The United States is the most expensive place in the world to give birth. Lisa Ling explores how cultural shifts, inconsistent healthcare legislation, and income inequality have changed the way we have children in America in this five part video documentary.

Article | 01

Why I regret my scheduled C-section

A few years ago, I gave birth to my first daughter, Jett, via planned Cesarean delivery. During my last ultrasound of the pregnancy, we learned that the umbilical cord was wrapped around her neck, so I was told I had to have a C-section for that reason.

I can't say I was disappointed by the news. I wasn't exactly excited about a vaginal delivery, and honestly, my life was so hectic, that the idea of scheduling my delivery was actually kind of nice. I had been so busy traveling for work, that when my husband Paul and I found out we were pregnant, it was a shock -- we'd barely seen each other that month.

I'm admittedly a type-A personality who has always been used to being in control of my life. Before I became pregnant with Jett, I had suffered two miscarriages. After each one I thought, "What did I do wrong? How did I cause this?" It was demoralizing.

So, the predictability of a planned delivery worked for me. I had a date. I had a time. I knew exactly when I was going to be giving birth. I wasn't in that limbo phase, anxiously waiting for labor to spontaneously start.

Everything went according to plan. I went into the hospital on the morning of March 8, 2013, and a couple hours later, welcomed a healthy baby girl into the world. The surgery went smoothly and there were no complications.

After Jett was born, she completely changed and brought new meaning to our lives. But my schedule was just as chaotic. There was even a period of time when I was FedExing containers of my breast milk from the road, back home to feed my daughter.

So, when I became pregnant with my second daughter, there was no question -- I would have another scheduled C-section. But unlike my first delivery, there was no actual medical necessity for this one.

Through my reporting for this series, I learned that my first C-section and my preference for a second were a part of a major nationwide trend. In just a decade, the rate of C-sections performed in the United States shot up over 50%. It reached an all-time high in 2009 at 32.9%, and has stayed within the 32% range ever since. To put that into perspective, the World Health Organization says it should ideally be closer to 10-15%.

Health care professionals have identified many different factors that have contributed to the rise in C-sections, including the fact that more women are delaying motherhood into their 40s, as well as the rise in chronic health conditions, like obesity, that can put a pregnancy into the high-risk category. But along with the rise of the general C-section rate, which includes those surgeries that are medically necessary, the C-section rate among low-risk pregnancies also rose by about 50% in that same 10-year period.

These C-sections, and especially the ones among them that are happening in the absence of any medical emergency, have come under increased scrutiny among medical professionals and public health officials in their efforts to get our nation's C-section rate, and health care spending, under control. C-sections are on average, 50% more expensive than vaginal births, and cost us billions every year.

C-sections also come with a host of potential health risks to both mothers and babies. Something I, unfortunately had to learn first-hand, the hard way.

On June 6, 2016, I gave birth to my second daughter, Ray. Unlike my first C-section incision, this one didn't seem to be healing as quickly. In fact, I was experiencing a lot more pain than I did with my first, and at one point, fluid began leaking from the incision.

I had developed an extremely painful infection and it was awful. I was prescribed antibiotics, which fortunately seemed to kill the infection, but it took a whole month for the wound to completely close.

My husband, who is a doctor himself, suspects that I may have picked up the infection in the hospital. I was never really aware of just how rampant hospital infections are. And while I spent so much time talking to people about the benefits of a vaginal birth versus the potential risks of an elective C-section for this series, I also thought, "It could never happen to me."

In all honesty, I regret it.

I'm grateful that my baby's OK, and that I'm OK now, but it was not easy. I hope that when women consider having an elective C-section, they really, really take the time to understand the potential consequences.

Lisa Ling is the executive producer and host of "This is Life with Lisa Ling," which airs Sundays at 10 p.m. ET/PT on CNN. You can follow her on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

Article | 02

It's not home birth or bust

“I believe that for some women, midwifery care holds a possibility for healing," said Valerie Sasson, co-owner of the Puget Sound Birth Center in Washington state. And she should know as well as any of the many hundreds of women whose births she's attended over her 18-year career. She's a survivor of incest. Sasson remembers the birth of her first child -- unmedicated, in her own home, leaning her weight on her husband -- as the day that her body transformed from a site of sexual trauma, to a source of empowerment. "I'm not kidding you, I felt like She-Ra" she said, invoking the fictional protagonist of She-Ra: Princess of Power, known for her incredible physical strength. "It was triumphant," she added.

Before becoming a nationally Certified Professional Midwife and a licensed midwife in the state of Washington, Sasson worked with other sexual assault survivors at two different rape crisis and sexual assault prevention organizations in Rhode Island. The two jobs are not unrelated, she says, pointing out the common language she's heard used by women describing rape, and mothers describing unwanted interventions during childbirth in the hospital setting.

It was triumphant

"People feel like choice was taken away. People feel touched in a way that did not involve consent. Pain caused without information. Their water being broken without being told, being cut without any context or information being provided. People coming away from C-sections saying, 'I don't know how that happened,'" Sasson said. "The bottom line is that they bore a physical effect of someone else's agenda." And a psychological effect as well, she believes.

While it's still a small percentage of births, the rate of out-of-hospital birth in the United States rose 56% in less than a decade, from 0.87% to 1.36%, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Many of these births are attended by Certified Professional Midwives. Unlike Certified Nurse Midwives, these midwives specialize in working predominantly outside of hospitals, in birth centers and in their clients' homes, and they are only licensed to practice in about half the country.

Even in the states where they can legally practice, insurance coverage of this type of midwife widely varies. The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends that hospitals and birth centers are the safest places to give birth, citing the higher risk of neonatal death associated with home births, but acknowledging that quality data on planned home births are limited. Despite the obstacles, data shows that the number of Certified Professional Midwives (CPMs) has grown nationally, from about 500 in early 2000 to 2,254 in 2014.

People are just tired of being told how to birth

"It is absolutely a rejection of hospital," Sasson said. Her first-time client, Toni Brenning, agreed: "Honestly, I think a lot of people are just tired of being told how to birth." Brenning reflected on her previous hospital experiences, which ultimately drove her to opt for a bathtub delivery at Sasson's birth center for her fourth child.

For the birth of her first child, she received an epidural anesthesia for pain management and pitocin, a synthetic form of oxytocin that strengthens contractions and induces labor.

But Brenning felt her decision to opt for medication in the midst of a painful labor was ill-informed. "I had no prior knowledge as to what that concoction of medication could do to my body. I'd never had any kind of anesthesia before like that." Her blood pressure dropped. "They do hand you a sheet of paper with all of the risks and all of that on it, but when you're in full blown labor and you're in pain, and all you can think about is making it stop, you're not going to read it. Who does that? Like, 'Yeah, hold on, I'm having a major contraction, let me just read through these risks really quick.'"

The CPM model of care aims to reduce the rate of interventions like the ones Brenning received, and others like Cesarean sections. CPMs work with a lower risk pregnancy population to begin with and cannot perform C-sections themselves, but studies show that planned out-of-hospital births attended by Certified Professional Midwives are associated with dramatically lower instances of induced labor, labor augmentation, anesthesia, electronic fetal heart rate monitoring, episiotomy, operative vaginal delivery and C-section.

Intimate care is the solution for human beings

"Being an active participant in your care, it's a big deal," Brenning said, reflecting on her experiences in doctors' offices and hospitals compared to midwives. Midwives, she said, focused more on educating her about all of her options and the potential outcomes.

"Intimate care is the solution for human beings," Sasson said. "We're not going to solve it by making ever bigger systems that are de-personalized."

In Los Angeles, Debbie Allen -- a licensed midwife and a Certified Professional Midwife -- is serving a demographic that doesn't represent your typical midwifery clientele: some are on Medicaid, or have no health insurance, and many are African-American or Latina. Allen believes these women, who may feel disenfranchised by hospital systems and traditional health care institutions, stand to gain the most from an intimate approach to maternity care.

"You can't get good quality maternity care in five minutes, and you're waiting in an office for two hours for an appointment," Allen said. "Our appointments are 45 minutes. So we talk about diet, your jobs, your relationships. So by the time you have your baby, we really know you and you really know us, which makes a huge difference in how you birth."

Across several metrics, African-American women and babies face the worst birth outcomes in America. Babies born to African-American mothers are more than twice as likely to die as infants than white babies. They are also more likely to be born preterm and more likely to have low birth weight. African-American women are over three times more likely to die from pregnancy complications than white women.

"As a black woman, it just doesn't feel right to me not to do something about that," Allen said. She offers discounted care from prenatal to postpartum, on a sliding scale according to her clients' incomes, so that she can offer the CPM model of care to lower-income women.

But she insists that racial disparities in health care persist regardless of socioeconomic status. "I think it's systematic racism and the effects that it has on your body, how that weighs on your body," Allen said. "I've had clients who have come to me and told me that they've walked into the doctor's office and the first thing the doctor says is, 'Are you going to terminate?'" she recalled, "What kind of question is that for someone who's coming to you for maternity care? Why would you assume that?"

As a black woman, it just doesn't feel right to me not to do something about that

And several studies support Allen's point of view. One study, commissioned by Congress and published by the Institute of Medicine, found that minorities receive poorer quality health care than whites, even when they have similar insurance or ability to pay. Language and cultural barriers, bias (both conscious and unconscious) on the part of health care providers, and distrust of providers on the part of patients, were all identified as contributors.

"Walking into a room and not feeling heard by your health care provider makes a big difference," Allen said. "What's going to change the mortality rates for African-Americans, is not necessarily where you birth," Allen said, addressing the misconception that midwifery is all about having babies in bathtubs. "Quality maternity care is going to change that," Allen said. "It's not home birth or bust."

Article | 03

I had a baby with eggs frozen for seven years

Christine Hoffman, 47, looks at her red-headed, three-year-old daughter Francis as nothing less than a miracle baby.

Hoffman is a cancer survivor whose chemotherapy treatments as a teenager depleted the health of her eggs. She later had surgery on her uterus for a fibroid condition, unrelated to her cancer.

"Even after years and years of going through different treatments and trying different things, I just couldn't let it go," Hoffman said. "I would never sleep. It was like a wanting thing. It just wouldn't leave me alone."

She finally conceived Francis at age 43 with the help of a friend, whose eggs had been frozen for seven years.

Evolution needs to go a little faster for women in the workforce

Wendie Wilson-Miller also knew she always wanted to have her own biological children. When she turned 30 years old, she was a single, career-driven woman working in the assisted reproductive technology industry. She decided to freeze her eggs.

"It was still in the very experimental phase," said Wilson-Miller, now 41, "but there was a comfort in knowing they were there."

In the years since Hoffman and Wilson-Miller started their journeys to become mothers, the technology to freeze eggs has improved from a slow-freeze process to a flash-freeze process called vitrification. Eggs are now more likely to survive after thawing. In 2012, the "experimental" label was lifted by the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) and the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology (SART), and the following year, the number of women freezing their eggs rose by almost 60%, to nearly 4,000.

Because most of these eggs are still frozen, ASRM and SART state that there is not enough sufficient data, including on success rates and cost-effectiveness, to recommend egg freezing for healthy women who are freezing solely as an attempt to beat the biological clock. Because most of these eggs are still frozen, ASRM and SART state that there is not enough data yet to recommend egg freezing for healthy women to try to beat their biological clock. Still, more and more women are seeking out the procedure for that very reason.

"Evolution needs to go a little faster for women in the workforce," said Wilson-Miller, who today is the co-founder and CEO of the Los Angeles-based egg freezing agency, Nest Egg Fertility.

As the rate of women's educational attainment rises, so does the age of women having children. For the first time in American history, women are more likely to have a college degree than men, according to U.S. Census data. And a Pew study found that new mothers with a bachelor's degree are about twice as likely to be aged 35 or older than moms without a bachelor's degree. Over the past four decades, the rate of women giving birth to their first child in their mid-30s to mid-40s has risen dramatically.

It's a cultural shift that is both fueled by, and fueling, the assisted reproductive technology industry. In the United States, a quarter of women in their mid-to-late 30s without children have used fertility services. The rates are similar for women in their early 40s. That's compared to just 15% of their counterparts in their early 30s, according to CDC data.

But fertility treatments, including egg freezing, are by and large not covered by insurance and are prohibitively expensive. The typical cost for egg freezing is upwards of $10,000 per cycle, the majority of that going to the cost of the medications. Nest Egg Fertility is one of a few agencies which, for a fee, negotiates cheaper rates with physicians and drug companies.

"In the future what we would hope is that it's not only more affordable, but that we're getting younger women," said Wilson-Miller. Their typical client is in their late 30s to early 40s , which means she'll likely have to go through more cycles in order to get enough healthy eggs to have a shot at having a child. "I always had this fantasy that it would be a [college] graduation present that parents get their daughters."

"It is a luxury until insurance companies can step up and say, 'This is a real medical issue for women. Your fertility will not last forever,'" said fellow Nest Egg Fertility co-founder Shalene Petricek. After ending a seven-year relationship, she spent $60,000 of her own money on four egg-freezing cycles, starting at the age of 37. Today she's 44 and still hopes to thaw her 10 viable frozen eggs and one day have a baby.

I was pretty terrified

Four years after freezing her own eggs, Wilson-Miller met her now-husband. They were able to conceive naturally, having their first child when Wilson-Miller was 35 and a second son at 37. After spending thousands of dollars on storage facility fees over the years, she was just one billing cycle away from donating her frozen eggs to science. That's when she learned that a friend she had met in kickboxing class was struggling to get pregnant with her own eggs. It was Christine Hoffman.

"When I said, 'you can have them,' I was thinking, 'I wonder if I shouldn't have said this, because the chances are not very good,'" Wilson-Miller said. "I was pretty terrified."

Wilson-Miller gave Hoffman her eggs for free. Had she gone through traditional channels, Hoffman would have had to pay between $7,000 and $16,000 in egg-donor compensation, and agency matching and legal fees. That’s on top of the cost of IVF medications and treatment for the donor and herself, which can run up to $17,000 -- a price tag that Hoffman, a waitress/sommelier, and her husband, an actor/bartender, would not have been able to afford.

Wilson-Miller's eggs were thawed and seven were fertilized with sperm from Hoffman's husband, which produced six embryos. Given Hoffman's age and the fact that Wilson-Miller's eggs had been frozen with old technology and thawed after seven years, odds were not on their side. So, Hoffman transferred four of the six embryos, all at once.

One embryo took and was carried to term. Just before she turned 44, Hoffman gave birth to Francis.

"Francis is so ridiculously smart and so clever, but we're always making fun, 'It's the egg donor's genes,'" Hoffman laughed. "We also make little jokes and if she does anything wrong, say, 'It's definitely the egg donor's fault!'"

"She has the same genetic relation to me as my two boys," Wilson-Miller said, watching Francis and her youngest son, Bowie playing together on a playground on a spring day in Los Angeles. "The difference is when I look at Francis, I look at her similar to ... I would say the best I could describe it is my nephews."

It's the egg donor's genes

Although she may not understand what it actually means just yet, three-year-old Francis can already identify Wilson-Miller as "egg donor" when asked the question, "Who is Wendie?"

"Biology has so little to do with it," Wilson-Miller added. "It's the all-nighters. It's the feeding. It's the day to day. It's the waking up to be there for them if they have a nightmare -- that's what makes you a parent."

Article | 04

How I had a baby without my uterus

They'd only been dating for three months, but Heather Norden and Bill Wertz knew they were falling in love.

Then, at the age of 30, Norden was diagnosed with an extremely rare uterine cancer -- endometrial stromal sarcoma.

"I wouldn't have been surprised if he had wanted to bow out," Norden said.

Treating the cancer would require a full hysterectomy. But there was still a chance that Norden could have biological children in the future -- something she knew she wanted. She would have to undergo fertility treatments to harvest her eggs before having her ovaries and uterus surgically removed to stop the spread of her cancer.

Norden underwent two hysterectomy surgeries, two cycles of in vitro fertilization (IVF) treatment, and two egg retrieval procedures -- all in one year.

She could freeze her eggs until she was ready for a baby with a future partner or with the help of a sperm donor down the line.

"I only had one shot at this, there was no going back if it didn't work," Norden said. "Bill and I really talked it through and we decided we did want to be together, we did want children down the road."

Together the couple made five embryos using her eggs and his sperm.

I only had one shot at this, there was no going back if it didn't work

"I think my friends had a harder time with it than we did," Norden remembered. "People were concerned that we were rushing into something or we were making a choice that we couldn't take back."

When it comes to freezing the embryos created in a lab through in vitro fertilization, rather than transferring them to attempt a pregnancy right away, there's a host of moral and legal considerations:

What happens if you never use them? Will you keep them in storage indefinitely and continue paying annual fees? Will you destroy them? Donate them to another hopeful parent? Donate them to science?

Norden and Wertz froze their embryos and got married the following year. Because Norden had a full hysterectomy to get rid of the cancer, having a child with one of the embryos meant hiring a surrogate.

"I was worried that I might feel a little jealous that she would get to experience all these things that I had so much wanted," Norden said.

"It does bring up some of those societal expectations," she explained: "Am I still a woman? I can't do that thing that, in the past, has defined what makes a woman a woman. It adds another level of loss, because it makes you question your identity."

In addition to the emotional toll, there's the added stress of a steep financial burden. After thousands of dollars spent out of pocket on fertility treatments, Norden and her husband spent close to $100,000 on their surrogacy journey -- a typical price tag can run from $80,000 to almost $200,000.

Am I still a woman?

It was a sum of money that impacted every other major financial decision in their lives. Instead of their dream home, they bought Norden's parents' house with the help of a no-interest loan directly from her folks.

"Our baby was our dream," Norden said, "so we put less money into our home so we could afford to buy it outright, and then mortgage it to take out our loans for our baby."

So, why not adopt? It's significantly less expensive, ranging from $20,000 on the cheaper end of private domestic adoption, to $50,000 on the pricier end of international adoption. Foster care adoptions often cost next to nothing, and surely, there are plenty of children in need.

It's a question Norden's familiar with, and on some occasions, a criticism that was whispered behind her back -- one that she says illustrates a double standard.

"Nobody ever asks a mother carrying her own child if it's selfish for her to bring another child into the world," she said. "Everybody has a right to create their family in the way that makes the most sense to them."

More and more women are faced with these choices: according to the CDC, over 11% of women of childbearing-age in the United States have used infertility services.

Creative Family Connections, a surrogacy agency in Norden's home state of Maryland, matched Norden and Wertz with Brandy Kolek, who lived in Ohio. Kolek would be a gestational carrier for the couple -- a surrogate who has no biological connection to the baby she's carrying.

Nobody ever asks a mother carrying her own child if it's selfish for her to bring another child into the world

Between 2004 and 2014, the number of babies born via gestational carrier more than tripled from 738 to 2,236, according to the American Society for Reproductive Medicine.

On the day of the embryo transfer surgery, Norden held Kolek's hand while their husbands sat in the waiting room and Norden's pastor prayed in the lobby. That night, the Koleks stayed at Norden and Wertz's house, and they all bonded over Chinese take-out.

The transfer was a success on the first try, and over the subsequent months, Norden did her best to vicariously experience the pregnancy through Kolek, despite the 350 miles between them. It was central to the type of relationship she wanted with a surrogate, someone who would be happy to share the details of her morning sickness, her food cravings, her pregnancy dreams.

It meant finding a surrogate who was in it for altruistic reasons, not for the paycheck.

Gestational carriers are typically compensated between $20,000 and $35,000 depending on how many surrogacies they've done. If she's carrying twins, it's an extra $5,000.

One of the primary functions of a surrogacy agency is screening and matching women applying to be surrogates with intended parents. For this service, and for facilitating communication and psychological support between surrogates and parents throughout the process, surrogacy agencies charge between $20,000 to $35,000 -- a separate fee from the amount paid to the surrogate.

At Creative Family Connections, the agency Norden hired, only 2% of all applicants are qualified to be surrogates. They must already be mothers raising their own children, have at least a high school diploma, and they cannot be on government assistance. From there, the vetting process includes physical exams, psychological testing, financial screenings, and home surveys.

The demand for gestational carriers far outpaces the supply, an issue that keeps costs high. That is further exacerbated by the fact that compensated surrogacy contracts are only legally enforceable in certain parts of the country.

As Norden built her relationship with the woman who was carrying her child, she questioned her future relationship with her son. She knew he was biologically hers, but would he know that, having grown inside another woman's womb?

"Would we bond the same way that a traditional mom and child would bond? Would he miss her when he came out, having her be the only thing that he knew? It was really scary."

Archibald Wertz V, or Will, was born on January 9, 2015 -- three years to the month after his conception. The doctor pulled him from Kolek's womb and put him immediately into Norden's arms. Norden induced lactation so that she could breastfeed her son. She nursed him right there in the delivery room.

"He was 100% my son from the beginning."

Article | 05

Pregnancy is still costing women their jobs

When she was six months pregnant with her second child, Armanda Legros pulled a muscle in her abdomen while doing some heavy lifting at work. Legros returned to her job as an audit clerk for an armored truck company with a doctor's note to avoid heavy lifting so as not to jeopardize her pregnancy. Her manager sent her home without pay indefinitely.

Two months later, Legros lost her health insurance. After the birth of her baby, she started falling behind on bills. Legros, the sole breadwinner for her newborn and her 4-year-old son, eventually lost her apartment. For the first time in her life, Legros went on public assistance.

I was just asking for simple accommodations. Something as simple as being able to have a stool to sit on and still do my job

"Just standing on that line, I dreaded it ... It's humiliating," Legros said. "I don’t feel any family should do without and have to struggle because of discrimination and because of pregnancy."

But Legros' story isn't unique. Today, an unprecedented 40% of households with children in the United States are led by women who are the primary or sole breadwinners for their families, according to a Pew analysis of U.S. Census data.

At the same time, working while pregnant has become increasingly common. For women who were pregnant with their first child between 2006 and 2008, 66% worked during their pregnancy and 82% of those women continued working until they were within one month of giving birth. For women who were pregnant with their first child in the early 1960s, 44% worked while pregnant and just 35% of those women worked until their last month of pregnancy.

As the number of pregnant women in the workplace has grown, so have claims of pregnancy discrimination. Charges filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) rose from 3,900 in 1997 to 5,342 charges filed in 2013.

At the center of one of those charges currently under investigation is Candis Riggins, who became pregnant with her third child a few months into her employment as a maintenance associate at a Walmart store in Laurel, Maryland.

Working with the cleaning products in the store's restroom, Riggins said she'd become sick from the chemicals, experiencing dizziness, nausea and vomiting. She ended up in the hospital more than once, and after fainting at a bus stop, went to the emergency room. She said the doctor told her to stay away from the cleaning products she worked with during her pregnancy, so she requested accommodations at work. The charge alleges that Riggins was allowed to work as a cashier only when the store was short-staffed, but was otherwise still on maintenance duty. Riggins recalled one occasion where she was put on door-greeter duty, but was told she was not allowed a stool to sit on during her 8-hour shift.

"I was just asking for simple accommodations. Something as simple as being able to have a stool to sit on and still do my job," Riggins said. "I wasn’t asking to not work."

As Riggins continued working maintenance, her symptoms persisted so she started to call out sick from work, losing the only source of income for her, her husband, and their two young children. After calling out sick a few times, she received a letter of termination.

"I was shocked," Riggins said. "It definitely made me feel like I didn't matter. I was just the girl who cleaned up the restrooms and who responded to spills in the store."

Pregnant workers shouldn't have to choose between their jobs and a healthy pregnancy

A few days after giving birth to her daughter, Riggins and her family were evicted from their apartment and wound up in a homeless shelter.

"Pregnant workers shouldn't have to choose between their jobs and a healthy pregnancy," said Dina Bakst, who is representing Riggins along with the National Women's Law Center and Mehri & Skalet, PLLC in the class-action charge against Wal-mart Stores, Inc., filed with the EEOC. "It's shameful and it cuts against the grain of everything that we talk about in this country about ensuring equal opportunity and gender equality for women."

In a written statement to CNN, Walmart said it "attempted to accommodate Ms. Riggins during her employment based on her pregnancy." "Despite our efforts, she stopped coming to work and that is the reason she is no longer with the company," the statement continued. "Because her charge is pending, we won't get into additional detail, but plan to vigorously defend the company against the allegations."

In 1978, Congress passed the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, adding pregnancy discrimination to the nation's existing ban on sex discrimination -- established by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. But generations later, some women still say they are being forced out of their jobs as a result of their pregnancies.

"Employers have gotten the memo that they can't take one look at you and say, 'You're pregnant, you need to leave,'" said Bakst, co-founder of the legal advocacy organization A Better Balance, which provides free legal services to working women, and pushes for family-friendly labor legislation. "But it's this other area of law where you have women in low-wage and physically demanding jobs where there is an affirmative need for accommodation to stay healthy, where the courts have really grappled and, in many cases, have left pregnant workers unprotected."

Just last year, the U.S. Supreme Court established a multi-step standard process for proving discriminatory intent in Young v. United Parcel Service. The case was brought under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act by former UPS delivery driver Peggy Young, who was denied accommodations after handing in a doctor's note that restricted her from heavy lifting during her pregnancy. The case was eventually settled out of court on undisclosed terms.

Over the past few years, there has been a groundswell of states passing legislation guaranteeing pregnant women's right to workplace accommodations -- 12 states plus the District of Columbia, since 2013.

"They're smart. They know they can't wait for Washington in this era of disfunction," said Sen. Robert Casey, D-Pennsylvania, of the states that have recently passed their own pregnant worker accommodation laws.

On the federal level, women with pregnancy-related disabilities are protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act, but pregnancy itself is not considered a disability. Casey is the sponsor of the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act -- a bill that, if passed, would extend the right to reasonable workplace accommodations that do not pose an undue hardship on the employer, to pregnant workers nationwide.

Supporters of the bill say it's not only the right thing to do, but cite the larger economic consequences of pushing working moms out of their jobs. "It's one less person on unemployment, one less person having to apply for free healthcare when they could get health care through their job," Armanda Legros said.

She testified before a Senate committee hearing in 2014, telling her personal story and pushing for passage of the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act; "If you truly value families and children, then you have to make sure that the women who bear those children and raise them can earn the fair and equal wages we need to support them."

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