Challenges with Maternity (Disability) Leave

I will admit, this topic is nothing new, and has even been discussed on this blog. There have been a lot of great articles and media attention on this subject lately, and some baby steps in the right direction! However, it is an important topic, and the US does have a long way to go when it comes to maternity leave. In fact, my workplace doesn’t even have maternity leave! They call it disability leave. Yes, childbirth can set one back, physically, but considering it disability? Something that is healthy and normal in human society shouldn’t be considered a disability, in my opinion…

So, my thought with this post is not to introduce a new idea, but to share my personal experience with maternity leave.

As a first time mother, figuring out maternity leave has been a source of stress from the moment I found out I was pregnant. The first challenge was figuring out what benefits I did and didn’t have. This was especially difficult because I did not have some of the same state benefits that my friends at other employers had.

For example: a lot of my friends assumed that I would be able to stop working 4 weeks before my due date if I wanted, even just for normal pregnancy discomfort and fatigue. This was not the case for me. The thing that was especially frustrating about this was that my doctors office also assumed the same thing. I wanted to continue working up to my due date, but had some complications that made this ill-advised. To be taken out of work before labor and delivery required special paperwork submitted to my workplace. The doctors office was not accustomed to providing this documemtation because most of their patients (presumably) dont need it to stop working before delivery. Not only was this paperwork incredibly confusing to me, but the large health care provider I am covered by has their own set of paperwork that they use instead of the ones I provided. This made it difficult to know if my work disability office was getting everything they needed, because I could not work directly with the doctors office, but had to go through this “middleman” office, and have several phone conversations with my work disability office so that I could go back and talk to the health insurance disability office. In my case, I had to get the paperwork revised several times, because something was not right each time. One of these revisions required going to get the same note from a different doctor. At one point, my health insurer routed me through my primary care doctor to interpret some results even though I started off in the Labor and Delivery department, and that was not acceptable to my work disability office. They needed to see it coming from the OB/GYN department and not primary care. Really?! I felt that so many things about this were ridiculous.

Another major challenge was figuring out the timing of using the different types of leave that were available. To summarize – there was disability leave (pre-birth of necessary), disability leave from child birth (the length of which is dependent on type of delivery), the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (not paid), an additional state leave protection (not paid), and finally, my own vacation days. The disability leave was partially paid, but only after I had gone through a 30 day elimination period of using my own vacation or going unpaid.

Trying to map this out on a calendar when you don’t have some key dates (like the birth of my child) is like trying to put a puzzle together without the border pieces. On top of all this, my leave spans the end and start of a fiscal year, which comes with an additional vacation day, but only if I am at work the last day of the fiscal year. This is something that I only learned after a conversation with one very helpful person.

Navigating my maternity leave required so many in-person conversations (I tried to do as much of this as I could before I left work), emails and phone calls. And the quality of information I got was person-dependent, both on the work side and on the healthcare side. It took a lot of perseverance on my part. And every step of the way felt like I was fighting some big, impersonal system just to care for my child.

I did get through it, but with a strong feeling that change would be beneficial to families and workplaces everywhere. Luckily, my coworkers and immediate supervisors are very family friendly and supportive, and there was no pressure on that end to get back ASAP.  But, I am left with a feeling of resentment for my workplace in general. And, if I was in charge and worried about  retention and long term job satisfaction, that is not a feeling I would want to foster in my employees.

Future note: next year, an improvement is being made in my workplace to give parents (mother or father) an extra 30 days of vacation time.

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