Pregnancy Week 39: Can I Work During Maternity Leave?

Week 39: Can I Work During Maternity Leave?

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May 30, 2024 at 3:34PM UTC
This week is for all the boss ladies worried about how to keep your career momentum, even with a newborn in your lap. 
You’re not alone if you have no choice but to  work (or are choosing to) during your leave. Maybe you need the money, your job doesn’t give you much time off, or you have a side-hustle that can’t exactly put on hold. Or you’re a manager who doesn't have a backfill. 
Whatever the reason, you may be wondering how realistic it is to get work done at home while you’re on maternity leave. 
The td;lr answer? If you must do some work during your maternity leave, it’s doable, but not for the faint of heart. Here’s what to expect:

The first few days.

Depending on the kind of birth you’ll be having, it’ll probably be tough to walk straight, much less get on a video conference. Sure, Marissa Mayer somehow had conference calls from her hospital bed after giving birth to twins, but that’s so abnormal it made headlines. Enough said.
Quite frankly, if you’re still at the hospital, you may be physically recovering from that postnatal cocktail of pain, euphoria, hormones and drugs.
On the other hand, if you absolutely need to take a quick phone call or address an emergency via email during the first few days , you may be able to do it if you’re realistic in terms of how much time you can give it. We’ve all gotten newborn photos emailed from the hospital, right? 
So yes, it can be done if you must send an email or two. Just consider enlisting your partner to type it out in case the anesthesia causes a reply-all incident.

The next few weeks.

If you must start working during your leave, consider at least blocking off a minimum of one to two weeks of family time. Put another way: it’s very unlikely (barring true emergencies) that your team cannot live without contacting you for one week. People get married, honeymoon on distant islands (sometimes without cell phone access), and just go on plain-old fashioned vacations. You’re giving birth to a human being! So if you can spare yourself constant work communications in the very beginning, it’s hard to imagine people won’t be able to deal with it.
During her first maternity leave, our founder Georgene decided to hold weekly conference calls with her direct reports. She set the weekly agenda for the call (and the call format) the week before she started her leave so her team would know what to cover. Every week thereafter, she’d set the next week’s agenda by email. She even had a 60 second speaking rule where everyone went around giving their mission-critical updates to ensure the call wrapped up in 30 minutes tops. 
If you decide to do something like this, do it at a regularly scheduled time for your own sanity, and tell your team that they may need to bear with your background noise (in her case, sometimes a wailing baby, sometimes a vibrating breast pump). 

After the first month.

Insensitive colleagues may think that maternity leave is a “holiday” of sorts, but as Sarah O’Grady captured in her piece, “A Day At Home With A Newborn,” it’s a lot of work, tears, and, well, deodorant. 
Here’s a brief excerpt:
8am-noon: This time frame consists of me attempting to take a shower 47 times. But every time, as soon as my big toe hits the tile, baby starts crying. And so I step back out to soothe her, try again, and we do this until I give up, remembering that no one is going to see me today anyway. In fact, there’s probably a better chance of a zombiepocalypse than of me being able to get out of this house looking and feeling presentable. So with one leg shaved, I throw on yoga pants and slap on some deodorant. Ta-da!
1:30pm: Ok, now I’m going to eat lunch, for real. (Rummages through fridge, finds leftovers to microwave.) Why are there no clean plates or forks? Ugh, I meant to empty the dishwasher from last night. Ok, better do it now while the babe is asleep.
1:40pm: Aaaaand my window of opportunity to eat lunch in peace like a normal adult just flew out the window. She’s awake. My god, does she have some sort of sixth sense? Was she sent here to earth to starve me to death?
3:00pm: Baby slept on my chest while I typed with one hand and sent a couple of emails. Now I should try to call that guy back so hubby doesn’t think I’m totally inept. Except baby just started stirring.
4:15pm: Did I ever eat lunch? I can’t remember. I’m starving. Must stop in kitchen at some point soon...
If you think you’ll be able to work much, that excerpt sums up some of the logistical challenges. Unless you have childcare support — a family member or nanny willing to watch and clean and dress and feed your baby while you work — it’ll be a very unpredictable schedule in these first few months. So if you’re dead set on working, set up a support system, as soon as possible. 

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