Julie Steinberg wrote a nice article that encapsulated the four rules you need to remember about your maternity leave. I’ve linked to the article at the end of this post. I wanted to expand a bit on her rules and ask you all if you’d add any more rules to the list.
1. Start the conversation early
I was glad to see that the women Julie referred to in the article recommended letting managers know sooner than later. The 12 week mark seems to be a good time to let people know. You’d want to share the news sooner if you are having an especially tough time with morning sickness or you are high risk and may need accommodations during your pregnancy. You’re going through enough stress and emotions as it is so keeping a big secret and worrying about what’s going to happen when you tell people doesn’t help much. Just rip the band-aid off. They’ll figure it out on their own and honesty is always the best policy.
2. Work your hardest until the day you leave
Don’t put any doubt in your manager’s and co-workers’ minds about your commitment to the job. You’ll need a lot of grace from them after you have the baby so don’t use up all their kindness and understanding even before you go out on leave. That said, if you are working so hard that it is endangering your health or the health of the baby you have to be smart and take the recommendations of your doctor. Working your hardest will mean that you are meeting or beating deadlines, knocking it out of the park on your projects and making detailed plans about how your work will be managed while you’re out on leave. To quote George Costanza from Seinfeld (who is most likely an expert on pregnancy too!) “Go out on a high note!”
3. Stay connected while you’re on leave, but only a bit
I recommend that women not commit to keeping regular contact with the office while they’re out on leave until they get into it and understand what is realistic. Regular calls with clients, answering emails within 24 hours, coming up to the office to pick up mail, and other things that you may think you’re able to manage may not be doable once you’re home alone with the baby. But…you may be able to handle all of those things. Or…you just may not want to stay in constant contact even if you’re able. I recommend after your first second week home with baby, shoot out an email to your manager and let them know how you’re doing. Maybe a picture of the baby too. At that point you can let them know that you’ll be checking email every few days or that you’ll come up to the office in a few weeks to get your mail. I do recommend that a week or so before you return to work, you make a visit to the office and have lunch with everyone. Bring the baby along if you’d like. That way everyone can see that cute little one and fully understand why you haven’t been “present” in the last 12 weeks.
4. Come back at your own pace but manage expectations
FMLA enables you to take some of your leave on a intermittent basis. You may want to only stay off 10 weeks and then use the remainder of the two weeks at part time to stretch them out to four weeks. Although it’s allowed, it’s not guaranteed so you’ll want to work with your manager on a schedule to return. It is very common in Europe for women to come back on a reduced schedule but is just now gaining a following in the US. With a plan for your return you’ll be more likely to get it approved. I highly recommend the Work Options website as a place to go to get ideas on how to ask for a flexible work arrangement. I’m an affiliate and recommend Pat’s proposal packages to help you present a plan that will get approved.
Julie Steinberg’s article is here The Four Rules of Pregnancy Leave and is a great read too.