FARGO -- Most American workers get little or no paid time off for family leave, such as for the birth of a child or to care for a sick or aging relative.
In fact, the U.S. is the only industrialized country that does not mandate paid leave for mothers of newborns, according to the International Labour Organization.
While a 1993 federal law guarantees a person's job for up to 12 weeks of family leave, it's estimated less than 35 percent of North Dakota's working adults are eligible for that unpaid leave or can afford it.
U.S. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., recently announced her support of a bill to adopt a federal paid family leave program known as the Family Act. It would provide up to 12 weeks of partial income for a worker in those situations and would be funded through employee and employer contributions, costing about $1.50 a week for a typical worker.
In Minnesota, Gov. Mark Dayton recently pitched a plan to give six weeks of paid parental leave for state employees. In North Dakota, a similar proposal calling for 12 weeks of paid leave for state employees was voted down in the 2015 session.
Meanwhile, people still have babies and family members still get sick, which can cause major financial strain at a difficult time. Here are the stories of three area families, and how they've tried to stay afloat through the challenges working without paid family leave.
Virtually no time off
Kelsey Endersbe, 32, of Fargo, has a 10-year-old boy, an 11-month-old girl and another baby on the way. The father of her oldest pays child support and sees him regularly, but she's on her own raising her daughter and unborn son, she says, because their father decided not to be involved after learning of the pregnancy.
"He told me to figure it out," she said.
Endersbe had short-term disability benefits in her job, with partial pay. She could use it for family leave after her second pregnancy, but she was laid off last fall. To keep money coming in, she had to quickly take a new job in a rush. The company pays employee health insurance premiums, but offers no short-term disability in her new job as team lead in a customer service position.
"They're completely supportive of me taking time off, but it's unpaid," Endersbe said.
With her baby due at the end of May, she says she's trying hard to save up money and PTO, or paid time off, but will only have about a week's worth by then. The rest of her planned one-month leave will be unpaid.
"That's like the weight on my shoulders every day," Endersbe said. "It feels a lot scarier than it may seem to others."
Her father also recently had brain surgery in the Twin Cities, and she's unable to go see him because she needs to save up her days.
"This totally hits home because it's like a double whammy," she said.
On top of rent, utilities and other bills, she's still paying off student loans. She said it hurts when she has to tell her oldest child that he can't do things his friends are doing because they can't afford it.
"I definitely feel the stress," she said.
Parents use up PTO
Heidi and Chris Stalboerger, both 34 of Moorhead, found themselves in a spot many new parents fear. When their daughter Emilee was born in 2014, she had serious breathing problems that required hospitalization in the Twin Cities for 5½ weeks.
Heidi planned an 11-week leave from her insurance job with some PTO and short-term disability, but about half of the time off was unpaid. Employees at the previous company she worked for did a benefit lunch to help her husband travel to and from the Twin Cities every weekend, and his co-workers donated PTO.
When the couple finally brought Emilee home from the hospital, Heidi said she didn't get to spend much time at home with her sick baby.
They went back to their jobs and their daughter went to day care. Emilee got sick from germs she wasn't accustomed to, had a setback and landed back in the hospital.
This time, Heidi was out of work for weeks, unpaid. She says she's thankful both of the couple's employers are family friendly, and allow them to be away as long as they need.
"For us, it was never a question of how am I going to pay this bill," Heidi said. "We do whatever we have to do to get by."
Now they have in-home child care to reduce the germs their daughter is exposed to while her immune system gets stronger. Heidi says a donation from the Forward Foundation helped cover some of those costs.
She said that even through the challenges, they still feel fortunate.
"I know people have struggled far worse than us."
Gave birth Tuesday, back to work Monday
Marie Champagne of Fargo had a potentially serious medical condition during her first pregnancy forcing her to burn up all of her vacation and sick time from her job at North Dakota State University, even before son Brandon was born in 2007. She was on bed rest for more than a month due to high blood pressure and borderline preeclampsia. After the birth, she took eight weeks of unpaid leave until her son was old enough to go to day care.
"My husband was working, so while it wasn't ideal for me to have no income, we made it work as best we could," she said.
Marie's husband, Bryan, was laid off around the time she was ordered to be on bed rest with the same condition during her second pregnancy, in 2009. They decided he would stay home with the kids instead of finding another job.
"We figured one paycheck would totally be going to day care, if not more," Marie said.
She used up a lot of her paid time off again before their son Mitchell was born.
"I was induced on a Tuesday, came home from the hospital Thursday and went back to work the following Monday," Marie said.
For the first six months after Mitchell was born, she ran home at lunchtime each day because the baby would not take a bottle from her husband.
"I was pretty tired," she said.
The cumulative financial impact of two periods of unpaid leave was significant.
"We ended up in the hole; went through foreclosure on our home," Marie said.
Both are now working full time. The family has lived in an apartment, but hope to be back in a house in the next year or two.
"We'd like to have a yard," Marie says, for their boys, now 8 and 6.