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Why desperate mothers are turning to crowdfunding to pay for maternity leave

Kieri Andrews, an expectant mother, is hoping crowdfunding helps her finance maternity leave. Without it, she has no idea how she’ll survive. (Photo courtesy of KHOU)

Kieri Andrews is an expectant mother, but when the 24-year-old Texan gives birth in a few weeks, caring for a newborn baby will be the least of her concerns.

Andrews’ job, as CBS affiliate KHOU reported, doesn’t offer paid maternity leave, meaning she have to find a way to survive six weeks without income.

For a woman who lives paycheck to paycheck, the impending financial challenge has turned a joyous moment in her life into a terrifying one. “I’m pregnant — sorry,” she told the station, wiping tears from her eyes.

For Andrews, a potential solution exists. At a time when it’s become common to turn to crowdfunding to help pay for funerals, medical expenses or creative business ideas, some pregnant women are hoping alternative finance can offset the lack of support they receive from employers.

“We’re not trying to get anything out of it other than just making sure I have a place to live with my kids, you know,” Andrews, who is seeking $2,000 on GoFundMe, told KHOU. “Anything helps, anything helps,” she added.

The American Dream? I thought so, until I had a baby and no maternity leave.

San Francisco just became the first city in the nation to require that employers offer six weeks of fully paid leave for new parents. And yet, only 12 percent of U.S. private sector workers have access to paid family leave through their employer, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

“Two decades ago, the Family and Medical Leave Act broke new ground by establishing some rights to parental leave, but it is limited to 12 weeks of unpaid leave and available only to employees in medium and large firms,”  Jane Waldfogel, a professor at the Columbia University School of Social Work and an author of Too Many Children Left Behind, wrote last year in an op-ed for The Washington Post.”As a result, mothers in the United States continue to take much shorter maternity leaves than those in other countries, and fathers typically take a week or less.

I had to go back to work two weeks after my premature son left the hospital

At the same time, child costs continue to rise. A two parent household making more than $61,000 a year will spend about $16,000 on child-related expenses during their baby’s first year of life, according to a U.S. Department of Agriculture estimate.

To raise money on sites like GoFundMe, GiveForward, YouCaring, and “Generosity,” users can expect to pay a one-time fee. On some sites like GoFundMe, users are not subject to goals or deadlines, allowing them to keep a large percentage of the donations they receive. Compared to the interest amassed by credit cards or payday loans, crowdfunding sites can offer an alternative for cash-strapped women, especially those with the right marketing touch.

“Think of it as a loan you never have to pay back,” said Dan Saper, CEO of the crowdfunding site YouCaring, told BuzzFeed.

On GoFundMe, the phrase “maternity leave” returns nearly 1,500 results. The “Today” show reported that GoFundMe has a total of 6,000 fundraising campaigns that mention the words “maternity leave” or “childcare,” which have raised more than $9 million collectively.

Dozens more can be found on YouCaring as well.

Compared to the goals set by many crowdfunding campaigns, it’s not uncommon to see women asking for modest donations, sometimes a few thousand dollars, sometimes far less. Requests often include money for diapers, formula, clothing, rent and other monthly bills. Sometimes, women are only seeking a donation that might allow them to take a few days off work. Others are worried about getting enough time off that they can recover without being forced back to work with health problems.

Their stories are often brutal, candid and desperate.

They are people like Brianna Jones, a 19-year-old student and McDonald’s employee who doesn’t get paid maternity leave. She fears she’ll be unable to pay for formula, as well as recover quickly so she can’t get back to work and school, she wrote.

There’s also a woman who identifies herself as “Megan,” a married mother of five children with another on the way who works overnights as a security officer. “I’ve found myself in a position where I will now be unable to stay home with my newborn nor have time to heal after the whole intensive labor that we as woman have to endure,” she wrote. “This is both heartbreaking and stressful knowing I can’t come up with the money to stay home any other way then asking for help.”

And then there’s Nicole Ritchie, a 24-year-old woman from Roaoke, VA., expecting her first child, who works at a salon that doesn’t offer “benefits, insurance, or paid maternity leave,” according to SELF magazine. After hearing about other expectant mothers who had success raising money online, Ritchie started raising money several months before her due date, the magazine reported.

She said her goal is $1,200 — enough to cover six weeks of bills — and so far she’s raised $500 from 16 people in nearly a month.

“There is always that worry of how long you can go without working and not having an income, but I don’t think that families should have to choose between money and their child,” she wrote on GoFundMe. “This is simply a reach out for any assistance so that I won’t have to make that choice, and so that I can be there for the most important time in my babys life.”

After college, Cook Anyik moved to South Korea to teach English and met her husband, according to her GoFundMe page. After getting pregnant, the duo moved to Ohio so Anyik could purse a teaching fellowship. Back at home, she found out that she gets no paid maternity leave and can’t apply for short-term disability or unemployment. Her school district, she writes, even forbids her from creating an emergency fund to seek donations from coworkers because babies aren’t covered.

Suddenly, she wrote, she’s wondering if she should have stayed in South Korea.

“First of all, they pay you to have a child in Korea,” Anyik wrote. “The government gives you a thousand dollars to cover the expense of having your child. Plus, I’m pretty sure that you receive paid maternity leave in Korea— everyone, no matter where you work.”

“I can’t believe that in this country that I call home, I don’t have any options for obtaining any financial assistance during my maternity leave,” she added.”I am forced to work up until I have my baby and maybe return to work before I am completely healed.”

To date, she has raised $350 of her $3,000 goal.

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