“Interesting” is the word I’d use to describe how I felt about maternity leave. Several months without working? Interesting. People would cover my daily tasks and then I’ll just pick them right back up when I get back to work? Interesting. I’ll have weeks and months to literally just take care of our baby? Interesting.
Thoughtfully considering, thinking about, and planning for maternity leave is so important for so many reasons. The prep work absolutely is about making sure you’ve got work squared away and great transitions in place. However, it’s also about you and starting to get your mind right as someone who’s transitioning from a 40, 50, 60-hour work week and a routine to which you’re accustomed, to a totally different experience and a totally different routine or lack thereof. Prepping for maternity leave is also about your family’s finances and getting very knowledgeable about your benefits.
For me, this was a scary, exciting, strange, and highly educational time.
Like most things, before any of us can truly start working on something we need to understand what it is. This was my first task; to figure out what maternity leave meant to me, what I wanted out of maternity leave, and aligning with my husband about how much money we felt comfortable backfilling for the time that I would go without pay. For me, maternity leave was going to be a time to focus on learning to be a mom first and foremost while staying plugged into my team in a way that I dictated. Given that I would be a first-time mom and had no real idea of what to expect, it was also important to me that I had flexibility in my maternity leave. Specifically, planning for the worst case scenario in terms of labor, taking advantage of every single day available to me, and having a slow-to-come-back option for integrating into work and merging my new life as a mom to a sweet baby boy with my career as an executive. Once I was comfortable with these items it was easy for my husband and I to decide on a window of time that we felt we could financially cover (which turned out to be two full weeks) while still meeting my personal needs and desires for maternity leave.
I believe this was the hardest part. Envisioning something so huge and life altering as maternity leave is one thing, but to truly articulate it and express your actual needs is another. This took me months of reflection and conversation and a lot of self-awarded grace to be truly honest with myself.
The next step was to start getting work squared away. This meant three things: 1) I had to inform people that I was pregnant in a timely manner so my belly / non-cocktail-drinking didn’t give it away, 2) I needed to understand my benefits by working with HR, and 3) I had to define what was needed from a skill and personnel perspective to cover my responsibilities while I would be on leave.
Informing people was hard for me. I didn’t want to be treated any differently and I wasn’t sure how people would react. I went about this very pragmatically. I made a list of people I needed to inform in priority order and went from there. For folks like my direct boss, I shared the news over lunch. For my closest co-workers (who are also friends) I made personal phone calls and reach-outs. For Human Resources, I sent a formal email, cc’ing my boss. For most other people, I shared as I saw fit and/or as I had a free extra conversational moment… typically of the, “so what’s new with you?!” variety.
Once people knew that I was pregnant (and they were all so excited for me, by the way), I worked with a Human Resources representative to learn of the company benefits for maternity leave. To each meeting I came prepared with my list of questions and/or needs (based on what I had defined as important to me and agreed upon financially with my husband) and worked back-and-forth with HR to document and understand my options and ultimately what my leave and return to work would look like. We ended up with an excel-spreadsheet-based calendar, color coated by leave type (short-term disability, sick time, bonding leave, unpaid, etc.), with two tabs; one for actual maternity leave and the other for my return to work. I then used this spreadsheet to communicate my plans to my boss and secure approval, followed by sharing with my team members and ultimately with folks who would be providing coverage.
In addition to the maternity leave benefits themselves, Human Resources also helped me file all the appropriate paperwork with my insurance for short-term disability and understand exactly who, what, and when I’d need to contact and provide once our baby arrived.
This process with HR took a few months in on-and-off stints. By the end I knew exactly what to expect and was prepared with a straightforward to-do list to ensure nothing was forgotten. I also understood what my payment structure would be during this time, which was hugely important!
The final step in getting work squared away – actually assigning coverage – was the easiest part. I participated in the interview process for my backfill and helped to ensure she was brought on board well in advance of my leave. I defined a transition plan with my leadership and over about a two-month period brought folks up to speed on what they needed to know and do. By the last two weeks team members were largely fully covering for me allowing me to ease out of my customer-facing role and provide support behind the scenes.
By the time my due date came I still wasn’t totally sure how I felt about not working for 16 weeks, but I knew I was as ready as I could ever be. I loved knowing that I did everything I could to be prepared, help others prepare, and have clear expectations in place. Going into my maternity leave in a state of ease was the way it should be and made my actual maternity leave a great experience.