Sunday, March 18, 2012

Maternity Leave

Seeing as how I am still pregnant and trying to take it easy, I am finding that I am, for lack of a better word, bored. This is a very strange feeling, so I thought I would share some recent thoughts.

Warning: I'm about to get up on my soap box. Maternity leave. It seems to be one of those things that you really don't think about it until some time during your pregnancy when you realize that you should spend some time figuring out the logistics of how you are going to deal with taking care of yourself, and the new little person in your life. And yes, this delay in figuring things out even happens to those of us who are not going through it for the first time.

I think the reason why I didn't think of it sooner was that there is so much about maternity leave that *seems* like it should be common sense. You go through a major physical event in your life, you have a new life to figure out to take care of, and you need time to deal with both. And you should not be penalized for needing that time. After all, we were all born, we all have mothers, and it seems like it's in society's best interest to take care of them in some manner.

The day I sat down to figure out how my maternity leave would work for this child, I ended up sitting at my desk and crying. Mind you, I consider myself a pretty strong and not over-emotional woman. I cried out of frustration, anger, and feeling like I was being punished for the fact that I was having a child.

Before I tell you the reasons, and about my personal situation, I should emphasize that I am *LUCKY*. There are women out there who have much worse situations than myself.

First, there are three levels of laws/rules/policies that one has to wade through: federal, state, and employer. At the federal level, there is the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA, which is surprisingly recent -- only since 1993), one is potentially eligible for 6 weeks of unpaid leave with the birth (or adoption) of a child. What the FMLA guarantees is that you will have a job when you get back. That's it. There is, however, a catch. In order to be covered by FMLA you have to have been working for your company for at least a year, have worked a minimum number of hours, and your company has to have a minimum number of employees (for more specifics see the U.S. Dept. of Labor website). For people like myself who have been fortunate enough to have had a steady job for years, but recently switched jobs, it really sucks. I could have easily been left in the situation of not being eligible for ANY leave.

Oh, and by-the-way, the U.S. is one of only four countries in the world that does not offer guaranteed paid leave. The other three: Papua New Guinea, Swaziland, and Lesotho (extra credit to people who even know where to find all of those three countries on a map).

So then there are state-level policies. Most states only go so far as upholding the FMLA regulations. A select handful do a tad bit more to either guarantee you can use your sick days (four states) or have disability insurance programs that encompass the "disability" of giving birth (five states). [Don't even get me started on how giving birth is considered a "disability".] I am fortunate enough to live in a state that does indeed have a disability insurance program, but of course there are caveats. First, how it's all calculated and what you are actually eligible for is rather impenetrable despite actually having a website and "FAQ" devoted to the topic. And I should mention that I am not the only Ph.D. that I have talked to that reached a similar conclusion. Second, there are again eligibility requirements centered on how much you have worked for your current employer. So you should be aware of what your state offers, but don't count on much.

Lastly, but hopefully not least, there are the policies of your employer. This is what can be the saving grace for a lot of people. It's also something to keep in mind in taking a new job if you at all have family in mind (dads too!). I think it's really sad that I have to consider myself lucky that my employer offers 6 weeks of paid leave if you have worked there for four years. I haven't worked there that long, but luckily (sadly) I fall into a loophole because the funding for my salary comes from an outside granting agency, so I get 6 weeks paid. After that, I could take unpaid leave. What makes my situation truly fortunate is that my direct supervisor is very understanding and I get to make my own schedule. I can work from home and was told it is OK for me to do so for as long as I need after the baby is born.

So I was able to sort my particular situation out and should actually be able to get paid while I am out on leave. But this feeling I am left with is incredibly unsatisfying. I want to DO something. I would like to be able to help those less fortunate than myself. [For example, I know a woman who, though she was working at the same employer for years, switched funding sources and therefore she is currently ineligible for maternity leave of any kind.] I am hoping that sharing my story may accomplish some part of that.

Also, just as I was about to start writing this post, I read an that Parents magazine recently published: The Fight for Better Maternity Leave. The article is an easy read, and has other facts beyond the ones that I cite (unfortunately most of them are rather disconcerting).

That article also mentioned a web site/ organization: The first issue/goal of their organization that they list is maternity leave. After perusing their site, I decided to join their mailing list. Perhaps others who read this will be motivated to do the same. I have faith that there is strength in numbers, and the current situation *has* to change.

Art Project

Rarely does Mommy get the chance to do art projects. A little while ago I was able to attend a workshop on Diffusion Tensor Imaging (DTI). This is a very valuable technology for using MRI to explore the connections within the brain that I know comparatively little about. Even though there are some complex algorithms that go into figuring out where the pathways are, others have designed data analysis such that even a relative newcomer like myself can learn the basics of the analyses. The bonus is that the results are, for lack of a better word, pretty. So here's a little art project I would like to call "chia brain".