Bereavement battle: A mother’s quest for change in the law

10 On Your Side

PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — A mother continues to mourn the loss of her stillborn daughter, but is fighting for a change when it comes to bereavement laws in the state of Virginia and beyond.

“[My baby] was absolutely beautiful and I wish I could give her the world, but I couldn’t even give her life,” the mother, Daly Williams, said.

Williams remembers April 26 like it was yesterday. That was the day she found out the baby, which she had carried for 27 weeks and one day — no longer had a heart beat.

“There was a hole where her heart was flickering before,” said Williams. “You go from ‘I am going to have a healthy baby.’ We bought everything for our child. She had everything to come home to: a car seat, a crib. She had it all and at that moment, I was just like … get her out of me.”

Williams pushed through a 12-hour labor and her baby was born at 5 pounds 2 ounces. She named her Faith.

“I held her, I kissed her, I prayed for her and then the next day, I went back to the hospital and held her again, but she was freezing cold, but I just wanted to hold my baby one last time,” Williams said.

Williams opted to have an autopsy done as she returned home, grief-stricken and mentally and physically exhausted from labor.  

“My body changed. It was wired as though I had a child, but I didn’t have anything to care for, so there was a lot of psychological trauma that comes with that,” Williams said.

Williams said she took six weeks of maternity leave from her job, which she had started just two weeks before her early labor. Just days after she started working again, she said, the autopsy for baby Faith was complete.

Williams said once she got that news, she asked the company for bereavement leave to bury her daughter. She said she was within the guidelines per the company’s employee handbook. However, Williams said her bereavement was denied.

“They said, wow, it didn’t have a birth certificate at the end of the day,” she said.

She said she quit later that day and she has never looked back. 10 On Your Side took Williams’ concerns to her former company.

A spokeswoman sent a statement saying, in part: “We concluded that the actual documented events and timelines relevant to the former colleague’s leave request do not match up with the former colleague’s alleged timelines and allegations. Our internal team is confident the matter was appropriately handled.”

Williams’ case took WAVY News to employment attorney Joshua Jewett in Norfolk.  

“In the state of Virginia, there are no bereavement laws. Actually, that’s true for every state in the country, except for Oregon,” said Jewett. 

However, Jewett said most large companies have a bereavement policy.

“When something like this happens to an employee, I think a majority of human beings will put themselves in the employee’s shoes and say ‘This is a terrible thing, we don’t really care what the policy is, you need some time to grieve the situation, that’s fine with us.’ Unfortunately,  an employee doesn’t have the right to the leave,” Jewett said.

10 On Your Side reached out to Oregon lawmaker Alissa Keny-Guyer. On June 13, 2013, her bill, House Bill 2950, was passed into law. It added bereavement leave to the Oregon Family Leave Act.

“In our society you think, somebody died, take care of things in a few days and then get back to work. That’s not how grieving works. We know that’s not how grieving works,” said Keny-Guyer. “If we have healthy families and communities and mental health issues go down and people feel wrap-around support from their employers, we are going to have better productivity.”

It took Keny-Guyer and her colleagues a year to get the bill passed. Opposing lawmakers said the idea would make businesses less competitive, and possibly encourage fraudulent uses of the act.

Williams said she’s sharing her story, taking a stand for other women.  

“I feel like I made a stand toward policy, my disclaimer is I’m not complaining about the job or any one person, or trying to point fingers and name names, or say they are a horrible company, I’m just standing up against policy,” said Williams. “No woman should be told ‘It’s your job, your physical health or your child.'”

Through a 10 On Your Side investigation, we found New Zealand is the only country that requires bereavement by law.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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