Pregnancy is without a doubt one of the most magical times a woman can experience. But for many working women, this amazing experience can also be one of the most stressful. There are so many things to plan, organize and worry over -- at home and at the office. While people's to-do lists differ, here is a detailed checklist of items to address before you take your maternity leave.
Karen Donaldson, a women's leadership advocate and VP of North America for Talking Talent, a female-focused consulting company, has been coaching women on workplace issues for years. "Your health and your baby's health are the number one priority," says Donaldson. "Most women today wish to go back to work and resume their current positions. If you play it right, there are a number of ways you can achieve the work-life balance effectively."
Plan Your Exit and Re-Entry Strategies Simultaneously
Donaldson suggests having a conversation with your HR department or immediate supervisor that makes it clear you plan to return to your position -- and stay on track for the next level. "Think about solutions you can provide for your company, as well as having your own expectations for maternity leave and subsequent re-entry met," she advises. And while you don't know what challenges life with a baby will be, you can still create a flexible plan on how transitioning out and back will work. Try making a spreadsheet of all your responsibilities and show how they will be handled while you're out -- and how you can ease back into them once you return.
Learn More about Your Family Leave
Federal law assures you time off for unpaid family leave, usually if your company has more than 50 employees. It does not, however, require your employer to pay you for this time off, particularly if you are employed part-time or have been with the company for less than one year. Know ahead of time what type of financial compensation, if any, you can expect from your place of business. Many parents save up their paid vacation days, personal days and sick time to utilize as part of their maternity and paternity leaves.
Run the Numbers
Keep a thorough account of your current monthly expenses and make a decision about how long you can comfortably stay at home after the birth, based on what your company will allow, your own financial comfort, and a new family budget. Financial planning expert and grandpa, Mark Spinnato sees it all the time -- expectant parents blindsided by unexpected expenses or a lack of planning for mom's unpaid time off from work. So accrue a cash reserve before the baby comes -- so you can spend as many weeks as possible at home.
Ask HR about Family Benefits
Today's workplaces are getting more in tune with the needs of dual-working families. They might have flex-time plans, child care subsidies, back up care programs, and other systems in place to help work "work." Schedule a meeting and ask about these types of policies. There's still time to make a change. P.S. This doesn't just go for the pregnant employee -- make sure your spouse is checking about parental leave and flex work time on his or her end as well. This is the best way to create equality at home from Day 1.
Plan Your Child Care
If choosing day care, you'll want to tour centers as soon as possible. If your company does subsidize, make sure you learn the scoop on their availability. If not, look for centers close to your home, so if you change jobs or have to travel, day care won't be affected. And before you put down a deposit, ask out about the staff's qualifications and licensing and make sure you have free access to check out their premises at any time. You'll also want to learn about drop-off and pick-up times, to make sure they will align with your and your partner's schedules. (Get questions to ask a day care center) For this reason, a nanny might be easier. Learn what a nanny will cost.
Find a Work Ally
You don't have to rally round the water cooler to benefit from the inside scoop at your company. Keep in touch or even go out for coffee with a co-worker you trust on a weekly basis to find out what's NOT making it into company emails. Even better? A colleague who recently came back from mat leave herself.
Stay in the Loop
While Donaldson recmommends a weekly or bi-weekly meeting with your employer, you will need to focus on what's best for you and your family. Taking time to bond with your baby is your number one goal, but if you do want to stay on top of projects during the gap, try meeting your boss for breakfast once a month.
Create or Join a Working Parents Group
Inivte a bunch of working parents to lunch and talk about their challenges, what they wish they'd done differently, and policies at work they'd like to see change. See what you can learn from their advice. And together, see if you can make some changes within your organization. Keep these going on a monthly basis and eventually ask HR to join a discussion to discuss upcoming benefits and policies you'd like to see improved.
Keep Your Health Insurance Company Up to Speed
Insurance providers typically cover a newborn for the first month of life under a parent's policy. Assuming your health insurance is provided through your employer, let your insurance company know you are expecting as soon as you are able, in order to determine the next steps for adding your newborn to your existing policy. Let your insurance company know about the baby's arrival within 31 days of birth. The additional health insurance costs may or may not be covered by your employer. Check with your provider to determine if your baby will be added as an individual to your plan, or if you need to change to a family plan after birth. Keep a paper trail and follow up in order to avoid a lapse in coverage.
Create a List of Resources
You might be sitting there worried about how you will ever leave and come back to this job -- without hurting your career -- and still be an amazing parent. Or maybe, it seems like it's going to be fine transition and you can't figure out why everyone fusses over "balance." Either way, you can start creating some helpful resources who can clean the house, take care of the dog, babysit in an emergency, or the person who knows everything about colic. Just remember: You don't know what this new world will bring until it actually happens -- or even how you'll feel about it. Just take it one day at a time, and soon you'll find a working parent groove that is smooth-enough (on most days) to keep going. And on the days it's not, use that list.
Take Advantage of the Time
It may be hard to imagine now that you might have a change of heart and wish to stay at home with your baby for more time than maternity leave allows for. Legally, you do not have to let your employer know of your final decision about returning to work until two months prior to coming back. This is a very personal choice, influenced by financial, familial and career concerns. If you are able to give yourself the emotional space to consider this option, however, do so without guilt prior to maternity leave and tuck it away for future consideration.
Remember that life comes in phases and try to relax about this piece of the parenting pie." Whether you are having your first baby or your fifth, remember that no one is better qualified than you are to be your child's mother. No matter if you are taking a week or two for yourself before delivery or if you are waiting until your due date to start maternity leave, build in time to rest, read, breathe and enjoy life. The most amazing adventure is about to unfold for you, and while becoming a working mom may be challenging (and exhausting!), it can also be rewarding, interesting and meaningful.
Corey Whelan is a freelance writer in New York. Her work can be found here.