Maternity Stay: A Parent-Friendly, Baby-Friendly, Company-Friendly Solution
American families are increasingly delaying parenthood - or eliminating it from their plans altogether - to focus on their career goals. But with insufficient or nonexistent family leave, even meticulous family planning can leave parents - overwhelmingly mothers - a step behind in the office. The choice between an exciting career opportunity and the desired start or expansion of a family can be an impossible one.
New job, New industry, New… baby?
Three days before I started a new job in a new industry, I found out I was expecting my second child. The position was a fantastic opportunity to launch the marketing department of a growing start-up, where I was the first and only team member. After a high-risk first trimester, my doctor gave me and my baby the all-clear, and I sat my boss down to tell him that his marketing department of one now had a plus one aboard. I expected his face to fall, but instead his first reaction was one of genuine joy and hearty congratulations. That tiny moment spoke volumes to me about the culture of the company I had joined.
The company’s co-founders rolled out paid maternity and paternity leave - pretty generous, for a fledgling company. I’ve worked for larger, very profitable companies that offered no family leave or touted their short-term disability benefits as maternity leave. Short-term disability is, unfortunately, an all-or-nothing leave. If you complete the paperwork to start your recommended six-week leave (eight weeks in the case of a cesarean birth), there’s no answering emails, no taking calls, no popping into the office, and certainly no meetings.
Learning from Experience
When I went on maternity leave with my first son, I chose to exercise the short-term disability, since it was the only benefit I had to exercise. After about two or three weeks at home with him, when I started to feel like I was arriving at a new version of normal, I started checking my work emails on my phone while I was nursing my son. I wasn’t doing any hard-hitting work - it was mostly just forwarding emails to someone who was tackling the task while I was out, or answering quick questions I could type out on my phone. Keeping my inbox clean was satisfying to me, and I felt happy striking a balance between being home with my baby while still contributing to my team at work, even in this small way. But, just a few days into my new routine, I couldn’t access my email anymore. I called my boss, who told me that my email access had been suspended for “liability reasons.” The company couldn’t allow me to work since I was on medical leave.
I get it. They had paperwork from my doctor saying I couldn’t work for six weeks, and with email timestamps, a half-decent lawyer could make the case that I was pressured into working while I was on medical leave. But, without any way to check on things besides secretly calling my coworkers, professional anxiety set in. When he was not yet eight weeks old, I decided to place my baby in full-time daycare so I could return to work - both due to financial strain and my own mental health. My productivity returning to work was extremely low as I waded through the backlog of emails I was barred from while on leave. I struggled to balance my work schedule with pumping; I constantly checked the daycare’s webcam to ensure my infant son wasn’t miserable; and the lack of sleep made it hard for me to produce my best work. I promised myself that I’d save up twelve weeks of leave when we decided to expand our family.
“And” not “Or”
As I settled into my new role, twelve weeks of leave started to sound like punishment. My new job was exciting, fun, and challenging - but I didn’t want to give up that precious bonding time with my new baby. For my own satisfaction, I needed a new plan that kept me involved at work.
I pitched a plan to my company that would let me balance work and motherhood most effectively in the immediate postpartum weeks. I assigned it the admittedly cheesy term “Maternity Stay.” It worked by progressively increasing my participation at work over a matter of weeks, instead of the rapid-fire, all-or-nothing transitions that were so rough for me and my elder son.
For the first two weeks after birth, I was completely off on paid leave. The two weeks after that, I worked remotely, part-time, and at my full salary as part of a flexible leave option. I continued to work remotely for the next two weeks, but increased to full-time with a mother’s helper to help with my newborn at home. When my son was eight weeks old, we headed to the office the majority of the workday, where he napped under my desk. At ten weeks, he started part-time daycare, and at twelve weeks, full-time daycare.
This incredibly rewarding experience was made possible by the amazing team at Pype who stepped up by providing rocking arms during meetings or an understanding nod when our young intern woke up cranky. It was fantastic to work under leadership that was family friendly not just in word, but in deed as well.
More Options for More Families
I don’t mean to paint this idea with too broad a brush of perfection. Maternity Stay is not right for every family; there are many positions for which it would not work perfectly, and there are many parents and babies who would require greater time fully away from work than this approach would allow. However, with the volume rising on the discourse that surrounds parental leave and benefits in the United States, Maternity Stay presents one possibility that can satisfy both working families who need time with their children and companies wanting to recruit and retain talent.