Maternity Leave: Then and Now
Do you know those women who plan out their lives and everything goes pretty much according to schedule? Well, I’m not one of them. If you read my blog, you know that I call myself an “accidental businessperson” and that I’m a mom who had four kids in six years, the youngest of whom I birthed just months after getting a new puppy and 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 infertility treatments to address an “unknown cause.” (Somehow the cause corrected itself because I went on to have three more children the regular way).
Because Tucker’s conception was so long in coming, 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 national job – 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: “Don’t tell me, Kelley. Am I about to get morning sickness?”
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 a crying baby, healing body, and sleeplessness – during our time at home. Ultimately, we left those jobs and our employers lost two rock-star performers (if we say so, ourselves).
Undeterred, we both went on to have more children and, as entrepreneurs, to create the workplace we’d wished we had. I became a partner in the original flexible work consulting and staffing firm, Flexible Resources, Inc. Kelley became a certified life coach and opened a private practice called Be You Bravely, LLC. Separately, and now together, we’ve coached countless women through the challenges of maternity leave and working motherhood. Recently, we produced a new online course to better help more women navigate the journey; it’s called Maternity Leave: Plan It So You Can Enjoy It. Recognizing the broad value of instruction on this topic, LinkedIn Learning hired us to create and film a similar (but proprietary to their platform) Family Leave course now available in their course library.
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. And 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 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, make sure they are followed.
*Click here to get our free How To Tell Your Boss You’re Pregnant script template!