I can’t say for sure that I was purposefully targeted. My story is tangled with fear and emotion and an imperfect employment situation that had warning signs before I was pregnant. My employer was a public agency: The City of Seattle…so it seems likely that incompetence was more to blame than greed. But I found that a culture of incompetence and self-protective cover-ups can be just as damaging as corporate greed.
I was in a benefited but temporary position. Promises were made that the position would become permanent, or at least extended, starting before I was hired. After all, I was launching a new program for Seattle City Light that would a) need someone to manage it and b) fund itself.
In November of 2010, I told my manager that I was pregnant with my second child. My first child, born in 2008 had been born at 33 weeks due to severe pre-eclampsia. This time, though I was considered to have a high-risk pregnancy, the odds were still favorable that I could have the redemptive natural birth of a full term baby that I had dreamed. In March at 26 weeks pregnant, the dream ended. I was put on bed rest to hold off the escalation of pre-eclampsia and intrauterine growth restriction (IUGR) for as long as possible. The same day, my employer told me my position could not be extended and would end in August.
I continued to work from home for a couple of weeks on bed rest. Conditions became more serious and I was admitted to the hospital. I called and emailed HR to ask how to handle everything. I was told that I qualified for the City’s Sick Leave Donation Program, whereby other qualifying employees of my department could donate sick leave to me. I was told to fill out a form. Then an HR employee sent an email to approximately 1900 Seattle City Light Employees that stated: Sick Leave donations are now being accepted for Leslie M.
A few days later, after I heard from a colleague that he had submitted a donation of 80 hours of sick time to me, I got another email saying that as a temporary employee I did not qualify for that benefit. It was as if I had overreached my authority by asking all of those people for sick leave donations and I, from my hospital room, amidst daily ultrasounds and steroid shots and sleepless nights of worry, should have known better. The email was not retracted, I have no idea if anyone lost their sick leave out of intention to donate to me…but I did not receive anything.
In April 2011 my daughter Amelia was born 2 lbs 10 ounces at 31 weeks. She was in the NICU for more than two months. It was the heartbreaking roller coaster that only other NICU parents know- with the tubes and wires, the CPAPs and desats, the grams gained and the inexplicable setbacks. It was the sentences that started with "she's doing great, but..." and ended with something about needing a transfusion. And worst of all, it was the 65 nights in a row of going home to the rest of my family without my baby girl.
At some point during the relatively early blur, my boss showed up uninvited at the hospital. The nurses at the NICU front desk informed her of their secure policies on visitors, and that I wasn’t there. She actually kept asking if she could “just see” my baby. No. Most of me believes this was misplaced good intentions (coming from self-involvement) on her part…but part of me wonders if there wasn’t more to that check-in.
When my daughter came home from the hospital in June, she was a high needs baby. She cried seemingly non-stop for the first year. My FMLA would end in late July for a position that was ending in August…so I just didn’t go back. My management kept insisting that none of what happened to me had anything to do with my performance and that they had hoped I would come back. In September, after a few more phone calls and emails, I met with some managers in HR. I wanted to know why for each misstep they took, there was no accountability...only me to bear the cost of the mistakes.
Honestly, at that point, all I was looking for was a sincere apology. I got none. I weakly threatened to file a lawsuit, but knew I had neither the money or emotional energy to keep pursuing this. For my health, for Amelia’s health, for my family’s survival, I had to try to let it go.
On the way home from that meeting they called me, and “not because I threatened a lawsuit” the City offered to pay for my family’s first month of health insurance through COBRA. I took it. And guess what…the next time I went to the pharmacy to get Amelia’s meds, the pharmacist had to tell me that my insurance was cancelled. The City had forgotten to complete the necessary paperwork!
The worst part in all of this is that the City KNEW they made mistakes, and they knew those mistakes cost my family. But they also knew we were vulnerable, so they took no accountability. They knew what choice I would make when it came to using what little energy I had left to fight them or fight for my family’s survival.
In the end, my family is one of the lucky ones. We have a support system- emotional, medical, and financial if we had truly needed it. The first year of Amelia's life nearly defeated us...but we came out stronger.
Amelia is now a healthy and thriving (albeit 26 pound) four year old. She is determined and mighty, embraces adventure, is gentle with others' feelings, shares love freely, loves board games and riding her balance bike, sings while she works and makes me so very very proud.