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Dealing with Being Pregnant While Working

The difficulty of being pregnant while holding down a fulltime job is that your life as a working person trudges on, but your body (and mind) may have a hard time keeping up. For example, in the first trimester, you may have to deal with morning sickness. It's not really politic to go rushing out of a meeting or an important phone call to up-chuck. Instead, if you can identify times when you're likely to be sick, then you can try to reschedule meetings or phone calls for a different time of day when you will feel likely better. Also, take preventive measures as much as possible – that is, keep crackers on hand or soda or whatever works to get you through it.

As the pregnancy proceeds, you'll notice that you're more tired, and your feet will start to swell. You can handle these issues by taking short naps during the middle of the day (perhaps the restroom has a couch) or getting outside to take 10-minute walks at break time or whenever possible. Drinking lots of water will increase your profusion of blood to the brain, which will make you feel less tired. . Above all, be kind to yourself and give yourself time off at night when you are at home. Plenty of rest in the evening will go a long way toward making you feel better the next day, and you'll think more clearly.

Put simply – most people will not cut you much slack just because you're pregnant. They will expect you to keep up with your job and pretty much do everything you did before. Your challenge is to figure out how to be kind to yourself but keep up with your responsibilities.

Maternity Leave
Thanks to the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA), most federal employees are entitled to take a total of up to 12 work weeks of unpaid leave off from their job following the birth of a baby. The good news is that most other major employers have followed suit and apply similar guidelines. (Some large corporations even offer up to a year off – unpaid, of course.) However, be aware that if you are working for a small business of fewer than 50 employees, this act does not apply to you, as it isn't enforced on smaller businesses.

During this time off, you are entitled to receive your benefits, although you may have to pay your share of the costs. Also, your job must be held for you while you are away on leave, or if your job is no longer available when you return, then you must be offered comparable employment.

There are some guidelines, however, that you must follow. You must have worked at least 1,250 hours during a 12-month period prior to taking your leave. And you have to provide a 30-day advance notice for a foreseeable event (which obviously applies to your pregnancy). You also might be asked to provide certification from a medical provider that you are indeed pregnant. You could also be contacted while you are away on maternity leave and asked to verify your status and that you do intend to return to your job.

If you find that you need additional time off due to an emergency with your baby or unexpected circumstances, call your company and ask first before making any assumptions that they can't help you. Often, a company will have an emergency plan in place for just such occurrences.

Receiving Pay While You Are on Maternity Leave
The first thing to do before you get pregnant (preferably) or as soon as you know you are pregnant is to meet with the human resources person in your company to find out what your specific company's policies are for maternity leave and how they apply to you. Each company is different and much will depend on your own circumstances – for example, how long you've been with the company, how much leave you've accrued, and what your position is.

Some companies (usually major corporations) offer full pay and benefits while you are on maternity leave; most do not. In lieu of this, many workers decide to use their sick time or vacation time to be paid while they are on maternity leave, if their employer does not offer compensation during this period. Obviously, if you can build up some cash reserves to use while you're on maternity leave, so much the better.

Paternity Leave
Paternity leave is the time a father takes off after the birth of a child, presumably to help the mother adjust and to bond with his child. Paternity leave is still in its "infancy" stages (pardon the pun). Some companies are quite progressive and offer fathers a paid leave, sometimes as long as six to 12 weeks; however, most companies who offer paternity leave do not necessarily give paid time off. The same stipulations for maternity leave apply to paternity leave in terms of time worked, etc. – the one difference being that if the man is in the highest paid 10 percent bracket of wage earners at his company and the company can show that his absence would cause substantial harm to the organization, then the employer isn't required to keep the job open for the man.

Although more men are beginning to take paternity leave, in some cases, there still might be a stigma attached to it among co-workers or bosses. For this reason, some men are unwilling to take paternity leave, fearing that it could affect their jobs. If your husband is reluctant to take paternity leave, perhaps you can convince him to use some of his vacation time instead.

Creative Options for Going Back to Work
Some women can't wait to go back to work, but most find it difficult to leave their newborns. For this reason, many companies have created job sharing and split schedules. You might want to look into the options available in your particular industry.

If you job share with another person, then you will work part-time, splitting your job with someone else. The benefit is that you get to spend more time at home and are more flexible with your schedule. The downside is that you only make half your normal income, and you might not move up the corporate ladder as quickly. It's also important that you pair up to job share with someone who works in a similar fashion as you do so that you're not stuck doing twice the work in half the time.

Another option might be to telecommute to your job, either all of the time or working from home a specified number of days per week. Many women have opted to do this successfully. If you choose to do this, remember that you are still responsible for actually "being" present in your home office during normal business hours.

Some companies let women work 10-hour days so that they can get more days off in-between – that is, three days off and four days on. If this time is split up over a weekend, there is the potential for your partner to babysit some of those days, thus saving the cost of a sitter.

You also can inquire about flex time (flexible schedules), seeing if you can work odd hours, say a morning schedule from 5 a.m. until 1 in the afternoon or an evening schedule, so that your husband can cover some of the time you would be gone. You never know until you ask what might be possible.

For Single Moms...
No doubt about it – everything is harder for single working mothers. If you're in this situation, try to find some back-up help, whether it is a relative or a family friend. Situations will arise where you simply have to have help. It's best to get it arranged as early as possible before the baby comes.

I've been a single working mother, and I don't know how people do it (or how I did it for that matter). But somehow, you just do what needs to be done. If at all possible (and it usually isn't), try to create some space for yourself, particularly some quiet time. Also, negotiate to get away from the baby for a break now and then. No matter how much you love your child, you'll be a better mother for having been away and coming back refreshed. If there is a father in the picture, make sure he has time with the baby. Kids need both parents, assuming that the father is a good parent.

You'll find that you can't always put your kids first ahead of your job, nor can you put the job ahead of your kids. It's a perpetual dilemma because you need to have money to support the kids, but you want to be a good mother. Cut yourself a break and do the best job you can. It's all you can do.

Choosing a Daycare Provider
Choosing a daycare provider when you go back to work can be a nightmare. Take time with this decision and decide in advance what type of facility you want. An ideal situation is to have someone come to your home (i.e., a nanny), but good, qualified people are often difficult to find and can be extremely expensive. If you decide to go this route, make sure you use a reputable agency (if you use one) and do extensive cross-checking of the nanny's references. Most nannies are perfectly safe, but there have been enough cases of child abuse in the news lately to know that there are plenty of deviants out there.

The best alternative might be for a family member or friend to care for your child. But this decision also has positive and negative aspects to it. First, it's difficult to tell someone who is close to you how you want your baby handled. Feelings might get pricked or ruffled, particularly if that person thinks they know all there is to know about babysitting. And it could damage a long-standing friendship if you disagree about how the person handles your child or you are too critical of them. So, be sensitive and informed of the pitfalls before you take this route. And remember that your way is not always the right way, but simply your way.

Perhaps the most common daycare provider is a certified daycare provider, either in a home or in a stand-alone facility. These facilities should be monitored by the state, which can mean something or nothing, depending on your state and how proactive or overburdened they are. Here are some questions you might ask a potential sitter for your child:

Base your decision on what you hear and your gut reaction to the place or the people. Never ignore your gut feelings. They are usually right on target. If you still can't find what you want in a daycare situation, you can always ask around in your workplace or query friends about where they keep their children. If they have older children, ask their kids how they like the place. Kids will always give you an honest answer, sometimes even surprising their own parents.

Your Mental Health and Guilt
Every parent who works feels guilty at one time or another. Here's my best advice: You'll just have to deal with it. Leaving a baby who is crying or ill is one of the hardest things in the world to do. Sometimes, you can take off work and use sick-time to stay home, but more often than not, you have to leave your baby and hope for the best.

The only way to get rid of guilt is to just give it up. It's not worth the time you waste on it.

The Absolute Minimum
As a working parent, you face obstacles and challenges galore when making your personal life and your job mesh – two areas that are normally at odds with one another. Everyone will seem to want your time, from your boss to your baby to your husband. In the beginning, it's an extremely cumbersome juggling act, but have faith that everything will settle down as you adapt to your new baby, a new way of life, and a new schedule. Impose on your family and friends as much as possible for help and don't be hesitant about taking it. Your baby will be richer for it in the long run.

Reproduced from Absolute Beginner's Guide to Pregnancy, by John Adams and Marta Justak, by permission of Pearson Education. Copyright © 2005 by Que Publishing. Please visit Amazon to order your own copy.


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