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Well, now I’ve done it.  On the same day the dog had his melt-down about descending the stairs, I totally caused chaos at work.  Rather my intended impending maternity leave caused massive miscommunication and now I’m certain that the stigma of the pregnant woman being nothing but trouble in the workplace is far from vanishing any time soon.

For years, I had labored under misapprehensions about FMLA time.  I knew it could be used after a year of employment, in jobs that employed more than a certain number of employees, as long as you’re not a top-tier, critical employee (e.g., The Boss) for up to 12 weeks each calendar year, and that its basic function is to hold a job while you attend to things like childbirth.  It guarantees the job will still be there while the new mother is coping with sleep deprivation, lactation, and how to set up the Pack and Play.  What I didn’t know is that, for women at least, those maximum 12 weeks are governed by a doctor’s orders.  They are not really “ours” to take as we please.  Some moms may want/need to return to work after 6 weeks; others may want to use the full 12.  I had only understood that maximum = 12.  I didn’t know that they were linked to a doctor’s appraisal of a woman’s readiness/ability to go back to work.  And I didn’t know they can only be taken in whole weeks.  My intention was to take 6-8 full weeks off, then to gradually reintroduce myself to the workplace, while my children were gradually being introduced to their childcare provider (as yet, undetermined, but Mary Poppins will show up one day soon, with references, we hope), while using up the rest of my FMLA time piecemeal.  It would look like I was back at work part-time, but I’d still be a full-time employee, just one using leave. 

Sick leave works this way, as does paid time off.  Short-term disability can sometimes look like this, for example if you have some chronic condition that has “flare ups” (which sounds disgusting no matter if it’s herpes, psoriasis, rheumatoid arthritis, or fibromyalgia) which require occasional time off or treatment.  It might look like our HR employee, who will be taking Fridays off to get her chemo as she recently learned about a recurrence of lymphoma.  But apparently, childbirth and maternity leave does not work that way.  Once a doctor certifies you’re well enough to return to work on a Monday, you can’t magically be “disabled” on Tuesday. 

This doesn’t quite jive with my understanding of the purpose of FMLA, especially as it applies to, um, fathers.  I’m completely grateful and impressed that it does apply to fathers (as well as adoptive parents), recognizing their equal role as parents as well as their need to support the mother/partner in ways other than earning a paycheck.  However, are they ever “disabled” when they take their maximum 12 weeks a year to care for a newborn child?  Do the dads get to use their own discretion as to when they choose to return to work?  Can they use short-term disability to get paid for their paternity leave the same way mothers can?  It can’t be linked directly to the mother’s health, meaning that if mom’s doc says she can go back to work at 8 weeks, he doesn’t have to, right?  It can’t be.  The HR woman told me many spouses try to get the mom to take the first 12 weeks off, then let the dad take the next 12 weeks off, so the babies can have as much time at home as possible to bond with parents. 

So is FMLA for the physical disability of pregnancy/childbirth/recovery, or for the adaptation of the family to its new members?

Understandably, it’s confusing, and I still haven’t worked out all the philosophical kinks.  I still have to talk to my doctor and find out if she’ll automatically sign off for 12 weeks, or if she truly sends women back when she deems their bodies ready.  Mr. Apron still has to find out if he’ll be able to tap into short-term disability the way I will. 

And with all these nuances of the law, a misunderstanding is, well, understandable.  Truly, I can tell myself it wasn’t entirely my fault that HR didn’t know what I was planning on doing.  Truly, if I’m following The Law, I don’t have to tell my employer my intentions until 30 days before I intend to actualize them.  In reality, however, I told my supervisor my original plan back at the end of June, and she used the information to interview and hire my replacement. 

 

Not my long-term substitute, my replacement.  Some people in HR thought I was leaving in mid-October, when the new SLP will be starting.  So I had to explain that no, I’ll be training her while still working, so she can assume my caseload, my duties, and my rollie chair.  I had to clarify that I intend on working until the day my water breaks.  Whether that will remain a reality is anyone’s guess, but it’s my best case scenario.  My guess is that this misunderstanding was the result of word-of-mouth transmissions, and assumptions made by HR by looking at the new SLP’s start date.  No one officially asked me my last day or asked me to put it in writing yet. 

Then there’s the part that’s my fault.  In my original plan, to come back piecemeal, this was for several reasons.  I have already stated above that I wanted to make a gradual transition for my babies and myself.  This summer, my employer did not offer short-term disability insurance, so coming back to work part-time by using up my FMLA was a way of having some income.  This fall, through incredible coincidence, my employer will not only offer short-term disability, but, because it’s an initial offering, I can actually apply for and be accepted.  At 5 months pregnant.  And having some income while on maternity leave will enable me to stay home longer, if I want to or am approved by my doctor to do.  So even if I hadn’t misunderstood FMLA, my plans changed once the short-term disability insurance was on the table. 

 

My supervisor and HR team had planned on my coming back as a part-time employee, and budgeted accordingly. Even though they legally have to hold my job, as it is, or with similar responsibilities, with the same income, they thought I was choosing to cut back my hours.  And budgeted for my replacement to come on full-time.  And gave her a contract accordingly.  So my department is kind of one full-time SLP over budget.  And it’s kind of my fault. 

Now my subsequent responsibility is in part to market our department aggressively (truly something I never went to school for) in order to, essentially, make up for the discrepancy by bringing in money in the form of new clients, new initiatives, new programs. 

To say I’m beating myself up about it is an understatement.  While I know many others played a part in this HR/budget SNAFU, it’s all about me and my inconvenient procreation.

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Looks like you get another break from brain surgery today, as I need a chance to unload about today’s events, and a certain family member.  I’ll likely return to brain surgery tomorrow, but for today, I leave you this tidbit about my sister-in-law.  Welcome to the family. 

Oh, how people whistle a different tune when they want something out of you!  ‘Twas not so long ago that Mr. Apron’s sister, whom I will call “Bianca” spotted Mr. Apron wearing a silk bowtie given to him in memoriam by his allergist’s widow.  It’s a long story, but, briefly, Dr. Greene collapsed and died a few years ago, in the prime of his life.  Mr. Apron, who had had a close relationship with his allergist, being an allergic, sniffling Jew with chronic post-nasal drip, was deeply moved and wrote a tribute, which eventually found its way to Mrs. Greene’s mailbox.  She was so touched by the essay that she chose one of the doctor’s distinctive bowties and gave it to Mr. Apron because she knew he’d appreciate and wear it.  It’s due to Dr. Greene that Mr. Apron started wearing bowties in the first place.  So on this particular day Mr. Apron was wearing the prized tie in question, and Bianca remarked, snidely, “That looks like something Mrs. Apron would make.”

To us crafters, that can either be the ultimate compliment, or it can send us reeling back to high school when no one appreciated what we sewed, knit, collaged, or crafted, and thought we were just freaks, crudely copying fashion trends we were too cheap/poor/uncool to buy at the mall.  Guess which way Bianca meant it?

Fast-forward.  Bianca is now 7 months pregnant with her boyfriend’s child.  After a freak-out session at Babies ‘R Us where she and the boyfriend were send into shock by all of the baby swag, she promptly texted Mr. Apron and asked him if I, alleged creator of knock-off schlock and assorted kitsch smacking of home-made, would do her the honor of making her a diaper bag.  Dear friends, how could I refuse?

So tonight we journeyed down to the fabric store where I dropped $50 on materials to make her a custom diaper bag out of some admittedly really cool fabric.  As we’re driving back to where she left her car, Mr. Apron asks how long she’s planning on working until she goes out on maternity leave.  She casually mentions the due date, September 7, and the planned C-section, which will be scheduled the 39th week of gestational age, assuming the baby’s not ahead of schedule, which it looks like he might be because he was pretty big during the last ultrasound, etc.  She’ll be out of work till late October when she’s planning on going back 2 days/week and just doing light-duty paperwork for a while.  It’s not like she’ll be unloading stock with the lifting restrictions and pain.  Though she’s such a champ with pain, who knows? 

I’m sorry, planned C-section?  I checked with Mr. Apron after we dropped her off at her car. 

“Is there any medical reason she’s having a C-section?” 

“Nope.  Apparently Dr. Kim tried to talk her out of it, but you know Bianca.”

I quoted Mr. Apron’s father/mother/sister/self: “Nobody can tell Bianca nothing.”

Well, I’m sure Dr. Kim did her darndest, and then wrote the cover-your-ass note in her file: “Pt counseled on risks and benefits of elective C-section.  Pt. verbalized understanding of all risks, but insisted on scheduled C-section vs. vaginal delivery.”  I’m sure that’s how it read.  It strikes me as odd that someone who admittedly doesn’t like kids and “wasn’t trying” to get pregnant in the first place, yet now is so gung-ho about becoming a mother, might have considered that whole Get-it-out-of-me dilemma before getting knocked up.  I guess this was her solution.  And, to quote the senior Mr. Apron once again, “Once Bianca gets an idea in her head…” 

“You know,” I countered, “she won’t be able to pick up her own baby or lift more than 5 pounds?”  Mr. Apron also tried to talk her out of it.  Want to guess how that went?

So for all her tough talk about how great she is with pain and how the only discomfort she’s had during the pregnancy is having a bulbous belly – no swelling, no fatigue, no weird cravings, no feet turning into flippers – she’d rather have her abdomen sliced open and have to recover from a C-section than suffer the normal childbirth pains (or not – hello?  Epidural?) from a regular vaginal delivery.  

Mr. Apron hit the nail on the head, though.  This way, it’ll be on her terms.  And that’s the theme, folks, on her terms.  She can schedule the birth, schedule the pain and time off of work.  She can control when and if she likes my home-made items, and whether home-made is a good thing.  All I can say is, she’d better decide she likes the diaper bag she picked out come September.