram and Twitter.

How to Participate In the Campaign

Post this image on Instagram and/or Twitter and tag @chamberofmothers.

The founding mothers are encouraging you to use the caption: Dear Congress, We can't #BuildBackBleeding. We need federally protected paid family and medical leave. @SenSchumer #SavePaidLeave #ChamberofMothers.

Then tag three accounts to share the image and caption to spread the message. 

The final part of participation is to sign up to join the Chamber at chamberofmothers.com and contact your senator paidleave.us/email-your-moc

Umm, Wait, What Does #BuildBackBleeding Mean?

Birth is real and raw and messy. Babies are born covered in blood and birthing parents continue to bleed for weeks following childbirth. 

"#BuildBackBleeding is evocative," says Raena Boston, founder of The Working Momtras. "It doesn't allow you to look away. Societally, people think of maternity leave as a nice-to-have vacation for baby bonding. This is a misrepresentation. Birth is tumultuous. It is messy. Postpartum though beautiful, is chaotic. It is an upending of one's life and the beginning of a new one all while recovering from a medical event. This time deserves to be protected, not as a nice-to-have but as a necessity. By talking about the visceral nature of postpartum recovery we can give mothers and families the space they deserve."

What Is That Image?

"The womb is where this all begins," the Chamber of Mothers wrote in a release about the image. "And one of the facts that gets conveniently erased once politics gets involved is that birth is messy. Babies come from inside of bodies, the process of birth is raw, it's bloody, and it takes the support of many to see it through. As we talk about how we can't #BuildBackBleeding, we want to remind folks that real, bleeding, birthing bodies are what's at stake. The shape that the hands are making evokes the shape of the vagina—which is, quite frankly, the literal entrance to the womb where life passes through, and out from where blood exits. Yet it's not only birth when women need paid leave. The hands are the union of two as one, and conjure the helping hands of the kind needed in a village to support not only new families, but people at all stages of life, including illness and end-of-life care. Women, especially women of color, are the primary caregivers through all phases of life, and this image honors and reminds us of the respect and dignity that a national paid leave policy would deliver."

What the Chamber of Mothers Want You to Know

Paid leave isn't just for moms

"In an early White House briefing on the proposal that I attended, I was particularly struck that the plan was meant to be for what they called 'chosen family,'" says Lauren Smith Brody, author of The Fifth Trimester. "I love that. And it's a real indicator of how inclusive paid family and medical leave should be. This can't be just a 'women's issue' or a 'mom's issue' because then we risk further stigmatizing women and moms. Paid leave is for self care, for elder care, for care of an older child, for a sibling (a recent addition by law in New York state!), and, of course, it's for dads. It's about creating gender equity at home and at work from the earliest days of life."

When we talk about federal paid family and medical leave we aren't just talking about maternity leave, we're talking about parental leave—for dads and all partners and all kinds of caregivers. It's beneficial to mom, dad, partner, and baby.

"The research on this topic is remarkably clear—having help in those early postpartum days is imperative for the mental well-being of mothers," says Pooja Lakshmin, M.D. (aka @womensmentalhealthdoc). "When moms have social support—from a partner or another caregiver—the risk of postpartum depression goes down. And, when mom suffers from postpartum depression or anxiety, the whole family is impacted. Paid parental leave is protective for the mental health of the entire family. A Swedish study found that when new fathers were given 30 days of flexible parental leave, there was a 26 percent decrease in anti-anxiety medication prescriptions for postpartum moms. We know that the stressors non-cis hetero parents, adoptive parents, or parents who have been through IVF or losses face are even higher. Caregiver support is a health care issue." 

No, four weeks is not enough

"My dream scenario would be that when someone gets pregnant, they don't worry about work," says Cassie Shortsleeve, a journalist, health coach, and the founder of Dear Sunday Motherhood. "When someone has a baby, they don't worry about work. I have heard so many stories about people answering emails while in labor and worrying about their career as contractions start. The World Health Organization recommends a minimum of 18 weeks paid leave and preferably a timeframe of 6 months or more for mothers. Other countries have flexibility at work built into their lives for years after having a child. Becoming a mother, the transformative process of matrescence, is a monumental shift in a woman's life—arguably the biggest she will ever go through. And yet, American society, in so many ways, ignores it. My dream scenario would that it's not ignored—and that instead, it's respected and cherished and granted the time and healing it deserves."

This is just the beginning

"The first goal is to secure paid family and medical leave into the Build Back Better plan, says Alexis Barad-Cutler of @notsafeformomgroup. After that, the plan is "to assemble a coalition for change, creating a collective power source to amplify and support the advocacy groups that have been doing this work, and to continue to push for the changes women and mothers need and deserve to see happen on the hill. This is a movement. We're getting the cavalry ready."

And, according to Erin Erenberg, CEO and founder of Totum Women, it's time to "tackle every issue that's holding modern mothers back from being whole." 

Let's do this!