MSNBC anchor Katy Tur returned to the air Wednesday after a five-month maternity leave, and she devoted her final segment of the day to calling out Congress for the “shameful” lack of federal paid family leave in America.
Tur detailed her birth complications, which included an unplanned C-section, an infected incision and the overall challenges of adjusting to her new life.
“Nothing about this story is exceptional!” Tur exclaimed in the segment. “Except for the fact that I got a lot more paid time off to figure it out than the majority of new moms in this country. And [my husband] Tony took more time than at least 70 percent of fathers out there. And that is insane.”
While a small handful of states have enacted versions of a paid leave law, there is no federal American family leave. At best some workers qualify for 12 weeks of unpaid “job protection” under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act.
Paid maternity leave is guaranteed in every country except the United States and Papua New Guinea, according to a March report from the World Economic Forum.
In an interview with Know Your Value, Tur said she had been thinking about devoting a segment to family leave on her first day back “for months, frankly, after giving birth. I started to realize how necessary my husband’s support was and how important the recovery was.”
Tur had begun a Twitter discussion about the topic during her leave, and so many people weighed in passionately that she decided to discuss it on air.
In the segment Tur talked about how Teddy, her child with her husband — “CBS This Morning” co-host Tony Dokoupil — was born “healthy but small” at 6 pounds, 4.5 ounces. He lost more weight in the days afterward and was in the seventh percentile for weight of a baby that age.
“It was fine, so long as he gained it back, which meant he needed to eat and eat and eat and eat—which was not easy,” Tur said in the segment. “Not only because of the C-section but because breastmilk is not the instant, grab-and-go, ready-made meal you might think it is before you suddenly try to produce it.”
Tur was so exhausted in the hospital that she began to “waking dream,” she said, hallucinating that her mother-in-law was under the bed and a tall German-speaking man was hovering over her.
“I was sure of it,” she added. “I told the nurses, thinking they’d understand or even chuckle, and instead they sent in a full psychiatric team to evaluate me. Spoiler alert: I was, and am still, sane.”
Her sanity was intact, but Tur was still “terrified” to leave the hospital, she said. She was scared to be alone with Teddy and that she wouldn’t know what to do. While her husband was in the bathroom, a nurse pulled Tur aside and said, “’Don’t worry. He knows what he’s doing. Lean on him.’”
In the first month, as Tur was still recovering physically and adjusting to her new life, her husband “was there. Changing diapers, bringing me food, letting me nap. Then he was back at work and it was all me. And yes, I figured it out.”
But Tur had months of paid time to help her adjust, which is a comparative luxury. A quarter of American women go back to work after just two weeks, Tur noted, and 70 percent of American men go back after 10 days or fewer.
“Not because they want to go back—almost nobody wants to go back to work that soon—but because they are forced to go back, either because they can’t afford to stay home or because they feel societal or professional pressure to prove they are serious about their job," she said.
Parents and babies need to be with each other, and mothers especially need support as they recover, she added.
“If that support is coming from a partner, that partner should get equal time off,” Tur said. "Paid time off—emphasis on paid. Family leave supports babies, which supports us all.”
Lawmakers talk about figuring out family leave, Tur added, “but somehow it has not gotten done. Hasn’t even gotten a vote. And that is shameful.”
Tur invited any lawmakers and Ivanka Trump to join her on the show to discuss family leave: “I will have a seat waiting for them, or for her.”
The response to the segment “ has been overwhelming,” Tur said in the interview with Know Your Value. “It’s gotten a million views through one tweet alone. A number of lawmakers, organizations, mothers and fathers reached out.”
Tur said she hopes the on-air discussion helps focus the issue not just on paid maternity leave, but equal paid leave for partners too. It’s a fundamental issue, she said, and an equitable solution could help level the opportunities and the work both at the office and at home.
Her first three days back have been “good and bad and scary and fun and exhausting and exhilarating. Every emotion comes into play. I got a little weepy when I said goodbye to Teddy for the first time.”
But she’s also excited to get back to work to discuss news, politics and issues like family leave.
“I have a pretty good platform at 2 p.m. and on social media, which I so I appreciate,” Tur said. “So I thought, I need to try to make the world a slightly better place.”