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Al-Nisa & Gabriel

Al-nisa Smith works for an educational services agency in Essex County, New Jersey, that places paraprofessionals in public schools on a per diem basis. Her husband, Gabriel, is a hospital security guard. Neither of those jobs offer paid family leave. Recovering from a c-section, bonding with her infant daughter and dealing with her 5-year-old son, who has autism, would have been incredibly hard if they’d had to rely on their employers. “The difference between a calm spirit and stress means everything with a child with autism. I can’t see how I would have done it,” Al-nisa says. But because the couple live in New Jersey, which has a statewide program that provides both temporary disability insurance (TDI) and paid family leave insurance (FLI), Al-nisa and her husband were able to spend weeks bonding with their daughter after her birth in March 2016 – 14 weeks for Al-nisa (a combination of the two programs), 6 weeks for Gabriel. 

“I was confined to bed, plus I had emotional things trying to get back to being me,” said Al-nisa. “Having him there making sure we got through every day without any real issues, was awesome. He had the opportunity to bond with the baby as well.”

When their son was born five years earlier, Al-nisa and Gabriel didn’t know about the state’s FLI program. She took the minimum 8 weeks to recover from her c-section and went straight back to work. Gabriel had barely any time at all. “It was kind of heartbreaking,” Al-nisa said. The two worked opposite shifts to care for the baby. Al-nisa tried to pump at work so she could continue breastfeeding but found it almost impossible to keep up her milk supply. “In 4 months, Chase was on Similac,” she said. “I lost that bond you get with breastfeeding.”

Now baby Gabby is 7 months old and breastfeeding is still going strong. Al-nisa cherishes the strong bond that has brought them. She also loves listening to her husband and baby in the background “totally enjoying each other,” babbling or napping together. “It’s very peaceful, not stressful. We’re able to go through bonding without needing to run out to work.” And the three of them aren’t the only ones benefiting. Al-nisa says Chase has really blossomed from having his mother home with him over the summer and his father able to ease the transition to this new creature in his life. “His bond with her makes my heart break,” Al-nisa explained. “I’ve seen him grow up since she got here. He’s talking to her, putting on a show for her – social skills that were kind of lacking, he has more now. We even see the difference in his classroom.” She described how protective her son is of the baby. And even though he likes to hold on to his things, “every once in a while he’ll give her something, let her drool on his toys.”

Al-nisa reflects on how different the situation would have been if she and her husband hadn’t had that time after the baby’s birth. “I think it would have been more stressful for Chase because it would have been a lot more stressful for me,” she explains. “The difference between a calm spirit and stress means everything with a child with autism.” Al-nisa was able to take the time to explain concepts like breastfeeding to her son. “We were able to understand what his needs were. I can’t imagine that would have been possible if I hadn’t had that time and my husband there as well.”