This one is for the working mamas-to-be. If you are anything like me, you want to plan as much as possible to avoid any last-minute off-the-cuff decisions or situations.
After the pee-on-the-stick moment and the confirmation with your OB/GYN, you will need to sit down and think a few things over. Like what will the new reality look like and what is the plan to make it work as you have envisioned it?
As a first time mom, you don't know a lot, you learn on the job and if you were never in tune with your intuition, well then, say hello to her, because she will be your guided partner for the rest of this beautiful journey.
Where do you start?
The most daunting part of the experience, particularly in the beginning, is that brief moment where you are filled with anxiety about what will happen to your life as you know it... what will happen to my job? Is my job secure? I remember that feeling as if it were yesterday. I panicked but only for a brief moment because I was part of the lucky few, that had an entire tribe supporting me through it all.
Once I pulled myself toward myself, I needed to consider some very important things that would be affected by this new change. I needed to prepare for my maternity leave, the first item on my to-do-list: review my company's maternity policy.
In general, maternity leave policies vary in context to the country in which you are working in but also in the type of company or organization you work for. For example, in South Africa -
In accordance with the South African labour law, moms are entitled to four months unpaid maternity leave. This means that you are entitled to take the full four months leave if required. Only you can decide if you want to shorten your maternity leave to less than four months, as long as it is not less than six weeks from the delivery date. - https://www.recruitmymom.co.za/
Unpaid is the keyword here. Some private companies then use this to create a company-specific maternity policy which may or may not include "benefits" over and above what the labour law stipulates. However, it also usually includes clauses that can sometimes bound you to the company for a period of time after you return. Please read the fine print and make sure you ask your HR team for clarification on any detail that may not be clear to you.
Important to note in South Africa is that you can claim from the Unemployment Insurance Fund, in those 4 months.
If you have been contributing to UIF, you are eligible for a maternity benefit of up to a maximum amount of 60% of your remuneration (lowest amount of replacement income is 38%) depending on the level of your income. Benefits are paid for a maximum duration of 17.32 weeks (121 days).
Looking back and moving forward
I learnt a really big lesson with my maternity policy, which is that I should have known what the policy looked like and what it really meant before joining the company.
I believe that private companies especially can do a lot more to support the women that work tirelessly for them. It is bad enough that we have yet to close the income inequality gap between men and women, we also face many financial struggles when we decide to start a family. It was lovely to have those 4 months at home with my newborn, but it was a struggle to have to do so with a percentage of my salary. Can you imagine that? You just added a plus one to your family and instead, you are met with less than half a salary!
This is why I think you should know your company maternity policy before you decide to join them. That policy can tell you a great deal about the company you are about to commit your time to.
What was your experience like?
I'm sure that are some really great companies out there, are you part of one?
Depending on the relationship you have with your line manager and the company culture, announcing your pregnancy might feel intimidating. Be upfront and honest. There’s no need to feel guilty. Make sure you leave in a way that doesn't compromise your teammates. Discuss the handover period and understand all that is expected of you in that time so that you can leave knowing that you did your bit to support your team.
Lastly, your hormones are doing all kinds of crazy things, just remember to look at the glass half full because a new adventure awaits and when you do return to work, the 4 months will feel like they were 4 weeks. Time flies when you are looking after a newborn (just not at night) lol!
A few helpful sources of information if you are based in South Africa: