Maternity Leave Minefield

My due date is less than two months away, and I’m starting to feel it. All things considered I’ve been lucky so far. First trimester was tough, but the nausea wasn’t as bad as I’d feared. The harder part was what early pregnancy did to my brain. I couldn’t focus, was exhausted all the time, and I felt almost…dissociative, out-of-body somehow. Research was out the window; I could barely handle teaching. And the worst part was I didn’t want to tell many people yet, so I just came off as a kind-of crabby zombie for no reason.

Things slowly improved over the summer, though I still don’t have the energy and drive I used to. And now I’m starting the final descent, with each day a little more tired, a little more out of breath, and a little more uncomfortable. My main complaint now is that running around the classroom seems to cause a lot of “practice” contractions, which, while annoying, probably aren’t going to lead to any problems.

Probably.

I try to sit down when possible. But my students are too polite, and they don’t want to bother me when they have questions. So I keep moving during class as best I can. So far it’s working.

Maternity Leave – How much and when?

My school’s maternity leave policy is a vague. Normally leave is granted for “a minimum of 6 weeks.” That’s tricky when a professor needs to be replaced in the classroom, so it goes on to say that a semester may be granted, with the Provost assigning “other duties” during the time when the faculty member is not on leave. It’s not spelled out what those duties are, nor is there an upper bound on that 6-week-minimum leave. And there haven’t been a ton of babies amongst the faculty lately, so I didn’t have a lot of data points to build from.

I didn’t want to take the fall semester off, as most of it would be spent twiddling my thumbs until the baby got here, and then rushing back to work in the spring with a barely two-month-old. I know 8 weeks is more than most American parents get, but if I could get more, I was going to take it. But I also didn’t want to be completely off all spring, since I think I’d lose my mind being home all day every day with a newborn. And I didn’t want to leave my small department down a person for a whole semester.

So my chair and I cobbled together a mix of teaching last summer, a couple one-credit classes this spring, and a service obligation that comes with a course release (on our new assessment board – I hope my child appreciates the sacrifices I make). The department will divvy up my courses for the last month of the semester, and receive prorated pay accordingly. I feel a guilty about adding to their workload, but hopefully the little bit of cash will help.

The provost signed off on it! Probably too readily in hindsight: I think I left some money on the table. But I’ll only have to go into the office one day a week, maybe two. Enough to keep me from going crazy, but not so much that I need to take out another mortgage for infant childcare. I don’t plan to stop the tenure clock, since I really don’t think I’ll need the extra time.

It was hard to decide how much leave felt appropriate. I’m still not sure I made the right call. A couple of weeks felt too little, though some women are perfectly happy with that. A full semester and change seemed too much, though again, I know some folks take that long and longer. Asking a lot of people for their experiences and opinions helped, but ultimately I just had to make my best guess at what would work. We’ll see.

So far I’ve only gotten positive feedback. The faculty members I’ve spoken with are glad to see maternity leave, and academic parenthood in general, become more normalized. Of course if there is anyone out there who disapproves, I doubt they’d tell me directly. One of the benefits of a small teaching college is that there’s more pressure for colleagues to be, well, collegial. And as long as everybody still signs off on my tenure dossier in a couple years, I couldn’t care less if a few people grumble.

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2 Responses to Maternity Leave Minefield

  1. Avatar H says:

    All the best to your family.

  2. Avatar Mike says:

    Sara, Yes, all the best. Sounds like the Mathematical Mamas: Being Both Beautifully session you attended at MathFest was a help to you.

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