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Maternity Leave: Then and Now

career critical conversation maternity leave susan rietano davey work + life balance
Maternity Leave: Then and Now

You know those women who plan out their lives and everything goes pretty much according to schedule? Well, I’m not one of them. I’m an “accidental businessperson” who landed in corporate America through a chance meeting - and a mom who had four kids in six years, three of whom were surprises and the youngest of whom I birthed the day after getting the cast removed from my broken left leg. (I won’t say how I broke it, but it had something to do with being up in a tree). I thrive in chaos and prefer my “schedules” - if I have them at all - to be loose.

It made perfect (but painful) sense, therefore, that my first pregnancy didn’t follow any conventional plan. Tucker’s birth was made possible by a very patient medical team and years of infertility treatments to address an “unknown cause.” (Somehow the cause corrected itself yielding more children the normal – and much more fun – way).

Because Tucker’s conception was so long in coming, my husband, Bob and I were cautious to reveal the news. Conveniently, I didn’t show for a while, so it was easy to conceal. At the time, I was working for an unqualified, incompetent VP whose goal was to replace a highly qualified and competent management team (my peers and me) with new, more compliant players. A perfect opportunity to replace me came when I was offered a promotion to a fabulous regional job for a man I would have loved to work with – but that required 50% travel. My boss was ecstatic at the prospect of being rid of me, but I couldn’t take the job - and I wouldn’t say why. After an aggressive interrogation, I came clean and admitted that I couldn’t take a job that required a lot of air travel because I was pregnant. My boss, equal parts apoplectic and suspicious, ordered me to open up my suit jacket to prove it.

You can’t make this stuff up.

That was the mid-90s. A decade later, things weren’t much better for Kelley. She was a star teacher in a competitive school district when she became pregnant with her first son, Charlie. After withholding the news as long as she could, she approached her principal and, before a word had left her mouth, was confronted with ire and sarcasm: “Am I about to get morning sickness, Kelley?”

Maternity leave planning doesn’t begin when you leave work; it begins when you tell your boss you’re pregnant. For both Kelley and me, that first conversation set the tone for months of challenges at work, and more challenges – beyond the customary ones of crying baby, healing body, and sleeplessness – during our time at home. Ultimately, we both left those jobs and our employers lost two star performers.

Undeterred, we both went on to have more children and, as entrepreneurs, to create the workplace we’d wished we had. Together and separately, we’ve coached countless women through the challenges of maternity leave and working motherhood, and our wisdom and practical advice is conveniently packaged in a self-paced online course called Maternity Leave: Plan It So You Can Enjoy It.

We know from personal and professional experience that the ONLY way to ensure a maternity leave that meets the needs of mom, baby, job and workplace is to plan it.
Here are the ten essential steps in doing so:

  1. Research and know your legal rights and earned benefits
  2. Confidently and strategically announce your pregnancy to your manager*, colleagues and clients/customers
  3. Collaborate with your team and your manager to develop, document and test a detailed work coverage plan
  4. Agree on a schedule for staying engaged during your leave
  5. Identify all of your home-life demands and create a plan for how (and if) those demands will be met when you return to work
  6. Build and tap into your support system
  7. Develop a realistic and sustainable personal wellness plan
  8. Educate yourself about flexible re-entry and long-term flexible work options
  9. Set and honor meaningful work and life boundaries
  10. Create new ways to stay in the game and continue to promote yourself

This list is the backbone of our maternity leave course. Kelley and I could have really used it back in the days of managers who harassed with impunity. Thanks to the hard work of our generation, however, the workplace has evolved. When it comes to pregnancy and maternity leave, today’s managers have legal boundaries and today’s new moms have institutional protections. This list, and our
course, makes sure they are followed.

*Click here to get our free How To Tell Your Boss You’re Pregnant scripting template!


We have helped thousands of women from across the globe and we can help you,