Maybe you’ve been following the Kyte Baby story over the past few weeks, maybe you haven’t. I wasn’t planning to write about it, for two reasons. First, pop culture and I don’t usually spend much time together. Second, I figured everyone had heard about it already, so I wouldn’t be adding to the conversation. But it turns out not everyone has tuned in. So here we are.
If you haven’t been following along, here’s the short story. A children’s clothing company called Kyte Baby (that sells baby clothes made from breathable bamboo) employed a woman named Marissa. After three years of trying to have a baby via assisted reproductive technology (and 3 miscarriages), Marissa and her husband decided to adopt a baby. The baby they were adopting was born at 22 weeks and was in a NICU located 9 hours from Marissa’s home. When Marissa asked to work remotely during her baby’s NICU stay, Kyte Baby denied her request and fired her.
Here’s the USA Today interview with the mom who was fired: Exclusive: The New Mom at the center of the Kyte Baby controversy speaks out.
My Five Takeaways from the Kyte Baby Saga
Here are a few of my takeaways from the saga. This is what I’ve learned and what made me want to write about this event:
- Don’t assume your social media feed looks like everyone else’s, or that others know the things you do. The first few days after this story broke, my social media feeds featured nothing but Kyte Baby, over and over and over again. I didn’t post anything about it myself, because I didn’t want to add to the noise. But then I talked to a friend who said her social feed had nothing about it, and she felt compelled to share. I’m stepping into the conversation, because there are important lessons in this story for all employers – and all humans. This is a corollary to my Mindful Return blog post from a while back: You Know Things Other People Don’t: Imposter Syndrome’s Cousin.
- That a company has a mission you believe in doesn’t mean it treats its employees with compassion or respect. Baby clothing company…must care about new mothers, right? Turns out that’s not a given. I had to check my innocence at the door on this one.
- Kyte Baby’s termination of this new mom was both “legal, and common.” Daphne Delveaux, a lawyer who goes by @TheMamattorney, unpacked some of the legal elements of the saga on Instagram. According to Daphne, what Marissa did was to ask for an “accommodation.” And “accommodation requests are only protected when they are for your own restrictions or conditions, not your baby’s.” Daphne went on to explain that Marissa could have sued if she requested accommodations for her own stress and anxiety because she was in the NICU. Turns out accommodation rights and leave rights aren’t the same thing.
- Review your employer’s parental leave policy for adoption- and NICU-related provisions. Get clear on how your own employer would respond if presented with a similar situation. Do you know what would happen to your role, if you had a baby in the NICU? Or if you were an adoptive parent? If your employers policies are silent on these issues, start raising flags and lobbying to get them addressed.
- We need better laws to protect caregivers in this country. In the parental leave space, we often say that the experience you have with leave and return is largely determined by “winning the manager lottery.” It shouldn’t be the case that we have to have just the right employer, or just the right manager to be able to care for our family members. As Dana Suskind writes in this Atlantic article, Parents Need Their Own AARP. Want ideas of what you can do? Get involved with Chamber of Mothers. And in this next election cycle, vote for political candidates who are committed to care.
One final, if somewhat silly, thing I learned from this story is that babies and perimenopausal women have something in common: benefitting from the cooling nature of bamboo fabrics. If you’re in the life phase of night sweats like I am, check out bed sheets like these. They’ve revolutionized my sleep. That’s right: no more puddles in bed, ladies.
Want more practical tips on working parenthood? Check out my book, Back to Work After Baby: How to Plan and Navigate a Mindful Return from Maternity Leave