So last week I went to HR to try to figure out my maternity leave. I had no idea what to expect because I had been told everything from six weeks to six months of leave. I was (obviously) hoping for the six months. The meeting was very, very strange. It was myself, three other very pregnant women, and a very strange little man who seemed to lack basic social and communication skills. He walked us through a one hour long powerpoint presentation during which we asked tons of questions and I became more and more confused.
At the end of it, I asked him, “So you’re saying we can take UP TO six months off, but that 'it depends?'”
He nodded. “Exactly!”
"But, 'it depends' on what?”
"On what your doctor recommends after the birth."
"But how will I know what she's going to recommend before it happens?? What do doctors typically recommend?"
"Welllll I can't really say. Some women only take six weeks, some are able to extend their leave much longer."
Me: “Listen, take the money out of it, just tell me how long I can take off, without losing my job?”
Him: “It depends.”
Me: "So you’re trying me that when my clients ask when we’ll resume therapy, I should tell them, 'it depends??'
Him, smiling: "Pretty much!"
Basically, I walked out feeling like an idiot. I mean, I have a Ph.D. and I could not figure out for the life of me, how long I will be having off nor how much I will be getting paid while I’m gone (if anything!). After more research of my own, this is what I came up with: I can take four weeks off prior to the birth and then six weeks off after (8 weeks if c-section, but I’m not planning on that!). If there are any “complications,” my post-birth time can be extended up to 16 weeks. This is all covered under Pregnancy Disability Leave. Don’t ask me what I’ll get paid exactly during this time, but I’ll be paid something. THEN, I can take Family Medical Leave (covered under California Family Rights Act) for another 12 weeks. So, if you take the total amount of time off, it equals six months. Unfortunately, according to my midwife, by the very nature of having a baby at a birth center, I am a “low risk” birth, which means highly unlikely there will be complications to extend the disability leave. Which leaves me instead with the minimum, which is 18 weeks (4.5 months).
Now I know that’s not bad, and that’s better than what a lot of women get, but damnit, I wanted my six months off. I wanted six months to just be with my baby and to not have to work and not have to think about things other than just…being. So, frankly, I was disappointed. I’ve heard from co-workers who somehow miraculously extended their leave while out, simply by calling in and saying they didn’t “feel ready” to come back yet, but I’m not sure I’m ballsy enough to do that. I’m such a rule follower. If, after 4.5 months, I’m emotionally and physically ready to come back, I can’t imagine bending the truth to say I’m not??
As I was voicing my frustration to B that I wanted my full six months off, he looked at me in disbelief and said, “You realize you’re trying to work the system right? You’re trying to say you have a disability that makes it so you need to be paid to not work?” I thought this was interesting. First of all, I’m lucky enough that we’re in a position that if I had to take the full time un-paid, we could work it out. So no, I’m not trying to extend disability pay. I just want time with my baby and then have a job to come back to. But it did really get me thinking. Why does the state pay women disability to have a baby? Why isn’t it just recognized as a needed time to bond with your baby? Why is the US so backwards in this?
Also, I started realizing that me pouting over an extra 1.5 months is ridiculous. Many women only get six weeks off and many more don’t even get that. So, even though my 18 weeks off is protected through the federal and state programs, it only applies to you if you are lucky enough to work at a large enough establishment to provide you with this luxury. Additionally, your disability pay is figured based on a percentage of your salary. So this too is imbalanced and pushes some women to go back earlier simply because it is impossible to live off of their disability pay check. Now, I’m not political at all and I am quite ignorant when it comes to comparing political systems, so not sure if I’m arguing for socialism or communism or WHAT here, but doesn’t it seem that birth should be universally recognized as something that all families should be able to take the time to celebrate it?
Then I thought, “Well huh, in a way, it is interesting how much birth actually is recognized as something valued in our society.” Because, if we look at the flip side of things, the fact that federal programs protect maternity leave says something, doesn’t it? It says that we are going to give women the luxury to take time off in order to do a very important thing – bond with their baby. You don’t get six weeks off for other major life events – marriage, divorce, not even a death in the family. (Although, yes I know you can use family leave for these things, but there is no specific Divorce Disability Leave Act).
So what does this date back to? Why does society still recognize having a baby as something special that deserves to be given its due time? Honestly, I think it relates to the fact that, unconsciously, human beings understand that on a spiritual, biological and evolutionary level, having babies is freaking important. If we didn’t reproduce, we’d be screwed. So, even though people try to talk about it in terms of intellectual or metaphysical or god-knows-what terms to define it, I think at some level we as humans, regardless of culture, recognize that babies are very important and the mothers carrying those babies deserve some respect.
Also, I think it’s a nod to something that most people really don’t realize consciously, but again, maybe at some unconscious level. The fact is, for a woman to get pregnant and carry a baby to term, SO many things have to go right. SO many variables have to be exactly right. I mean, not to sound religious here, but it really is a miracle. Sometimes we take it for granted. But…it’s absolutely amazing when you think about all that happens to create that baby. So maybe, in its own not-so-sufficient way, the United States of America is recognizing that miracle by granting women six weeks off to recognize it.
So, to go full circle, I still am depressed that I can’t “work the system” to get my full six months off, but I realize that I am lucky to even have my 4.5 months. And…I’ll take it. I’ve worked my entire life, from high school on, and so I will cherish those 18 weeks and appreciate them. Even if I’m exhausted and cranky the whole time. Oh, and since I’m not even sure yet what money I’ll be getting paid, I’ll cherish whatever small paycheck shows up in the mail as well!