It seems like the pre-baby To Do Lists keep piling up as I keep piling on the pounds. Can I get a witness? There are the Thank You notes, returning of duplicate shower gifts, organizing the nursery, researching life insurance policies, assembling various baby accoutrements, writing our birth plan, appealing to our health insurance that Yes, they should in fact cover an electric breast pump—like everyone else under the sun is these days—to name a few lingering tasks in my world.
One of the major items on my list that I have been putting off for weeks now is finalizing my maternity leave. Thankfully I work for an organization that has a generous maternity leave (as well as paternity leave, might I add). It’s nothing like Denmark, which gives you 52 weeks of full pay maternity leave, or its sister country to the north, Sweden who grants new moms 420 days of leave, with 80% of their wages paid. It is, however, far better than what some of my New Mom Friends are afforded, like my sister-in-law, who heads back to work this week, having only delivered that darling nephew of ours six weeks ago. (Check out this article for the best and worst maternity leaves from around the world.)
While there is a policy in place that guarantees my leave, there are still several steps I had to take in order to make that leave work to my advantage. Though a little past the deadline mapped in The United Methodist Book of Discipline (the book of the polity and organizational structure that I live under as a pastor), I got the ball rolling by talking with my senior pastor and following up that convo with a formal request letter to our personnel committee. Unlike most secular jobs, I had to seek approval for my proposed maternity leave from an entire committee of church folks—who come from all walks of life and life stages. Again, thankfully, we have a fantastic group of people serving on that committee, and they did not bat an eye at my request for the full 12 weeks of maternity leave that is allowed for United Methodist clergy.
Whew! What a relief!
Seriously. It was truly a relief. I did not realize until after the fact, how much anxiety I had built up about this request and meeting. Certainly women request maternity leave all the time. I was not the first around that table to be granted such a thing. But for whatever reason, I had loaded on a hefty amount of nervousness and apprehension about staking my claim on what is rightfully mine.
As the events of the week unfolded and I drove home after the official vote had been cast at the meeting, I felt this huge weight lift from these shoulders that carry much of the poundage of my growing belly. Another step on the journey to readiness had been taken. Though far too soon, I knew that if I went into labor on the drive home from the meeting, I would have my full maternity leave. There would be no question as to when I would be coming back to fulltime ministry. I had taken care of business.
What I learned from this experience is that my worry was unwarranted. Though my anxieties may have gotten the best of me, the support of the committee, coupled with our denomination’s maternity leave policy made the journey an easy one.
I am thankful for the delegates of whatever General Conference (the decision-making body for The United Methodist Church) who first wrote the maternity leave policy into The Book of Discipline. I know it has been in effect since at least 1980, when my mom, also a United Methodist pastor, took her leave when I was born. She, and I, and countless other clergywomen, stand on the shoulders of the young clergy mothers who have gone before us. We are sisters on this journey together, and we will continue to trod this path for the mothers-yet-to-be.
I pray that you, too, find a well tread path ahead for you and your family as you figure out the kind of time away, care, and support you will need in the early weeks after you welcome your new baby. And if not, consider moving to Denmark. It sounds like they’ve got things figured out.