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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.

Of course, I had all the greatest intentions on the blogging front this week.  The kids were on vacation, so I had what I thought were absurd amounts of free time on my hands to catch up on paperwork and get a good blogging momentum started.  Blog fail.  Monday I was at a conference all day long.  Tuesday, I did write about my surgical “options”.  Wednesday was endless staff meetings and a video called “Including Samuel” about a boy with cerebral palsy who is fully mainstreamed into his elementary school.  Thursday started off promising, but then I had an IEP from 10 till almost noon, then lunch, and finally I had to meet with a coworker to plan our summer language groups and make materials.  So I spent the afternoon photocopying, stapling, and filing knock-off versions of “Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?” as coloring books.  Today I had off from work, but Mr. Apron and I compiled a hefty to-do list which left me running around all day.  Sigh.  Here is my Friday blog.

Yesterday at work, a coworker admonished me for not enrolling in the optional short-term disability insurance offered by my company.  It’s fantastic, she said, and pays something like 60% of your salary if you can’t work or if you’re on maternity leave.  Of course, she was assuming two things:  one, that I hadn’t enrolled in it when I was hired or during our open-enrollment period which just ended June 30th; and two, that I was a young married thing and would be caring about such things soon.

Don’t you hate it when the know-it-alls are right?  When I have been interviewing for and hired at my two “real” jobs that offered benefits, I have been more concerned with getting a job and was not brilliant enough to go benefit-shopping like some of my classmates.  I guess that attitude came from the difficulty I had getting my first job, and how grateful I was just to be employed.  With my current job, too, having been hired at a time when it seemed all other sectors were cutting back, I was just happy to get an offer.  The other factor is that I can’t navigate my way into any of the benefits any more than Finley can free himself from a blanket we throw over his head.  I am now familiar with the workings of an HMO, thanks to my brain surgery experience.  I understand about diagnosis codes, copays, referrals, deductibles, and how insurance, not a doctor, decides when you are cured.  What I know nothing about are everything else in that healthcare packet I was given when hired.  Long-term medical, short-term disability, health savings accounts, dependant care accounts, etc.  During my hiring and during open enrollment, my eyes glazed over and I checked N/A on the payroll deduction form without giving it a second thought, because second thoughts about things I don’t understand make me cry. 

Nevertheless, I googled short-term disability insurance, short-term medical insurance, etc.  I went to the company’s website and clicked on the link to their STM provider.  I downloaded the form, printed it out, and e-mailed the HR lady who would know definitively about such things.  Of course, the form I printed out stated quite assertively one could only enroll during open enrollment.  And pregnancy is a pre-existing condition; you have to be enrolled before you’re impregnated. 

She called me back right before the IEP. 

“Now, you know the open enrollment period is closed, right?”

“Yeah, I was afraid of that.”

“But I called my supervisor, and I haven’t heard back yet, but I think I can sneak you for this year in because it’s only July 2nd.  But I need to know, and I’m not supposed to ask you this, but…are you pregnant already?”

“No, not yet.”

She faxed over the forms later in the day.  The cover letter read: “Urgent…I was able to get you into this year’s open enrollment.  Fill these out and return them  today.”   I was able to fill them out without crying, and I was able to use the fax machine to send them back.  Double success!

Now, my coworkers were as puzzled as you are why I was so excited to get that fax.  Last month-ish, I e-mailed HR to find out what the maternity leave policy was.  The HR lady elucidated something about the Family Medical Leave Act, and told me to check the hopelessly confusing and under-useful employee handbook.  They both said the same thing.  FMLA entitles one to take up to 12 weeks unpaid leave during the year a child is born/adopted.  You can take it all at once, or use it to cut back on your weekly hours, or some combination thereof.  But it’s unpaid.  For three months.  That’s a pretty serious burden to a family with a new infant.  Basically, this ground-breaking new allowance of leave, this new federal law, all it does is guarantee your job will be there for you when you come crawling back after being basically unemployed for 3 months. 

But short-term disability, which includes pregnancy and post-partum-ness as a short-term disability, entitles me to up to 13 weeks of 66 2/3% of my pay.  It can also be taken piecemeal.  So one could, if one was inclined, stay home for 8 weeks, then come back 3 days/week and use the other 2 days’ worth to keep one as a full-time employee, and therefore keep one’s health insurance. 

Ah, so this is how it’s done.  When I first found out about FMLA, I called my mother and asked her how women did this.  I couldn’t understand how the entire country’s worth of mothers takes unpaid leave.  But now it makes more sense. 

On face value it would seem odd that I enthusiastically texted Mr. Apron on Thursday teasing him, “Good news : baby-making”.  And even stranger that I’m so excited about STM.  But now we can start realistically thinking about baby-making.  Mr. Apron has been very gung-ho (read: horny), and I’ve been bogged down in the pragmatics and logistics of such petty issues as health insurance, child-care, maternity leave, medication restrictions during pregnancy and unpasteurized cheeses.  I think we’re cutting down these barriers one by one.  What’s funny is that we have all these pre-pregnancy books (see Mr. Apron’s blog for reviews) from the library, and not one says that checking out STM before you conceive is an important thing to do.  They’re too concerned with charting basal body temperature and supporting old wives’ tales about how to make a boy vs. a girl. 

It’s sad that these are the things we have to be concerned about when so much of becoming a parent is (I’m guessing here) about bonding with your ever-expanding belly, and, later, the thing that came out of it.  But it is important.  It lays the groundwork to let us have time to be with our children when they’re young.  And fill their eager minds with all sorts of poppycock designed to keep them safe and naive for as long as possible, or at least until middle school. 

Good luck with puberty.

1) Do not ask the readers when you are a blogger who has approximately 15 hits/day.  Not enough people care about you to answer your questions.  They look at that as a cop-out post, which it probably was, because you were too lazy to put up real content, and too lazy to google it yourself, which brings me to 2).

2) Do not ask the readers until you have googled and found a website which contains the exact information you are looking for.  

3) Maternity leave through my company is unpaid.  Is this common?  Have I been living in dream world where employers pay for you to bond with your child and give it life-sustaining breast milk for 12 weeks with no drawback?  Turns out all they do is hold your job for you.  So you can take a 3 month pay cut, then come back part time, lose your benefits, and pay for child care.  Hmm, no wonder people are putting off having children; the logistics are sobering.

4) Cheerios used as toilet training encouragement are not comestible rewards for “making sissy in the potty”.  Two of my coworkers were discussing how boys were difficult to potty-train and how if they weren’t interested at all, it was hard to say they were “ready”, and thus, the diapering continued.  So one of them mentioned Cheerios.  I, thinking it was a reward to be given after successful tinkling, added, “Oh, yeah, they’re using Froot Loops with the little boy downstairs.”  Which is exactly how they dole out the cereal.  After he’s peed.  In the toilet.  But no.  As the coworker with the disinterested 2.5 year old boy said, you instruct them to “sink the ships”.  So after a full 10 seconds of processing something other than the conversation I thought we were having, I figured it out.  Not knowing if this was a modern thing, or a regional thing, or a thing when you teach boys to pee standing up as opposed to sitting down, I came home and asked Mr. Apron.  Not that he remembered being potty trained, nor is it exactly an easy thing to imagine one’s grown husband who is now 6 feet tall and steaming wallpaper off of the baseboards and eaves, being potty trained.  He replied in the negative, and added that his mother would have said, in her placid, matter-of-fact way, “Cheerios are for eating.”  So I countered, “Yeah, but wouldn’t it have been fun.”

You learn new things every day.

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July 2020