Getting Back to Business
Going back to work after having a baby isn’t an all-or-nothing decision.
To make returning to work easier, Peters suggests that you plan for your partner to stay at home and care for your child during your initial weeks back on the job. Jeannine Forrester, 29, of Union, New Jersey, an accountant who is pregnant with her first child, says her husband, a journalist, can work from home. “His writing doesn’t require a desk job,” says Forrester. “I feel better knowing that the only person that could love our baby as much as I do will be with him.”
The Part-time Plan
When thinking about whether a part-time schedule is right for you, it’s crucial that you first ensure that you and your family can handle your reduced income. Are you willing to forgo some of the luxuries (vacations, shopping and dinners out) that a full-time salary afforded you? Does your company offer financial and health benefits to part-timers? Weigh your part-time salary against the costs of commuting, work-day lunches, business attire, partial child care (if needed for the days you’re at work) and your contribution toward your benefits. Will that amount impact your family?
Do the legwork early on so it’s simple for your employer to agree to your new schedule. “Make sure that your boss doesn’t have to do the work of shuffling or restructuring,” says Peters. “She’ll be more receptive to your plan if you show her why it will be successful.” Detail your part-time hours, salary, health and employee benefits, and expectations for workload and shared responsibilities with other employees. Be prepared to suggest a complement - someone who will do your job on the days you’re off.
“I knew that I’d return to work at some point, and I didn’t want to miss an opportunity with a company and staff that I know I truly enjoy,” says Maggie Berg, 33, of New York City, who returned to her corporate position part time after giving birth to her son. “It allowed me to get back into the swing of things, and it makes the time that I am home with my son even more precious.”
Maybe you’ll be returning to work without spending much time at the office at all: Technology allows for so many options, and companies are never anxious to lose a productive employee. You can tap into the company network via your home computer and set aside hours that you will be easily reachable for conference calls. A quiet room with a computer, phone and a fax/scanner/printer can become a truly successful workspace (and maybe even a tax write-off). Help your employer understand why this arrangement will suit your job by assuring her that the quality of your work will not be sacrificed. Let her know that your plan - for example, hiring a babysitter for a few hours a day - will allow for uninterrupted work time.
What If I Change My Mind?
It is common to have a change of heart about your working situation after the baby is born. “I just finished my MBA and have always been career-minded, but now that the baby’s here, I definitely don’t feel that way anymore,” says Dawn Hawkins, 29, of Somerset, New Jersey. “I was quick to tell my boss that I’d be back right on schedule, but now I think a part-time situation or consulting might be all I can handle.”
The good news is that you are never obligated to return to your job. If you decide during your maternity leave that you won’t be returning to work, try to give your employer time to find a replacement. Remember that the company may request reimbursement for health-care premiums paid during your absence as allowed by law, says Hirsch. This policy varies greatly from one company to the next, so consult your HR department.
If you go back full time but quickly realize that you’re unhappy, don’t jump ship during your first few weeks back at the office, recommends Peters. Try negotiating a flexible arrangement and, if that fails, offer to work until a replacement is found. Leave on a positive note in case you want to return in the future.
Realistically, you won’t truly know how you are going to feel about returning to work until your baby’s birth. Just be honest with yourself and listen to your heart. Make the decision that is right for you, your baby and your family.
Giving Birth with Confidence, the online community created by Lamaze International, provides articles and tips written for and by real women (and men) on a variety of topics related to pregnancy, birth, breastfeeding and parenting. Their goal is to help women achieve healthy pregnancies and safe, satisfying births by offering a meeting ground to obtain information and support from other women, Lamaze-Certified Childbirth Educators and knowledgeable experts.