Engineers love planning, that’s not secret. But one thing that is really hard to plan for is what’s going to happen on maternity leave. Expecting Engineering Working Moms (and a lot of working parents) always have lots of maternity leave questions for those of us who’ve been there and done that: “How do you deal with being gone for so long from work?” Do you wait until you have worked somewhere a certain amount of time?” “Do you think it’s best to time maternity leave between projects?” “Is it best to wait until you’re completely established at the company?” Luckily a few of our seasoned Engineering Working Moms are willing to share their wisdom on our blog; read below for their advice (names have been removed to protect privacy).
“I get where [they are] coming from, wanting to control and know everything in advance, but the honest truth is…you can’t. Even in that small example…your project might run long. Or get canceled. Or you move groups. Or take a different job. Or your company closes your site. You might get pregnant sooner than you expect. Or not get pregnant at all and need fertility treatments. Parenting lesson #1: you aren’t in control of everything. In fact, you aren’t in control of most things. The sooner you accept that, the better your mental health will be.
I would, if possible, work somewhere at least a year so that FMLA protections (if applicable) kick in.
You will never be “completely established” so I wouldn’t let that guide your family planning.
Best insights…get familiar with your HR handbook. Understand what leave is covered…both in the can you take it and the do you get paid/how do you get paid senses. Know what your costs will be (I had to write my company a check each month for my share of my health insurance). Know what your income will be. Sign up for both short term and long term disability NOW, before you are pregnant, if they aren’t already covered by your company. Start paring down your expenses so you have fewer recurring costs and can live more easily on 1 (or no) salary.
If you plan to take an extended period off, make a plan for how you will stay “in touch” with your industry and company. Will you meet old coworkers for lunches? Attend training? Do a volunteer activity?
If there are any certifications you want to get (like your PE), do that before you have kids. You can do it after but it’s so much harder.
If you plan to go back to work, look into daycares in your area and get a sense for how long their waiting lists are and what they realistically cost.”
“It’s morbid, but if we die these companies move on. Have your babies whenever, however. Yes, you can try to plan things, but babies are haters in every way imaginable. LOL. Do your best, but don’t really stress over the projects or the companies. As mentioned above, the best prep is knowing your HR leave policies.”
“I had to undergo fertility treatments and as a result had to “plan” the whole family thing a bit more (from the perspective of juggling work travel and commitments with treatment appointments). I remember making an offhand comment to my manager about it. The best advice he ever gave me was that there is always another project and another reason to delay.
The hard answer [is] yes taking extended time off for maternity leave will leave a gap in your experience. Stepping back and focusing on family will slow your career progress. Maybe it’s fair. Maybe it’s not… the expectation is that it is the woman who makes the sacrifice. But for me it’s worth the sacrifice because there’s no point to me becoming a big wig engineer if I’m not living the personal life including the family that I want to live.”
“One thing I didn’t understand when I was younger is that getting pregnant can be a lot harder than getting a job/good position/project. Finding a good company/position/boss/project wasn’t always easy but miscarriage/endometriosis/IVF was a lot harder. In retrospect I would plan around pregnancy rather than plan around projects. And don’t wait too long before 35 is best as long as you are stable in finances and in relationship.”
“My first instinct for this is to get [them] to read Lean In ASAP, and tell [them] to pay attention to the stuff in there about maternity leave.”
“There’s never a perfect time to get pregnant, not to mention your body / your significant other’s body may not cooperate and things may not happen when you “planned” anyways (It took me 10 months to get a viable pregnancy and I had a chemical pregnancy and a miscarriage in between) I was so worried about planning it and it just stressed me out and I’m sure made it harder for me to get pregnant. I was also applying for management jobs at the same time as trying to get pregnant. It was a lot all at once. I said I was going to stop applying for management jobs so we could focus on getting pregnant, and BAM got an unexpected offer for a position and on the day I accepted the offer went home and found out I was pregnant. Obviously not ideal having to start a new job, figure out when to tell new bosses and my new team that hasn’t had a manager for over 3 months that ‘hey I’m new and I’m leaving again. Not to mention the looming possibility that the pregnancy might not stick because it happened before.
I know it’s so hard not to worry about every little detail (trust me I’m a planner) but it was a big adjustment to learn to go with the flow a little bit. Control the things I could and let go of the things I couldn’t.
Things you can do ahead of time, be aware of your company’s leave policies. In order to qualify for FMLA you need to be with the company for at least a year. Understand what benefits you get beyond that, time off, what’s paid what isn’t, what your medical coverage looks like during that time. If you don’t have much paid leave start saving now. (and saving for extra baby expenses).
Once you get pregnant then you know the timeline and can start planning transitions of work and other things. But in the meantime, try not to stress too much (I know easier said than done) Enjoy the baby making process and do a little financial planning and benefit understanding. And when you do get pregnant, there’s lots of wise mom’s here to offer advice.
Take things one step at a time and it’s a lot more manageable then tackle the next thing as it comes, because if you worry about every possible what if, you’ll drive yourself crazy.”