Working Up To Your Due Date
I had totally envisioned pregnancy to be a stress free time of ease and subtle preparation for a new beginning. My mother was a public school teacher who was home after school and during summer breaks. So, I didn't fully appreciate the various kinds of leave women may or not be granted for their families. I also hadn't considered the effects that not working during pregnancy could have on my life professionally and financially.
My job as a military contractor in Germany had many wonderful benefits in addition to easy travel around Europe and tax-free purchases on a pricey German economy. One of pregnancy significance was excellent health insurance. However, my maternity leave was permitted only within the terms of my short-term disability insurance window of twelve weeks, which actually couldn't begin until eight days after the birth of my child. While I was just hoping to be healthy enough to work until delivery, I had to strategically save enough leave for this postpartum week in addition to actual sickness and maternity check-ups---which in Germany are significantly more routinely frequent than here in the United States. Needless to say, I got a quick lesson in human resources with regards to work life balance. Here are my notes:
1. Disability. Yes, pregnancy and childbirth are considered disabilities by insurance companies, and the kind of birth and possible complications can influence the type of leave for which you are approved. Ok, so I'm technically disabled but I still have to perform a full range of professional duties. Got it.
2. Paid Time Off. In the event of pregnancy or family planning, you may choose to use your vacation or sick leave. This is great but your employer may limit how much time you are allowed to be away from the office.
3. Short-Term Disability Insurance. In many cases a portion of your salary is allotted to this fund, which pays a fraction of your salary say 2/3 for up to twelve weeks. This time is decided by your insurance company in regards to your delivery.
4. Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). This federal law requires obligated companies to allow employees to take up to twelve weeks of unpaid leave for up to one year following the birth of their child.
In summary, I saved up eight days of vacation and received 60% of my salary for the twelve weeks that followed. I was fortunate to have a job and grateful for a healthy pregnancy and actual paid leave to spend home with my new bundle, unlike so many women who are not granted even a day of maternity leave. Somehow, all the technicalities surrounding being a pregnant employee gave me this weird feeling of guilt when I arrived late to or had to leave early from work for my maternity check-ups. Then of course there were the awkward glares from several male coworkers, who looked at me as if to say, "So, you're pregnant, but you're working. Ok, we'll just pretend your not pregnant." I also have to add that even some patients seemed almost uncomfortable that they had somehow burdened my pregnancy with their dental needs.
Working up to my due date was full of many awkward moments and loads of emotion including the expected fears and excitement of becoming a mother. These feelings combined with the stress of my quite rigid employment contract definitely took a toll and it didn't help that I had nausea with and without vomiting up until the day my son was born. I felt like wearing a sign on my belly that read, "Believe me, I'd rather be home...but I am only eligible for 12 weeks of partial paid leave and so unless medically necessary, I'm going to be here drilling and filling up until my delivery!"
Especially having been pregnant in a country like Germany, where women are encouraged to stop working by their second trimester, I can't help but feel disconcerted by our American social and economic perspective on maternity as a burden. In our tough job market across different industries, it's a shame that so many women are timid to even announce their pregnancies or discuss due dates for fear of being cast out of big deals and promotions. Pregnancy should be a celebrated time and a proper maternity leave should be given not as a bonus but a required enrichment for the sake of family. What's your working while pregnant story?