Your bundle of joy has traded casual kicks for constant motion, your bladder feels like it will never be empty again, and, if you’re like I was, your feet may as well be loaves of bread. You are in full-on countdown mode – baby will be here any day, and you’ll be taking anywhere from 6 to 12 weeks off work to give your sweetie his or her best start to life and yourself a little time to adjust to your new role in the world.
The unfortunate truth of baby preparation is that your time will not be spent entirely choosing crib bedding (most of which you will NOT use because you can’t put anything in their cribs until they are 1) wall art and strollers. You’re also going to find yourself knee-deep in paperwork because you’re employer isn’t just handing out paid (or un-paid) time off like lollipops. You have to prove you need it. Having a baby is plenty of justification, but chances are good, the person giving the “okay” to your time away request is in some other state and cannot see your motherly glow. Here’s the good news. Based on my own complicated leave experience, I have simplified the process so that you can spend more time getting pedis and less time on the phone with someone somewhere asking the same questions over and over.
1) Find a “Mommy Mentor”.
I cannot stress the importance of this step enough. Often times, this person – a colleague who has been down the road you are about to travel before – finds you just after you bring in a whole bunch of balloons or a dozen cupcakes to announce your big news. I was incredibly lucky to have two friends at the television station where I worked who had rather recently returned from leave and were thrilled to share their experiences. It is crucial that your mentors(s) have relatively recent experience with preparing for leave because corporate policies change frequently (often annually), and a mommy with a seven year-old, while a wealth of knowledge, isn’t going to be able to accurately help you navigate the process. Schedule a decaf coffee date with your mentor and pick her brain. She will truthfully answer questions your Human Resources representative may dance around.
That brings us to step 2….
2) Set up a meeting with your Human Resources Representative.
Take notes when your representative explains the process to you. Here are some of the key points you’ll need to be certain you understand:
FMLA is not the same as “Short Term Disability”. FMLA is the “Family Medical Leave Act”, and it is only guarantees that you will retain your job after (normally) 12 weeks spent away from work to care for a loved one – your baby. “Short Term Disability” is the program that pays you during that time. This facet is different everywhere, so make sure you understand how much time your employer is set up to support monetarily.
Short Term Disability is not usually set up through the same organization that provides your health care. That means, just because you have already been on the phone with someone from your insurance company, explaining how wonderfully healthy you are, you will still have to do that AGAIN with someone from another provider. It is what it is.
Your HR Rep will explain that you will need to have a return to work date set up with the Short Term Disability group. If you intend to take the entire allotted paid leave, you will give them a date based on your projected due date. This may not correspond with the leave allowed through FMLA. If you choose to take unpaid leave beyond your paid allowance, you’ll address that directly with your HR Rep. If your employer has an office manager in charge of time, you’ll need to address that with that person as well.
Head spinning? Fear not! It’s all going to be okay.
3) Call your Short Term Disability Representative.
They will ask you a series of questions and send you some forms to fill out. It is important to note that, in most cases, you will receive more time for a C section. If you have one scheduled, you can give them that information right away. If you end up with an emergency C section, you’ll need to update them with that information as soon as you are able once you have left the hospital.
4) Set up a meeting with your boss.
Just make sure he or she is clear on when you intend to return to work. Give your boss permission to call you while you are on leave if there are any questions surrounding your leave.
5) Take a little time to discuss things with your baby.
Okay – this is really an internal discussion you will have with yourself, but really taking a moment to connect with your baby might help you recognize that taking the minimum amount of time allowed for leave might not be what you really want. Your Mommy Mentor will likely confirm that.
While all of this can certainly make your head spin, using this little guide should help you cover all of your bases. Allow me to be your Mommy Mentor for just a moment: I thought I would be just fine taking only what my Short Term Disability would cover. But, when I looked into my son’s tiny eyes, tickled his tiny toes and smelled his intoxicating baby smell, I knew I was going to need more. In my case, an emergency C-section made that decision even easier. You can make things easier on yourself, and account for the overwhelming love you will undoubtedly feel when your baby is born, by planning to take the maximum amount of time your are allowed. Adding time isn’t usually well received, but returning early is never frowned upon.
Something to consider. Now…go get a pedi.
Article by Holley Sinn
One thought on “Mastering Maternity Leave”
Great tips. When I had my first, I was way nervous that I would forget something like the FMLA and things like that. Good post to share with others 🙂
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