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New Baby, Same Job: Priorities After the Baby Arrives

separator There's so much build-up to the birth of a baby. The long waiting that characterizes pregnancy, the drama of birth, the joy of that new little life.

For most couples, having a baby takes a lot of careful planning in terms of figuring out how to reconcile your baby's need for constant care and your need to earn a living. For the pregnant woman, accrued paid leave and sick time may just about cover the time you'll need to take off to give birth and recover. Then again, you may not have any such time accrued. Employers handle maternity leave differently, so your best bet is to talk to your human resources department to find out what kind of coverage your company provides.

The Family and Medical Leave Act

In the U.S., under the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA), companies with 50 or more employees are required to offer eligible employees (mothers and fathers) up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave time during any 12-month period after the birth, adoption or placement of a foster child. To be eligible, you must have worked for the employer for at least 12 months and you must have worked 1,250 hours during the 12 months before the start of the leave.

The key word here is unpaid. You get the time off if you're eligible, but for many couples, a year off without pay isn't possible. Most couples who feel they both need to work usually cobble together as much time at home with the new baby as they can. Then reality hits, and it's time to go back to work.

The Reality of Work and Baby

For some people, managing jobs and the baby goes smoothly, and that's great. For others, it's more difficult. They often feel like nobody's winning. They liked their job before, but now they can't give the time to it they used to. There's that precious baby waiting. They come home from work exhausted, and feel like they can't give the baby the best of themselves.

Their own relationship may be suffering a little bit too. They're so occupied with jobs and the baby there's no time for exercise or recreation. No time for intimacy.

Don't be Afraid to Think Creatively

If this scenario describes your situation, it's time to stop and take a look at your priorities. Do you both have to work full time? Remember that going to work itself takes money (transportation, lunches out, clothing, etc.). Childcare is a big expense too.

Some couples find they're able to live on one income for a while if they give up some of their other expenses-health club memberships, extra clothing, entertaining, etc. See if there's any spending you'd consider cutting out to give yourself more time for your baby (and yourself).

It's quite possible that both of you want to stay active in your careers. If you have good relationships with your employers, you might want to think about scaling back your time-both of you. Couples are beginning to do this more and more. It's not possible for everyone, but you've got nothing to lose by talking about it with your employer.

Working at home may be another option. You still have to work, but it cuts down on commuting time and saves transportation, lunch and some clothing money. See whether your employer would consider giving that kind of arrangement a try, maybe just one or two days a week. You may find that you're most productive at home (if you have someone else caring for the baby, of course) because the distraction of co-workers is eliminated.

Make it Work for You

It's easy to get caught up in the idea that there's only one way to earn a living and have a baby. In reality, there are all kinds of ways. You might need to let go of some pre-conceived notions about money and your lifestyle. You may need to stay in your smaller house or apartment for a little longer than you had planned. But if time with your baby is your priority right now, a little creative thinking and the courage to put your thoughts into action could be your big reward.

U.S. Department of Labor; K. Figes. Life after Birth. St. Martin's Press, New York, New York, 10010, 1998.
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