Monday, March 2, 2015

Women's Money Week 2015: My Parental Leave

Welcome to Women's Money Week 2015! This year's topic is Parental Leave, which is something I have some strong opinions on.

I was working when I became pregnant with my first child. We tried to time the pregnancy so that I would qualify for FMLA leave, and we planned for me to go back to work. As a quick refresher, FMLA provides 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave for qualifying employees (you have to be employed full-time at your job for at least one year, and there are other criteria which you can find here - as you can see, it's very easy not to qualify for leave). My employer was required to offer FMLA leave, and I did qualify once I'd been there for a year. There is no additional state mandated leave where I live. I also had a disability policy that provided 60% of my salary for 6-8 weeks following giving birth.

Pickle was born unexpectedly 25 weeks into my pregnancy - 15 weeks before her due date. If you do the math on that, you can see that I didn't even have enough maternity leave to make it to what should have been her birthday before I had to go back to work. I had to take some leave right after she was born - I was recovering from a c-section and had a baby in the hospital, after all, and the disability benefit only applies immediately following birth. So I opted to take the maximum time off that I could to get the most disability pay, which was eight weeks. Leaving me with just four weeks banked to take when my daughter eventually came home from the hospital - not just a newborn, but a medically fragile newborn with multiple doctor's appointments each week. Not only will most daycares not take infants under six weeks of age, but we didn't think we could find one that could handle a baby on oxygen and a feeding tube - AND we were under strict orders from her pulmonologist to keep her away from other kids for a year anyway. We couldn't afford a nanny.

I quickly realized that this was impossible. So I tried to quit my job.

My wonderful employer offered me something that I didn't even think to ask for - six additional months of unpaid leave, beginning whenever Pickle came home from the hospital. Six months seemed like enough time to get her health stabilized, get us through cold and flu season, and get used to having a baby around.

As it turns out, Pickle's health did not improve enough for me to go back to work when that six months was up. She had surgery the week before I was supposed to go back to work, and her day to day care still requires more skill than I am comfortable handing off to someone who's not as invested as her parent is. I was very sad to give notice at my job, especially given their generosity to me. They didn't have to keep my job on ice for as long as they did, and it probably created some big headaches for them. It's the kind of thing that doesn't happen very often in America, I suspect, where mostly we hear about people being unfairly denied leave, or not having the criteria thoroughly explained to them in order to make informed decisions about their family planning. I felt valued by my employer, and when I'm ready to go back to work, they'll be among my first inquiries - and you can probably guess how loyal I'll feel to them if I were to work for them again.

Up next, something else that happened in our family: what if you don't qualify for FMLA?

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