This is an article in our Pregnancy Week by Week series, a resource to help you manage your job and life, through and after your pregnancy.
Week 49: What If You Decide Not To Go Back To Work?
Having a baby changes your life in a major way. So major that some women we know have a complete change of heart when it comes to their jobs and careers. The decision can be gradual or sudden, happen during pregnancy or maternity leave, and of course, even months after you return to work.
For Lindsey, it happened when she became pregnant with baby number 2.
I was working at Sesame Workshop, an educational media non-profit, during my first and second pregnancies. I felt uncomfortable sharing my first pregnancy with my colleagues as I hadn’t been working at the company for very long and worried how they would view the impending maternity leave which began one year after my start date.
I felt more comfortable telling my supervisor about the second pregnancy as I had been at the company for more than two years by that point and I was more aware of the number of other pregnant women and new mothers at the company.
I returned to work after my first baby was born but I did not return after the birth of my second. I didn’t expect to return after the second was born but I waited until partway through my leave to tell my manager I wasn’t returning; I wanted to be sure everything was going as planned at home (logistically, financially, health-wise) before giving my notice and I also wanted the health insurance coverage during my leave.
Everyone’s reasons for deciding to leave work are different, but Lindsey’s story shares a lot in common with other women we spoke to:
There were two main reasons for not returning after my second baby was born. The first was that I wanted to stay home - I was very sad that I had been away from my first son 10 hours a day for the first two years of his life. I felt envious of the nanny who was taking care of him.
Secondly, we were moving away from New York City - while my husband does a two-hour commute each way, I did not want to do this - it wasn’t worth it for the job and salary.
Financial issues were a significant factor and influenced our decision to leave New York City. Child care for two little ones was expensive, a larger apartment was expensive, and most importantly for me - I prefered to be home with my little ones rather than going to work. When we had one child, the prospect of me staying home was not viable, when we had two, it was easier to justify this decision.
If you decide to change jobs, or not go back to work after maternity leave, be aware that you may have to repay your employer for certain things. As Lindsey says, “I did have to repay salary for the time I was out as I didn’t return but we were covered by my health insurance during this time.”
While it was a relatively easy decision for Lindsey to stay at home, for other women it is an agonizing choice to leave their careers after they have children. In part, their worry is about what their decisions will look like in hindsight. Lisa Heffernan writes a rather depressing laundry list of regrets when she thinks back on her decision to become a stay-at-home mom at age 33.
We’re conscious of getting close to “the mommy wars” territory so we’ll leave it here and say that some women are incredibly proud and find great meaning in caretaking for family at home, while for others, it’s simply not the right choice or even a financial possibility. Everyone has to make a decision that’s right for themselves and their families.
To the extent you have a choice, figuring out who you are on this continuum isn’t always easy. Just be aware before you make your decision that there is a middle-ground. Some women change employers to find jobs that are more family-friendly, or take on part-time, flexible, remote work. Some even become entrepreneurs.
Romy, our co-founder, struggled deeply with going back to work after having each of her children. Her advice - no matter how hard it may feel during maternity leave - is to at least go back for four weeks. “Even though it can feel impossible, you can’t know what it will be like until you’re in the thick of it. Once you adjust, going to work may be easier, more manageable and less heart-wrenching than you think. You can always quit, but at least you will feel you made a careful decision.”
On the flip side, if you do quit, you can always go back. It’s not always easy to reenter the workforce, but many women do it successfully, particularly if they keep a toe dipped into their careers. Our friend Lisen Stromberg wrote a great book we recommend highly called, “Work. Pause. Thrive.” She reminds us that your career does not need to be a perfect trajectory. You can take a step back when your children are young and still wind up in a great spot.
You’ll meet women who’ve done all kinds of things, so while it can be useful to hear others’ perspectives, ultimately, the voice that’s most important for your decision is the one inside yourself!
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I'm thinking of not going back to work after leave - but my colleagues seem to just expect that I am...
I'm thinking about not coming back to work after my maternity leave -- even if I have to pay some of the pay I receive during leave. Nobody has asked me about whether I'm going to come back (they are just acting as if this will definitely happen when we..
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