By Ann Guest Blogger From My Life As Prose
In our family, I’m the bread-winner. My husband is a grad student, and so even if I wanted to stay home, his stipend isn’t really enough for a family of three with student loan debt to live off. And at work, I mostly run a one man (er, woman) operation. So when I found out I was pregnant, and due in early June, I knew things were going to be hairy. You see, the summer is my busiest time of year at work. It’s when I pull 60 to 80 hour weeks and when about 70% of the year’s work gets done. It’s also when I do about half of my travel for the year. A lot of high-level decision-making happens, and it sets up my program for the rest of the year.
Does my family come first? Abso-freaking-lutely. But does my career also need to be a priority? For the sake of putting food on the table and diminishing debt—yes.
So when I started to think about our life making room for an addition to our family, I had to also think about how I would balance maternity leave and many of my oh-so-important activities and events that happen in the summer. One of the first things I did was take out a calendar and called a colleague. She works for us as a consultant and helps to run some of these important summer events for our program. When I told her my due date, she laughed, knowing that it was not the best time for me professionally to be stepping away. But I called her because she’s a successful career woman who not only has a phd in math, but also has a healthy family and two teenaged kids. If anyone knew how to realistically balance our summer activities and a newborn, she was the woman.
And so by our powers combined, we put together a few contingency plans. Plan A would allow me to be very involved with the most important summer event, Plan B would allow me to be involved from a distance, and Plan C would allow me to completely delegate the summer to others.
Plan A allows me to have roughly four weeks of maternity leave before flying to Michigan for a five day event, where I will take on minimal responsibilities, but will be present for my own benefit as well as the benefit of those just joining our program. Plan A also allows me to bring my husband and newborn, so that I will be able to be a traveling working mom who is more than well-supported. (Thankfully, my husband has no commitments this summer and will have a three month break, er, paternity leave.) Once that week was over, I’d go back on maternity leave and only be available infrequently by email, until I’d gone through all my saved up sick time and vacation time.
Plan B would involve me somehow teleconferencing in for the summer event. This would be necessary if my recovery was slow, or there were any complications with our little one, etc. We could use skype (or even face time) to allow me to still be “present” for the important pieces of the week, as well as the higher-level decision making, but all from the comfort of my home, a few states away.
Plan C would involve me jumping ship and not playing a part in any of the summer event. At the end of the day, I have no idea how or when this kid is going to come. And if I’ll have severe PPD, or if the baby has some serious medical issue, I need to let myself know, now, that the show will go on without me. Because it will. This plan might involve some longer meetings to catch me up on all the details of the event when I do jump back in the saddle. But my team is more than capable, and while it makes my job easier for me to be at this event, it’s not worth the health of my child or myself.
Maternity leave can be a controversial topic, and it’s often a lightning rod for heated conversations about whether a mother is putting family first, or career. I often wish I had the kind of job where I could be gone for three months and someone else would seamlessly take over my responsibilities and tasks, making it that much easier for me to slide back in at the end of the three months. But for me, in my position, I know that sacrificing a little in the middle of the maternity leave will mean much less angst and frustration for me when I do return to my job full time. I also know that a little extra planning now, (and giving myself several different options that depend on our circumstances), gives me much peace of mind. And at the end of the day, isn’t that what’s most important? Having an attack plan for balancing it all, even if it doesn’t go according to plan?
Ann is a project manager, soon to be working mother, and avoider of household chores. She works in math education from her home in Baltimore, often in yoga pants and a ponytail. Both she and her husband Steve are looking forward to meeting their little one, even if they can’t agree on a name to save their lives.