Sheila McGarrigle

Real Faces of PFL: Bonding Photo Contest Winner, Sheeja

March 12, 2019

real life PFL story

Remember the bonding photo contest we ran last year for new mothers and fathers who had taken Paid Family Leave (PFL) to bond with a new child?  The competition was fierce—voters had over 250 photos of beautiful babies and joyful parents to choose from—but in the end, with 2,050 votes, we had a clear winner: Sheeja with her daughter Serena.  You can check out her winning entry here.

We caught up with Sheeja, and heard her real-life Paid Family Leave story: Her daughter Serena was born in October of 2017— a few months before PFL became effective for New Yorkers in January of 2018. So, if Serena was born before the PFL went live, how was Sheeja able to take PFL to bond with Serena?  Because parents have one year from the date of baby’s birth to take Paid Family Leave for bonding – this included babies born in 2017!  This means, Sheeja had from January 1, 2018, through October of 2018 to use her PFL time off.

Sheeja lives in Port Chester, NY with her husband and now two kids.   She works as an RN at a hospital in the Bronx, a 30-minute commute from home.  She explained to us that right after Serena was born, Sheeja took her New York statutory disability (DBL) leave for 6 weeks. This time helped her recover from birth and to begin bonding with her newborn, but she was back at work before she knew it. 

As a nurse, Sheeja works three 12-hour shifts each week. Those long hours away from Serena took a toll. Not only because Sheeja wanted to be with her new baby, but also because it had a big impact on her breastfeeding routine. The hospital where she works does have a mother’s room where she could pump, but that room is located in another building on campus, making it difficult to fit in the time.

But luckily for Sheeja, she remembered the new benefit her union representative had emailed her about before Serena was born: NY’s Paid Family Leave.  While Sheeja had the right to take the leave time to bond with her baby, it was a little tricky for her to navigate.  At the time, PFL was still pretty new, and many organizations were still working out the logistics of compliance and coverage – including the hospital where Sheeja works.  Because Sheeja chose to take PFL during the summer of 2018, it added the staffing challenge on top of managing vacation requests, too. But, in the end Sheeja worked with her union rep to secure the dates she needed - 8 weeks during June and July.

Sheeja describes being able to take PFL as a real stress reliever, “I wasn’t mentally ready to go back to work.  I was still thinking about my baby and what she would be doing at home with my in-laws while I was working,” she said. But when she was able to take PFL that summer, she spent bonding time with Serena outdoors, saw her daughter sit up for the first time and other important developmental milestones.

Milestones Sheeja feels she missed out on with her son, Ryan, who’s now five. Sheeja also shared that Ryan was breastfed for 2 months, but thanks to her extra bonding time, she was able to breastfeed Serena for much longer. And because she was home with her baby, she could also watch how Ryan bonded with his new sister.

Sheeja’s husband also took advantage of Paid Family Leave in 2018, because bonding leave is for dads, too! They tag-teamed their leave, Sheeja took time during June/July, and her husband took his time in August and September. “He is a pro at diaper changing now!” Sheeja noted.  Sheeja and her husband decided to use their PFL for bonding time all at once.  But, when taking PFL, you have options – you can read more about those here.  You might also want to check out this resource article to how to calculate PFL benefits in 2019 if you are planning for time off.

Sheeja explained that for her, PFL has enabled her and her husband to bond with their second child in a way they couldn’t do with their first. “Paid Family Leave is definitely important,” she said, “I don’t know why it wasn’t there before. It gives women a lot of support and respect. Having a baby is once-in-a-lifetime kind of thing and we should be able to enjoy it without any restrictions or guilt.”

Are you a soon-to-be mom? Get Paid Family Leave tips for any stage of your Pregnancy journey with this expecting moms downloadable guide here!

Expecting Mom's Guide









This blog post is for informational purposes only and is not intended to provide legal counsel. Please consult with an appropriate professional for legal and compliance advice. Any PFL information is as of the blog post’s date stamp; it is based on the applicable statutes and regulation,  and may change as regulations evolve or NY State issues guidance regarding Paid Family Leave regulations. Have more questions? Email us at

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