My Messed Up Maternity Leave Plan That Makes No Sense

The good news, is I get some paid maternity leave. That’s more than most women in this country can bank on. I’m extremely fortunate that my company has to follow the laws of the land (in this case, California) to provide 4 weeks of “before due date” and 6 weeks of “after delivery” protected leave with some pay (via state disability, and the case of my company, a few weeks fully paid.)

Now, the good news is that I get ANOTHER 6 weeks of semi-paid leave after the first 6 weeks of disability. The bad news is, I’m not allowed to take it until I hit my one year mark on the job — which means I’ll have anywhere from 2 weeks to 2 months (1, if I give birth on my due date) in between leave #1 and leave #2. I thought maybe they’d allow me to take a week or two unpaid, so I could be home 8 weeks with newborn, but no dice. Basically, they are strict about these policies. Since we have an “unlimited time off” policy I’m, ironically, not allowed to take any time off (vacation OR unpaid) after I get back from my 6 weeks. That seems kind of f’d, esp the whole not being allowed to take UNPAID time, but that’s the law – and my company is not going to go out of their way to provide anything beyond the law, esp to someone who is so new. I can’t blame them, but it still sucks.

The most crazy thing about it is that, depending on when I deliver, I’ll have roughly 1 month of work in between my disability and protected 6 weeks of (semi) paid family leave. So – I’ll give birth, spend 6 weeks exhausted with a newborn, head to the office, still half awake, for 4 weeks, then have another 6 weeks I can spend at home if I want plus another 6 weeks unpaid. But I have to wait to take that and I can’t use it when baby is a newborn. Because, that makes sense somehow – company would rather me be in the office with one eye open for a month (I will try my best to be productive but in reality how on earth will I be productive in that state?) and then disappear again for 6 weeks. It’s not like I can start any major projects then — unless I decide to hold off on using the 6 weeks and take it later in the year.

Which brings me back to — how do I know with my “unlimited time off” policy, what time off I’m allowed to take — ESPECIALLY in the year I take maternity leave? Should I assume I should take no days PTO because I’m already taking so many maternity leave? Should I continue as planned with taking 15 days a year (sick and vacation), which is informally what my boss and I mentioned before I joined, though this is not in writing and certainly holds no weight when it comes to whether they want to keep me or let me go? What rights do I have with unlimited time off and how it looks with taking any of it after maternity leave? And, really, when am I allowed to start taking vacation again, if I’m not allowed to take it immediately after my disability? There seems to be no hard-and-fast rule. Should I wait a month? Three months? Six? A year?

The reality is I have no idea how I’ll be around new baby. I do know that I’m already an emotional train-wreck and all signs point to — this is going to be very amazing but also very very fucking hard.

My husband is being great, as always, in his annoying calm and everything-is-going-to-work-out kumbuya sort of way — and, he has already said he’d consider not going back to school full time in order to stay home with the newborn during the day (and only take classes at night) which would be¬†hugely¬†helpful. He’d be working during the day, but remotely, and his dad would come over and help out when he has to be working. I can – maybe – come home a little early (like, 4 or 5) and trade off so he can go to class.

It might all work out swimmingly and I may be overthinking this, but something tells me going back to work at 6 weeks postpartum will be a challenge. I’ll be breastfeeding all night and not sleeping much. I’ll be sad about leaving baby during the day. Mostly, I just won’t be sleeping. And I’ll have to be driving to and from work on little sleep which seems… well, unsafe, to say the least.

My new hope is that I give birth late — two weeks past my due date — so I only have to go back to work for 2 weeks in between my disability time off and bonding leave. I think that is better because then I can maybe come in, catch up on emails, help out with a few minor projects, and then leave again. Two weeks will go fast, even though they will be very hard. A month will be tough. Any longer (if I deliver early) will be really, really hard.

I’ve thought about just quitting but that would be such a horrible idea. First of all, I really want to stay in this job for 3-4 years. Secondly, I have a massive amount of stock and bonus I’m eligible for come January, and missing that because I wanted to stay home a few extra weeks with kiddo seems plain idiotic. The potential amount I’d be paid out in January would be enough to live on for an entire year if needed, or at least part of the year. I still plan to continue to working after that BUT just the sheer amount I’d be walking away from would make me possibly the dumbest person on earth. I can do this.

I haven’t told my boss yet either — I’m debating on when to tell him. We have a good relationship, so it won’t be an ugly conversation, but at the same time I’m still so new to the job and still have to prove myself here. I’d rather wait until I have six solid months under my belt to let him know I’ll be disappearing for a while. But, I can’t really wait until my third trimester to tell him. I’m already starting to show. I think some of the women on the team are figuring it out, but the guys are oblivious. Luckily, my boss is male.

One thing that kind of is upsetting is that we have a lot of folks in our company and on my team that work remote full time, from another part of the state or elsewhere in the country. One woman just had a baby and she’s remote entirely with a nanny helping out. But I’m not allowed to work remote because I live close to the office. To be fair, I agree that they don’t allow this because women with newborns won’t get any work done working remote if they don’t plan appropriately, but if I have a nanny and can be remote for feedings and such, that would be ideal. Clearly, that’s not going to happen with this company.

But husband will possibly bring baby to office for feeding at lunch everyday before he heads off to class. That will help. We’ll make this work. Plenty of people do with even LESS maternity leave. I should be grateful that I even have this much. And, really, it might be better to save the extra 6 weeks off and spread them out over the year vs take them straight anyway. Maybe I’ll want two weeks off to play with my baby when he/she is crawling around and before they take their first steps. Maybe it’s better this way to force me to go back at 6 weeks so I have the option to use those other 6 weeks throughout the rest of my first year. At least that’s a more positive spin to this. But really, I wish I had three months minimum of leave, and I’m so envious of moms around the world who have protected and paid leave for 6 or 12 or more months — the US really hates mothers.

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4 thoughts on “My Messed Up Maternity Leave Plan That Makes No Sense”

  1. I don’t know the law in CA and what would be allowed/not allowed etc. but if you are feeling decent, could you negotiate a situation where you would work until you give birth, and then take your FMLA right after your six weeks? Unless they were put on bed rest, most women I know worked up until their due date, or until they gave birth. Maternity leave before you have the baby really sounds like a waste of time and money, unless you are on bed rest.

    1. The HR person basically said — without officially saying — if I don’t take the off before delivery they MIGHT be willing to allow 1-2 weeks unpaid after the 6 weeks protected. That still doesn’t get me to my PDL, and it wouldn’t be guaranteed. It really sounded unlikely since I’m so new. FMLA only kicks in after I hit my year, which will be about 2.5 months after I give birth. Basically, I go back at 6 weeks or quit. I agree, it’s pointless to take that much time off before birth unless I have a medical issue.

  2. My company seems to have similar policies as yours, but we’re not based in California. Unlimited vacation policy, some people working remotely, some others working from home a few days a week, and strict rules for how far away an employee must live in order to be allowed to work fully or partially remotely.

    From what I’ve seen, people take about 12 weeks of maternity leave and 4 weeks of paternity leave. I don’t know the exact FMLA / disability breakdown. One coworker worked until she gave birth, while another took two weeks of vacation days before her due date. The one who took two weeks off beforehand also took a weeklong vacation earlier in the year after she announced her pregnancy. It seems strange that you’re not allowed to use vacation days right after your maternity leave.

    1. I agree it’s strange I can’t use vacation days after my leave, but I can’t. I think it’s because since my 1 year hits after my disability leave, I actually get an extra 6 weeks of protected (unpaid) leave so they feel like they don’t have to give me anything more. The problem is, I can’t take any of the 12 weeks of leave until I hit my 1 year mark, outside of the 6 weeks of disability. I’m wondering if I can negotiate with them no time off before my due date (like, literally driving to emergency room from my office, if needed) and then being allowed to take 2 weeks after the 6 on vacation or unpaid, just so I have 8 weeks after birth to recover. But the HR person made it sound like this is not possible — who knows, she also made it sound like that’s if I take the time off before I give birth. How it’s set up is just so dumb — I should be able to take the 4 weeks before or after giving birth, but that’s not how it works. Either I take them before or I lose them. So… I don’t know, I guess I’m stuck with six weeks. Maybe it won’t be that bad.

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