should I care about my employer when figuring out when to have a baby?

A reader writes:

I’m planning to leave my job in 18 months to go back to school full-time. My spouse and I are also trying to get pregnant. In one scenario, we get pregnant more quickly and I’d be out on leave for my industry’s really intense season (think tax season for an accounting firm). The cons of having a baby during the tax season equivalent are pretty clear: even a week of vacation by someone on my team at that time really sucks, let alone 12 weeks out of the office.

In another scenario, we’d get pregnant closer to the school start date. It’s conceivable (ha!) that I would have a baby, take my 12 weeks of FMLA and return a month or 6 weeks before giving my notice. A few of my coworkers have quit at the very end of their maternity leave or within 3 months of returning to work. It’s left a bad taste in everyone’s mouth and my manager has said several times how annoying it is. In my case, since I’ll need to apply to schools, it will be abundantly clear that I’d been planning to quit for several months.

I’ve got a good manager and a team I care about, and when I do leave, I want to do it on good terms. I’ve been here long enough to have developed a reputation as a thoughtful, dependable employee and I get solid performance reviews.

Am I overthinking the timing here? I don’t know when to say, “Sorry my reproductive choices aren’t ideal for this company, but this is what works for me and my family” and when to take my employer’s legitimate concerns into account when planning my life.

(For the second scenario, another complicating factor is that my marriage isn’t recognized by my state and my state doesn’t allow second parent adoption. That means my spouse won’t have a legal connection to the little nugget and can’t add the baby to her health insurance. One huge reason I’d want to stay employed until just before starting school is so the baby could have uninterrupted health insurance…even if it means giving my notice right after coming back from leave.)

You are indeed overthinking the timing, and you are being way too accommodating to your employer in your planning.

I am all for being thoughtful toward an employer who has treated you well, but you’re going overboard here and letting consideration for them interfere with major life decision for you. And not only that, but it’s one that most employers totally understand sometimes comes up and interferes with things.

You can’t perfectly control the timing of when you get pregnant, and people understand that.

Get pregnant when you get pregnant, and let the chips fall where they may. It will be fine. People take maternity leave — and medical leave, too — at inconvenient times. That’s just how it works. You can’t always control when your baby shows up, just like you can’t always control when you need other forms of leave. It happens, you take the leave, and your employer deals with it. They will find a way.

And actually, maternity leave is easier than many medical leaves in one key respect: You get advance warning to plan for it. They’ll know that it’s coming and they can hire extra staff if they need to.

As for the question about quitting at the end of your maternity leave, that’s a different question and somewhat more complicated. I do think it’s acting in bad faith to take maternity leave on your employer’s dime if you know for sure that you’re not coming back. But if you’re not positive — or if there are health insurance reasons forcing your hand — well, that’s how this stuff works out sometimes. The leave is there for you to take, and as long as you’re not acting in bad faith (actively telling them something that isn’t true), I think it’s fine.

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 230 comments… read them below }

  1. Tiffy the Fed... Contractor*

    Honestly, there is never a convenient time to have a child. There will always be something to schedule or plan around. Best wishes to you and your spouse!

    1. Beancounter in Texas*

      Since you can’t control when you conceive, wait until you have a positive pregnancy test and then start lining up your ducks. That will help down your timing. Also, the baby may spring a surprise and come pre-mature.

      I hope you have a smooth, easy pregnancy with a healthy, full term baby. Best wishes!

      1. Zahra*


        Or the baby could come at 43 weeks (which, although doctors like to make up all sorts of scenarios for, has a stillborn rate of a 37-weeker, and no one is going to stop labor at 37 weeks because “your baby could die!!!”). Doctors may balk at not wanting an induction at 40, 41 or 42 weeks (as long as mom and baby are doing okay), but it’s your prerogative to make an informed decision. Free and informed consent includes the right to refuse procedures, or it’s not free and informed, it’s just choosing the lesser evil.

        The acronym for making decisions in a healthcare setting is BRAN : what are the Benefits? what are the Risks (and every single procedure, including a vaginal exam, has risks)? what are the Alternatives? what if we do Nothing right now? (or some say “so, what’s Next after this procedure?”)


          1. maggie*

            That was deeper medical advice for the comment before hers/his. Really – that was confusing for you? I’m genuinely curious.

    2. Ann without an e*

      Get used to unsolicited birth and baby advice, brace for it…….
      I had a pitocin augmented birth the first time around, and had a natural birth the second. The second experience was by far the best, for me. Pitocin is the devil. The business of being born by Rikie Lake really explains a lot well. I found the HypnoBabies birth coaching to be wonderful.

      Also complete strangers will come up and rub your belly ……. for good luck I guess.

        1. Cat*

          Yeah, I’m so confused as to why there are two comments about inductions on this thread. OP is asking for work advice and isn’t even pregnant yet.

          1. Ann without an e*

            Well, Alison’s advice seemed to have the question pretty much covered, and if you read the intro sentence it was intended to be amusing as well as informative. Also if I can help someone else avoid my mistakes I will, its good karma.

            OP I wish you the best and hope you enjoy the experience of pregnancy and birth.

          2. jamlady*

            These things are extremely relevant in terms of planning (different methods and procedures have different consequences, ultimately changing plans). Also, though my husband and I have a recognized marriage, he’s transitioning out of the military within the year and we’re in a weird position right now with my career and healthcare. We have been married for almost 4 years and will likely wait another few years before starting a family, but getting pregnant with a career is on my mind ALL THE TIME (especially because my industry makes that tricky). Any and all advice on this topic is absolutely warranted and appreciated (in my opinion).

  2. Adam*

    The really is no perfect time to have a baby. Really, you’re probably lucky if you have a “good” time to have a baby. If you and your spouse really want to expand your family and feel you are in a position where you can do that safely then now is the time to start. As Allison said, there’s no telling when you’ll actually end up pregnant. In a way it’s like job hunting. If you want a new one you start looking right now, because while you can do everything right you’re still waiting for the universe to give you the final thumbs up at some point which you have no control over. When you do get pregnant you’ll cross whatever logistics there are when you get to them. Good luck!

  3. TOC*

    I know this is totally none of my (or your company’s) business, but it sounds like you and your partner are both women and therefore might be using some kind of artificial insemination process to conceive. If your co-workers know that you’re married to a woman, they might assume the same thing. I think a lot of people don’t realize that even a medically-assisted conception can be hard to time and control, and so you might unfairly be subjected to a bit more judgement for “choosing” to have a baby at the height of your busy season than if you were conceiving in a more common way. I am not sure how you’d overcome this incorrect assumption without it getting completely TMI, but it’s something to be aware of.

    I hope that wouldn’t be a problem at all for you, and it sounds like you have solid relationships with your team, so maybe it wouldn’t even cross anyone’s mind to assume you selfishly timed your pregnancy to screw over your co-workers. I certainly hope no one looks at you negatively for starting your family! But you might want to be prepared for the possibility.

    Also, when you’re taking off 12 weeks with advance notice, your company might be able to make plans they wouldn’t make if someone were just taking a sick day or a week’s vacation. For instance, is there any work your team could assign to a temp during that time?

    I wish you all the best with your pregnancy!

    1. Sarah Nicole*

      I was going to say the same thing. I wonder if someone would judge her for getting pregnant when she does, operating under the assumption that with artificial insemination she could “choose” when to get pregnant. I think a lot of people probably don’t understand how it all works and that there’s a process of trying just like there is for hetero couples. It would be unfortunate, but I’d prepare for the possibility that someone would judge the situation this way.

      Good luck to you and your family as you prepare to have a baby and go back to school! In a few years when you get back to the workforce (don’t know what you’re studying, but assuming you’ll be getting a degree that will lead to a new job?), this might seem insignificant.

      1. grasshopper*

        I’m going to say the same as well, that I think you might feel more judged about the timing since it seems unlikely that you’re going to have a whoopsie accidental pregnancy. Even though there is more planning involved, you still can’t control how many cycles it will take before you are pregnant. Once you have a child you will get quite a few “where did the baby come from” questions anyway, so if you’re comfortable with being upfront about the process that might make you more at ease.

        1. OP*

          Correct, we’ll be using artificial technology, so there’s definitely the perception (not necessarily true mind you) that we are in control of the timing.

    2. Marzipan*

      Seconding the whole ‘assisted reproductive technology is no more predictable than conceiving naturally’ point. I have just finished a round of IVF as a single woman – inevitably, I got all into figuring out when my due date would be and what maternity leave I’d take… and then of course this round didn’t work. I really wouldn’t get too hung up about timing because you can’t do much to control it!

    3. Elysian*

      This is one of the few situations I would just lie about, if the OP wants to explain at all. If she’s using IVF, even if she gets pregnant on the first round of it, she could says “We’ve been trying for a while and this is just when it happened for us.” It doesn’t always happen on the first round anyway, fertility can be unpredictable. That is, she could say that if she feels the need to explain at all, which she totally doesn’t have to.

      1. Elizabeth the Ginger*

        Heck, I’ve known couples who planned when their ideal baby timing would be and started trying a bit early, knowing that it often takes a few months – only to wind up getting pregnant on the first try! The uncertainty can go both ways.

        1. Artemesia*

          I tried to aim for a down period for my second — and after taking a couple of years the first time, it took 30 minutes the second. She was born a month before the window we were hoping for.

      2. OhNo*

        Using that explanation would also have a double benefit: once the OP gives notice, there may be some people at their job who will complain about them “choosing” to get pregnant right before leaving. Phrasing it as, “we’ve been trying for a while” will nip that assumption in the bud as well.

        But yes, OP, please do be aware that most people don’t have a lot of knowledge around IVF or other assisted pregnancy treatments, so there will probably be a lot of misinformed comments or opinions. It’s unfortunate, but these things happen.

        1. OP*

          I agree, a confident “We’ve been trying for a while” should nip the sense that whatever happens is intentional / malicious on my part. Thanks!

    4. AcademiaNut*

      I did a quick calculation.

      If you assume a 30% chance of success on a single cycle (a reasonable number for IVF for young women without fertility issues), 28% of women will be successful on the first try. The *average* number of attempts needed to get a pregnancy is 3. And 24% of women will need five or more cycles. With a minimum of two months per cycle, that’s an average of 6 months to get pregnant, with 24% of women taking 10 months or more.

      So timing your pregnancy with IVF is not that much more precise than doing things the old fashioned way, given that with traditional methods, you can try every month.

      (By the way, I would strongly advise against doing back to back treatment cycles; the whole thing is pretty hard on your body, and a month or two break between rounds can make a big difference in your physical and mental well-being during the process.)

      1. Marzipan*

        That’s assuming they’re planning IVF, though, and not IUI, which has much lower odds of success (but is much cheaper and may often be the first choice for young women without fertility issues); or home insemination which is probably a shade lower still – in which scenarios, the dates are even less plannable. (OP, I am not for a moment suggesting this is any of our business or that you should tell us! I’m just interested in the original point about perceptions of fertility treatment as a magic bullet, and finding the conversion interesting.)

  4. TotesMaGoats*

    If you are going on mat leave knowing that you are coming back only to quit, that’s a really shitty thing to do and burns every bridge. If I was your manager and you did that, I would be so pissed.

    1. Adam*

      I’m not making a judgement call either way, but I am curious what the prevailing opinion on this sort of thing is. In my experience it actually seems rather common. Two women in my organization have done exactly this. Though they may have done some supplemental telecommuting there were temps hired to replace them while they were out. I also have a good friend who did this as well. All of them were considered quitting in good standing and were eligible for rehire. Is my locale just more FMLA friendly or is this more common than I realize?

      1. davey1983*

        I would argue that it is quite common– priorities change (more than I think anyone realizes before having a child) when a kid enters the picture. I think most employers understand that most employees are honest in saying they intend to come back, but that things change.

        Again, I think the point is that you need to be honest with your employer. If you are leaving for certain before taking leave, then I would question your intentions and consider the bridge burnt. If you are just considering your options (like going back to school, possibly staying home with the child, etc.), then I see nothing wrong with taking the leave and then quitting right after.

        1. John*

          I think that’s true that most understand that things can change. There will also be some managers who don’t understand. But I think we can put ourselves in others’ shoes and see that, after giving birth, a parent might question the choices they made before.

      2. TotesMaGoats*

        My response isn’t about priorities changing but going out on leave knowing you are going to come back and quit. That’s a very different thing from coming back and finding that what you want to do is not what you planned.

        1. doreen*

          And the OP says that taking 12 weeks of leave, returning a for a month or six weeks and then leaving to go back to school will make it clear that she was planning to leave all along. In some situations, coworkers and managers would never know that it was planned all along and will just assume it was a change in priorities unless you told them otherwise – but apparently the OP doesn’t believe she’s in one of those situations.

        2. Tab*

          I definitely see what you’re saying here. But the reality is that reality really, really sucks for new parents. Insurance, childcare, etc – and if you’re in a position to receive some benefits while on mat leave (that you definitely would NOT receive if you just quit) while being certain OR uncertain about returning for any amount a time after, then I don’t fault anyone for taking them. If you’re eligible for unpaid FMLA leave that means you’ve worked for your employer for a full year and they have more than 50 employees, which means a few measly months of whatever those measly benefits might be to a mom out on maternity leave will not amount to much of the bottom line (or at least one would hope.) Those employees have earned those benefits regardless of if they come back to work forever. Employees can leave at any time for any reason, so this is no different.

        3. OP*

          Just out of curiosity, is there a period of time that seems better to you? For example, if you take leave and are planning to leave within 6 months, is that more tolerable to you? A year?

        4. aebhel*

          But how long a time range are we talking here? A couple of months? A year? I mean, if someone comes back from maternity leave and then quits three months later to go back to school, I guess I don’t see an issue with that even if it was the plan. If someone took short term disability leave for some other reason and then quit shortly afterwards, would you consider that burning bridges?

          I feel like a lot of employers treat (unpaid, even!) maternity leave as some kind of giant favor they’re doing for their employees, and not, like, a basic requirement of hiring human beings who have lives outside of work. If someone is eligible for FMLA, they’ve been working for their employer for a year; that’s a benefit that they’ve earned.

          I can see how it would be frustrating as a manager, but I really don’t see it as any different from quitting for any other reason; as long as the OP is giving appropriate notice, then it should not be an issue (which is not to say that it won’t be).

      3. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec*

        I basically assume it’s 50/50 that someone will actually come back for good after maternity leave. That’s the pattern, anyway. While it can feel frustrating that you’ve given someone months of fully-paid leave when they are never coming back, I mentally give everyone the benefit of the doubt and assume that there’s just no way to know for sure how you will feel after baby comes. Although I would never, ever tell anyone my guesses, I’m pretty damn accurate about who is coming back and who isn’t based on my limited knowledge of the person’s family finances (other spouse has high income = option may exist to go to one income), their salary (how much would they take home after FT child care) as well as how they respond to change (freak out/lasting overwhelm = probably won’t feel like working full-time is possible).

        1. sunny-dee*

          Just to point out, paid maternity leave is a benefit, and not necessarily months long. My workplace only instituted paid maternity leave last year, and it’s only for one month (plus whatever PTO you have accrued). FMLA is for up to four months in a calendar year — but it’s unpaid. The thing with FMLA is you can’t be fired during that time, so that would prevent an employer from hiring a replacement and would keep you on their insurance (for example).

          1. jag*

            New York City – fully paid paternal and maternal leave in the fairly well-managed nonprofit organization I work at. Was two weeks for paternal. I’m not sure how long it was maternal.

      4. JC*

        I’m always surprised to hear people report that they experience this being common. I haven’t been in the workforce all that long (5 years) and have only worked with a handful of pregnant women, but I have never seen someone go out on maternity leave and not come back when it was assumed that she would. For that matter, I’ve never worked with someone who decided to quit when she had a baby (although I certainly have friends and relatives in my non-work life who have made that decision).

        Because of those experiences, I always assume a woman will come back to work after her maternity leave’s up. I’ll be surprised the first time that doesn’t happen. I wonder if some of those experiences have to do with my field and workplace culture. Most of the women I work with have PhDs and thus have made big investments in their work lives. I also work somewhere where the standard hours are 35/week, and so it’s easier than other places to balance work and home.

        1. Judy*

          Certainly within my engineering experience, I’ve known one person who quit just before the child was born because she knew she wanted to stay home. I’ve also known at least 2 who came back to work for 6-12 months and decided to stay home because it wasn’t worth it. Now, I’ve not had a lot of experience with pregnant coworkers, maybe 2-3 per year over my 20+ years experience, but they’ve been through an intensive bachelors degree program.

        2. Bea W*

          I’ve never experienced this happening on purpose, as in pre-planned before going on leave. All but one woman I’ve known in the last 20 years came back to work after leave. The one didn’t plan to stiff her employer. It was something she decided later that she didn’t really want to go back to working full time and making a long commute from another state after she had the baby. People legitimately change their minds while away on leave (and some can’t wait to get back!) or circumstances change. I think especially first time parents might discover it’s more life changing than they anticipated and start re-evaluating decisions before leave is up. I have known a couple women who worked for a while after having a child but then maybe a couple years later decided to stop working or change jobs/hours to have more time at home with their child(ren). That’s not on the same level as just not coming back.

          1. OP*

            Yeah, one person (before my time) just called one day and said she wasn’t going to be coming back. I don’t even know that she officially told her boss face to face. I got the sense that she was already unhappy and just didn’t care anymore, and it didn’t really bother her that she had burned all the bridges.

            For the folks who’ve quit a few months after coming back, it was really clear that they were miserable, their quality of life was terrible and their work was affected, too. I was close with one of the women and she was obviously distraught about it, so no one really felt like she was gaming the system.

            I like the suggestion of just playing it by ear and being as honest as possible.

        3. Fee*

          I worked for 12 years at a female-dominated workplace where there was almost always someone pregnant and it rarely happened; in fact I can’t remember any examples off the top of my head. What was common was people reducing their hours after maternity leave – the flexibility on this policy may have had something to do with people not leaving

      5. BananaPants*

        When a lot of female employees take their maternity leave and then quit, it can make harder on the women who DO come back to work after maternity leave (either by choice or out of necessity).

        When I had my 4 year old, I was the first female engineer in my organization in around a decade to return to work after maternity leave was up. Several women did stretch out maternity leave to the fullest extent, one even taking 6+ months of unpaid leave with management approval, then quit via phone. In our part of the company, managers don’t/can’t get temps to cover for medical leave so in each case it piled a lot of work onto their coworkers for months on end before the women in question resigned. It left a bad taste in the mouths of senior management and most of them were somewhat surprised that I did come back, even though I’d said all along that I would!

    2. Clever Name*

      Here’s the deal: some women go on maternity leave 100% intending to return to work full-time. But then they have the baby and they stay home with it for a while….and things change. I mean, yeah, it would be unethical to take leave with absolutely no intention of returning, however, for many mothers, having a baby changes their worldview. It’s nobody’s fault, and they didn’t plan to screw over their employer.

      1. Zahra*

        Yup, 3 months is the last of the never ending growth spurts (you get them approximately at 3,6,9 days/weeks/months, so it’s pretty much non-stop until 3 months), and it’s one of the big ones. I can totally understand a mom saying “I can’t imagine coming back to work while my newborn needs so much from me right now”. If they had a slightly longer leave (and a paid leave, so it could be feasible to take it all), I bet the timing would work much better with regards to a newborn child’s needs and the mother’s expectations of balancing everyone’s needs.

        I’m not saying a year off (although, that’s what we get in Quebec and it works just fine, since it’s easier to hire someone for a year and allow everyone else in the office to stretch themselves into higher level tasks and projects), but even 6 weeks more could have a positive impact, I’m sure.

      2. TotesMaGoats*

        I wasn’t saying that priorities changing the issue. The issue is leaving for mat leave knowing you are going to come back and quit. That’s intentional. That’s planning to screw over your employer.

        1. A Teacher*

          And some plan to not come back and then something happens. Had a friend that didn’t know for sure but was leaning heavily toward not coming back, however, she stayed employed because she needed the insurance to cover the birth and if her child ended up needing specialized treatment or had a long stay in the NICU–not predictable before birth, she was going to be forced to come back to work. She also had been a great employee of the company for more than 4 years and rarely took sick leave. So you can say its “screwing over the company” but I say its keeping all your options open. As others pointed out, life happens and its often not completely in our control.

        2. Rayner*

          If they have maternity leave benefits, they may want to use them – they get paid for so many weeks, and then leave without coming back.

          I mean, from a totally mercenary point of view, I can understand it. You get paid for eight weeks (or six, or whatever woeful amount American companies offer), and then you leave. If you left straight away, you’d get nothing while you’re going through a hugely difficult time with a new human as well, just to throw a wrench in the works.

          1. Jerry Vandesic*

            I had an employer with pretty generous maternity (and paternity) benefits, but the bulk of those benefits were paid after you returned and stayed for a certain amount of time. If I remember right the basic maternity benefits were four weeks, but an additional ten weeks was paid as a bonus. If you didn’t come back, you got your four weeks and that was it. If you came back and stayed six months, you were paid out for the additional ten weeks. The story was that it was partly to lower costs, but partly to encourage women to return to the workforce. Anyone else seen something like this?

            1. Rayner*

              That’s not generous – that is really shockingly poor. I mean, in the UK, twenty six weeks is statutory, then you’re entitled to take another lot of the same at reduced pay if you want.

              And that’s still not good – four weeks after having a baby is not enough – fourteen weeks is not enough. You just made, birthed, and have to raise a tiny human during their most complicated time.

              1. Jerry Vandesic*

                To be sure, the US is not the UK in terms of maternity benefits. But 14 weeks is pretty good for the US, especially for smaller companies. My current company is only 4 weeks; anything more is unpaid.

              2. Kyrielle*

                For the US, that’s shockingly good. Both my maternity leaves were the 12 weeks of FMLA leave, unpaid, except a) my accrued vacation/sick time and b) short term disability payments for the recovery times.

                No paid leave at all, and people who can’t even afford to be off work four weeks, are sadly not uncommon.

              3. aebhel*

                Wait, 26 weeks of paid leave?

                I need to move to the UK. :P I took off…about 6 1/2 weeks after my daughter was born, and the last week of that was unpaid.

                1. Zahra*

                  Move to Canada, we got up to 50 weeks. You’re not paid at full pay, more like 55-75% depending on which province you live in and which part of your parental leave you’re taking. In Quebec, it’s 70% during the first part (the “exclusive to the birthing mother” part). The second part can be split between both parents and the other parent can take part of that at the same time as the birthing mother is still on the first part of the parental leave. If you both remain at home until all leave is used, then you both go back to work after 6 months. If only the birthing mom takes the leave, then she stays home for a year. The other parent gets 5 weeks exclusive to them.

                2. Amy*

                  You probably won’t see this reply, but in case anyone else reads this:

                  Every woman the UK is entitled to 39 weeks of maternity leave regardless of how many hours they work or how long they’ve been with the company. This can be paid or unpaid, depending on the circumstances.

                  To get paid leave, you have to give ‘maternity notice’ 15 weeks before your due date, have been working there for 6 months before giving said notice and earn more than £112 per week. Paid maternity leave is 6 weeks at 90% of their usual weekly salary, and then a further 33 weeks capped at either 90% of their weekly earnings or £135 a week, whichever is lower.

                  And then many companies have their own policies on maternity leave which are more generous. What I outlined above is the absolute legal minimum.

          2. aebhel*

            I’ve never even heard of an American company that offers paid maternity leave. I mean, I took all my vacation and sick time and was able to cover…most of my leave, but that’s time I earned.

            I know there are probably companies that do offer paid maternity leave, but they definitely aren’t the majority.

            1. yasmara*

              My company offers 6 weeks of fully paid maternity leave. I think it’s less for adoptions (2 weeks?) and paternal leave (also 2 weeks, I think). There are options to take unpaid leave or stack vacation after that (an early December baby was great because I could use the next year’s vacation). I’ve never worked with any woman who has quit after maternity leave – I wonder what the actual statistics are vs. hearsay.

        3. ReanaZ*

          How is it “planning to screw over your employer”? Maternity leave is a benefit you get for being an employee of the company–and you generally have to have worked there for a reasonably long time to even get the benefit (12 months for FMLA, right? And many places require 9-12 months of having worked there before they will pay for any paid maternity leave, if this exists).

          It is not screwing over your employer. It’s just using a benefit you have been offered as part of your compensation for working there. Egads.

          1. amaranth16*

            +1,000,000. You don’t see complaints like this very often made about people who make a point of using their vacation days before they change jobs. It’s part of your compensation. And it’s not even paid!

            People are making the best decisions they can given the absolutely abominable state of parental leave in America. If someone really has a problem with people taking the FMLA leave they’re entitled to, they should complain about the substandard social safety net that forces people to do that.

            1. A bunny*

              You don’t have to use your vacation days before you quit, because the company is still legally required to pay them to you.

              The problem with people taking maternity leave (which where I work was paid) and then quitting is that because the company is paying for the maternity leave, they aren’t willing to pay for a temp to cover the position. So, for 12 weeks, everyone scrambles to cover the position, knowing the person is coming back. But then when they quit, it’s going to be another 4-10 weeks to hire someone. So, now the department has gone 20 weeks short-handed, and if that’s during the busy season, that’s a lot of stress on everyone else. The person who did it in our department wasn’t even willing to give two weeks notice and help transition her projects.

              However, while healthcare is tied to employment rather than the individual, I understand why people do it, I just wish they’d give someone in the department a heads up so that we could start planning for the new hire sooner.

        4. Tab*

          I don’t think that’s tantamount to “screwing your employer.” I think it’s taking advantage of benefits that you’ve earned.

        5. Melissa*

          I don’t see how this is screwing over your employer, though. Regardless of whether or not you planned to quit, they still have to do without you for 3 months; and regardless of whether or not you planned to take maternity leave, you are still quitting and they still have to find someone else. Presumably if you were already arranging maternity leave they have made plans for your leave and have done whatever they need to do in order to get your work done during your leave period. So why does it matter whether or not you planned to leave before you went on maternity leave?

          Is it screwing your employer if you wait to quit after they pay for you to go for a professional development conference? Or if you quit during the busy season? Or if you quit after you come back from disability leave? Or…any number of other reasons that the employee might quit?

          1. OP*

            Yeah, I’m kinda surprised by the insistence that planning to leave at some point in the future but taking leave anyway is planning to screw over my employer. That seems a little strong.

            Maybe my perspective is impacted because we have a lot of turnover and can be slow to rehire positions. Sure, it’s crappy that they might have find coverage for 12 weeks and then within a few months start the hiring process, but honestly I’ve brought more stability to the role in the last few years than they’ve ever had. They haven’t had to hire my position in several years, and I’m rarely out of the office except for planned vacations of a few days at a time.

            Isn’t it just considered part of doing business that once you get to a certain size and a certain turnover rate, you’ll have X weeks of vacancy per year, and sort of a bonus when you DON’T have those vacancies…planned or not? And I have the same questions as you, Melissa. It seems like any way you quit would, on some level, screw your employer.

        6. Zillah*

          What makes that worse than taking it sometime in the middle of your employment? It’s the same amount of time off.

    3. A Reader becoming QAT Contractor*

      I don’t think this type of reaction is totally fair. Without being one of the immediate family members, you don’t know all the circumstances that could lead to someone quitting right after maternity leave. The reasons could include any number of things, but to name a few: medical for the parent or child, separation anxiety, financial related to child care or other, a decision to just prefer to spend as much time as possible with the child and many more.

      In this specific case it does sound like the OP wants to leave anyway to go back to school, so it would be ‘working the system’ but typically maternity leave is unpaid time off (at least for the people and industries I know) the only benefits they are getting are keeping their insurance, PTO (if they get any) and being promised to have their job once the leave time is done.

      1. TotesMaGoats*

        As I’ve said above, my comment was directed at those are planning to not come back but never telling the employer. That’s crappy. I’m all for people not realizing that priorities are going to change or medical issues. That’s totally fine. And being honest with your boss is the best way to walk out of that situation without rancor.

        However, if you walk out saying “I’m coming back” but you know that you aren’t. That’s not right.

        1. Lyssa*

          I agree with Totes. There are other circumstance that would be different, but, in this case, she would know exactly what was going to happen, so the other circumstances being brought up don’t really apply.

        2. A Reader becoming QAT Contractor*

          True, I agree that knowing you are going to leave does make it a slap-in-the-face move, but if you never told the employer that you were planning to leave in the first place, they would have no idea why you left. That’s why I don’t understand how someone could be mad about it even if they did find out later that the parent went back to school.

          Unless the parent outright told people they work with that they are going to work the system, get what they can, screw over busy season and then just leave there isn’t really any reason to assume they are doing this. Thus, no reason to really get angry at their actions.

          1. LBK*

            I’m a bit confused by your logic here – presumably her employer would still have some idea of where she went? Even if she doesn’t say that she’s quitting now, she has to say it at some point, and it’s very weird to do that without saying why. Not impossible, but weird.

            1. A Reader becoming QAT Contractor*

              The employer doesn’t have to know anything beyond what you tell them. If you say you are taking maternity leave for 12 weeks for a baby, then come back for a short time or decide not to, all you have to tell your employer is that you are quitting. No rule or law says you need to tell them exactly why you quit or what your plans are after you quit.

              Giving no reason as to why you quit would be weird, but a generaly vague statement isn’t much different than no reason at all other than it implies “I don’t want to tell you why I’m quitting” with out being so harsh as just saying that directly.

              1. LBK*

                Eh, I guess I just don’t think it’s worth it. There are so many ways your employer could find out that you actually left to go to school. Plus if they found out indirectly, they’d have bitterness from knowing that you lied by omission on top of not telling them you were planning to leave.

                1. A Reader becoming QAT Contractor*

                  If the employer wants to find out that’s their prerogative. But it shouldn’t matter what you do when you leave their employ. It’s not lying to them if you don’t say where you are going, that’s your own personal business.

                  If they are bitter that you quit and went back to school or to work in a different industry or to just not work at all, that’s a problem with them, not you.

                2. sunny-dee*

                  I think the bitterness here is that, in one scenario, the OP would take maternity leave knowing that she was going to go to grad school and would not remain at work but wants to stay on the employer’s insurance as long as possible. And then she would be deceiving her employer about her plans (by omission if nothing else).

                  I think the thing is, if the OP got, say, one month paid for maternity leave and then had a week or two vacation, and then tried to have her employer pad her time off with FMLA so she’d have insurance — the employer would probably say no, because they’d want to hire her permanent replacement. Since the employer would probably say no, she’s be working to deceive the employer so she could do what she wants — and that’s what Totes is objecting to. As an employer, I would also be pretty PO’ed.

                  *****NOTE: I am not saying that the OP is trying to deceive her employer or dishonest or anything like that. This is a description of that one scenario, is all.

                3. LBK*

                  If they are bitter that you quit and went back to school or to work in a different industry or to just not work at all, that’s a problem with them, not you.

                  The bitterness would be that it wasn’t made clear that was what was going to happen when there was over a year of opportunity to let them know, and also to come back for a short time only to immediate leave again. The question I would ask as an employer at that point is why even come back at all? It’s not really in the employer’s benefit at all to let you work for another month after your leave.

                  I understand that people do this all the time – decide to quit shortly after returning from mat leave, or decide to just not come back – but in most situations the employee doesn’t know they’re planning to do that ahead of time. That’s why it gets taken more in stride, because employers are generally more understanding of “I thought I wanted to do this but I changed my mind” than “I always knew I was going to do this and I just didn’t tell you”.

                4. OP*

                  I think this would depend a lot on the work culture and your relationship with your coworkers.

                  I see the point, but in my workplace it would be really odd to leave and not tell anyone why or what was happening next. Odd to the point of raising a lot of red flags.

                5. doreen*

                  OP, would they really wonder why you were leaving a month or six weeks after coming back from maternity leave? When I’ve seen it happen, people just assumed it was because she realized she didn’t actually want to return to work. Even if you feel you have to give a reason, couldn’t you give a more vague reason like priorities changing or wanting to spend more time with your family?

                  I’m not saying you would be doing anything wrong- but I do think if you give notice a month or so after returning and say you are returning to school it will be obvious the plans were in the works much earlier. People are going to be annoyed because if you had quit instead of going on leave or even instead of returning they would have had a head start on replacing you And it’s likely to burn some bridges – but only you know if burning those bridges is likely to matter in the future.

              2. ReanaZ*

                ” then tried to have her employer pad her time off with FMLA so she’d have insurance — the employer would probably say no”

                My understanding is that an employer can’t say no to you trying to take FMLA if you’re eligible for it, nor can they fire you for taking it/asking to take it? Nor can they refuse to allow you to return afterwards? Regardless of intention, that whole scenario reeks of a FMLA retaliation lawsuit.

                I absolutely disagree with this whole thread of ‘bitterness’ in general though. I see absolutely nothing wrong with taking a benefit you’ve earned by working there nor a benefit you are legally entitled to as an employee of 12+ months to deal with an actual family and medical situation, regardless of your intent to return later.

        3. PEBCAK*

          This also has to do with how “safe” it would be to indicate you aren’t coming back. I know plenty of women who took their six weeks by saying officially they were coming back, but had told their department otherwise off the record.

        4. Colette*

          But some people take leave intending to come back, but things change – they decide they can’t handle being home all day or they get a new job or they decide to move.

        5. AW*

          but never telling the employer

          Except telling the employer risks you getting fired immediately. It’d be nice if we could all give lots of notice to our employers but we’ve seen letters from people who did that and were either fired on the spot or asked to leave much sooner than planned.

        6. OP*

          And that’s not what I would do. If I had a baby within 12 weeks of starting school, I would just quit when the baby was born and figure out the insurance stuff. The issue for me is what happens if the baby is born 16 weeks, or 20 weeks, or 24 weeks before starting school.

        7. Nerd Girl*

          I think some companies are trying to stop this from happening. My sister did exactly as you describe. Her company (a well known financial insurance company) had two levels of maternity leave: 6 and 12 weeks. She opted to take the 12 weeks but didn’t read the clause explaining that if she chose to end her employment she would have to forfeit the pay or her PTO for the additional 6 weeks. On week 10 she gave her 2 weeks notice and they told her that she “owed” them 4 weeks of work and they were using her PTO. She had PTO banked and because her company paid that out, she had planned on that in her income. She was furious. I think she was kind of stupid because she basically broadcast to the whole office that she wasn’t planning on coming back. It was crappy of her to do.

          1. Melissa*

            But why is that crappy? It’s a paid benefit, it’s part of her compensation package. She didn’t read the fine print, so that was the major problem. But I don’t see this as any different from deciding to take all your PTO right before you quit (or taking it as a payout).

        8. jag*

          Totes – you have been very clear and I’m surprised at people seeming to keep misunderstand you.

    4. RDC*

      Also, if you have maternity benefits with your company, then I think that’s a benefit you have earned and are entitled to use (just like vacation or sick days) regardless of how long your employment will continue in the future.

      1. TotesMaGoats*

        You’ve earned, yes, but your boss thinks and is planning for you to come back and work. And you aren’t planning that.

        1. Mpls*

          But isn’t every boss expecting every employee to show up to work, up until they give notice? If an employee takes the 2 week vacation they’ve earned, comes back to work and then hands in notice a week later, how is that different?

        2. sunny-dee*

          I actually have less of a problem with the mat leave itself than with FMLA. Maternity leave is like my PTO — it’s a benefit, and it’s really common for people to burn up their PTO before leavng a job because use it or lose it.

          But at my company, mat leave is 4 weeks. FMLA is 12 weeks. That leaves an 8 week gap where the company is subsidizing my insurance and having people cover for me but is unable to post my job to even begin looking for a replacement.

          We had a guy in Australia who had been with the company for 10 years. In Australia, they have a mandated “long service leave” — you hit 10 years anywhere, and you get 8 weeks paid vacation. We all knew he was leaving after that, but he wouldn’t get his leave if he turned in his notice, and it royally irritated his supervisor because he couldn’t even interview for a replacement while the position was still “filled.” We ended up losing way more than 2 months of work on a project because of that.

          1. Tab*

            That is poor planning on the employer’s fault then. That’s not the employee’s fault for taking the benefits he earned.

            1. sunny-dee*

              Well, like with FMLA, it’s not a benefit — it’s mandated by the Australian government, just like FMLA is mandated. There is no option for the supervisor to do anything, and there was no “planning” that the supervisor could have done. Our company policy won’t allow them to post a replacement req until someone has given notice.

              In this case, the OP is contemplating taking anywhere from 4 – 12 weeks leave, coming back for a really brief time, and then leaving again. If I were an employer (and I get why the OP doesn’t want to do this), I wouldn’t want to waste 16 weeks before I could get a replacement — especially if it turns out that the employee knew about it a year and a half in advance.

              1. ReanaZ*

                …it’s not a benefit if it’s mandated by the government? I live in Australia, and my 4 weeks of annual leave and by 10 days of sick leave are mandated by the government. Are these suddenly not benefits? They’re part of my overall compensation package for employment, but whether they’re mandated by the government or by my contract or by the goodness of my employer’s little heart, they’re still parts of my compensation that are non-cash that I am entitled to by virtue of being an employee.

                Long-service leave is no different. I’d say it makes even less sense to use as an example in this scenario, as the employer has known that person going to (most likely) take the leave for a LONG time (unlike a baby) and the employee has been earning that accrued benefit for 10 YEARS of work (and, relatedly, ten years that the employer has been having that liability on the books in lieu of paying that person extra salary, so it’s not like this is just a magic present no one has paid or worked for).

                However, you also get a year of protected maternity leave (that plenty of people don’t return from) and government income replacement assistance and health care as a right of a citizen, so they’re really not remotely comparable situations. It would be extremely rare for someone in Australia to be put in even close to a similar situation as this one. (Even as a non-citizen who would is not on medicare, not eligible for the income support, and is on a visa that limits how much leave I can take from work, I still wouldn’t be facing this situation because I’m required by law to purchase health insurance unrelated to my employment and can take as much unpaid leave as I want that doesn’t push me under the annual income threshold for my visa.)

                If it was really a hardship, the company could have hired a temp or contractor to cover his work for 10 weeks, and then when he decided not to return, either offered that person a permanent position or started the hiring process then. This is extremely, extremely common and not nearly as horrifying on the part of employee as you’re trying to make it out to be.

        3. A Teacher*

          and again life changes. You may plan on not coming back but then your child has to be in NICU for 4 weeks, even with insurance, that’s really expensive. You told your boss you didn’t plan to come back but also didn’t quit, they hired for your position and now let you go. You need to come back to work because you can’t afford the NICU bill so your going back to school/staying home gets derailed–but you don’t have a job because you “were ethical” and told your boss you probably weren’t coming back. Seen it happen twice in my career, the employer had didn’t ultimately care that the employee needed to come back, she was the one that was out of luck.

    5. Amber*

      I certainly agree with the people who say that things can change, but if your maternity leave is paid, that’s a benefit you’ve already earned from your employer. Even if you know you’re not coming back, why should you forgo that benefit? Things could also change in the other direction – say you quit before you give birth, and during your leave your partner loses his/her job? I don’t think anyone can make a good decision until it’s time to go back to work.

      1. TotesMaGoats*

        But a lot of people do make a decision. I did. But if I’d come back to work and knew it wasn’t working, for whatever reason. I would give my boss plenty of heads up and work out a solid plan for transition. That’s a different situation than someone planning not to come back. Or come back for a very short time period and then leave.

        1. MJH*

          So I come back, work for a few weeks, realize it’s not working, and give 2 weeks notice. How is that screwing over my manager any more than a person who gets a new job and gives 2 weeks notice? The office has gotten used to operating without me, so it might even be easier to handle my leaving than a valuable employee who has been there non-stop for five years.

          1. LBK*

            How is that screwing over my manager any more than a person who gets a new job and gives 2 weeks notice?

            But that is generally a bridge-burning action.

              1. LBK*

                No, giving 2 weeks when you’re a new hire (ie within the first few months of working there). Sorry, I assumed that’s what MJH meant since that’s basically what OP would be doing, but maybe I read wrong?

                1. A Reader becoming QAT Contractor*

                  I read it the same way (quitting a new job within a few months) but then thought about it the other way as well. (quitting a current job when a new job is found but giving the current job 2 weeks notice) Hard to tell which way was meant by now it is currently written.

        2. Melissa*

          It’s great that you work at a workplace where you feel like you can do that with your boss, but not everyone works at that kind of workplace. Some people would get laid off right before they have a baby on the way, or lose their health insurance before they’ve transitioned to something else, or…life, in general. It’s like Alison said – it’s kind of like putting your employer’s needs in front of your own, and lots of people are not prepared to do that.

        3. Tabby*

          It sounds like you were in a much different and more favorable situation than a lot of other people.

    6. Joolsey woolsey*

      Not really, it’s just one of the costs of doing business. Don’t forget that an employer could fire you at the drop of a hat when it’s in their best interests.

      1. Hannah*

        Came to say the same thing. The OP should look out for herself. Women come back from maternity leave all the time and end up being laid off/fired in short order because in their absence, the company realized they weren’t really needed. At will employment is a two way street. If you come back, give your notice soon after, and then leave, I see nothing ethically wrong with that. Just continue to be kind and conscientious throughout.

        That’s the whole deal with at will employment. They can dismiss you at any time. You can also quit at any time. Both sides have agreed to that risk.

          1. ReanaZ*

            But do you have any contractual or legal obligation if you do? I am in Australia, and I can quit at any time… but I am obligated to either serve 4 weeks’ notice or pay 4 weeks’ salary by contract. (And my employer is required to pay 4 weeks’ salary or give 4 weeks’ notice if they let me go for anything other than gross incompetence.)

            Being able to just walk out the job with no legal or financial consequences while also being able to be fired with no notice or financial compensation is a key defining factor of at-will employment.

            Can you clarify what you mean when you say that?

            1. MJ (Aotearoa/New Zealand)*

              Yeah, a notice period is contractual and up to the employer and employee. There might be some employment agreements where you have to pay if you don’t give notice, but it’s very uncommon — I’ve never seen a contract like that and I’ve had a ton of jobs and now work in payroll. The consequence is a bad reference, which from my understanding is the same risk you take if you quit a job without giving notice in the US.

              1. Amy*

                It’s the same in the UK- a notice period is laid out in the contract, but it’s not a real commitment on the employee’s end. Will you get a bad reference and have burned bridges? Yes, definitely. Could they theoretically take you to court? Yes, but I have literally never heard of this being done, and have looked into it in the past and struggled to find any examples of it happening to others.

                And I’ve certainly never heard of this “pay us 4 weeks salary if you skip out on your notice period” clause, and I would never, ever agree to sign a contract with that clause in it. It’s also illegal for a company to withold any money for hours worked for any reason, so they couldn’t even deduct it from a final pay packet.

        1. Artemesia*

          My daughter lost her job when her company closed her office when she was on maternity leave. Like me she is really glad she didn’t let ‘loyalty to the company’ play a role in choosing to get pregnant.

    7. LBK*

      I kind of agree. It feels like other people who are responding to your comment (and even Alison) are ignoring the fact that the OP is planning to quit in 18 months regardless of when the baby comes so she can go back to school. So it’s not about worrying that she won’t want to work anymore after she has a child, it’s a hard, planned deadline for her employment.

      The only reason the child is an issue is because the OP is worried that if it takes a few months to get pregnant and then the timing of the end of her leave would be such that there’s only a short gap between when she comes back and the planned, firm date she was intending to quit, it will piss off her employer. Which as far as I’m concerned would be completely valid.

      I think given the level of trust that seems to exist here between the OP and her manager, I would lay the chips out on the table – including planning to leave in a year and a half – and figure out a plan that works best. To me, that allows you to come up with backup and transition plans for the entire scenario, not just covering your mat leave. This is under the assumption that the OP believes her manager won’t come to the conclusion that booting her out the door now is the best solution.

      1. A Reader becoming QAT Contractor*

        As long as she is giving a 2 week notice, it shouldn’t matter what happened with maternity leave before that point. I feel like this would be less of an issue if it was a man and a woman because sometimes things just happen. But since it sounds like two women, there is something of a plan in place to try to get pregnant (which isn’t to say that can’t be the case for man and woman or two men adopting either).

        She can have every intent to follow through with quitting in 18 months, be pregnant for 9 of those and on leave for 3 leaving another 6 months of work after the leave. Does that make it less of an issue to the employer if she waits until 2 weeks before school before saying she quits? No.

        If it ends up that there is only 1 month before she would quit, giving a 1 month notice would possibly be gracious to the employer, or even telling them just before taking leave maybe. A job is a job and people’s interests in employment change a lot more in today’s market than they did 30-40 years ago, it’s just part of doing business.

        1. LBK*

          If it ends up that there is only 1 month before she would quit, giving a 1 month notice would possibly be gracious to the employer, or even telling them just before taking leave maybe.

          I would agree that a month leave is usually generous if you weren’t also just starting back at the job. A month is barely even enough time to get you caught up on everything you missed and get you back in the groove of working again – at that point I wouldn’t see the point in you returning for such a short period. There’s no benefit to me as the employer when I could use that month to hire someone else who will stay for longer.

        2. iamanengineer*

          But being pregnant for 9 months doesn’t mean she’s not working for those months – she will be working just like any other employee. So really she’s planning on quitting in 18 months and taking 3 of those off. There are still 15 months of work she’s planning to do. Also, she may change her mind about school -18 months is a long time. Lots of things happen, maybe her partner gets laid off, maybe school with a baby would be too much, etc. So she’s considering quitting in the next year and a half. Who can promise to stay at a job for that long and not leave for an awesome opportunity that just came up? Especially since she’s been there several years already.

          Another thing-let’s say this was a man, scheduling a back surgery (take flma to recover fully) and going to school in 18 months. Short term disability is the same as maternity leave in many companies. Surgery has to be scheduled 9 months in advance, immediately after some health tests are done and results are good. Does he do tests now and possibly leave his employer scrambling during a busy season or does he wait and end up leaving 2 months after coming back from FMLA?

      2. Tab*

        In no other scenario would you be expected to give 18 months of notice to quit a job.
        Let me put it this way – NO ONE would ever expect a man to do that.

      3. OP*

        I’m curious about this idea that I should give my manager 18 months notice that I’m planning to leave. Do people actually do that? What if plans change, I don’t get into grad school, etc.?

        I don’t think my manager would boot me out the door, but 18 months is a long time. The longest leave notice anyone in my office has given since I’ve been there is 2 months, and it’s much, much more common to give exactly 2 weeks. Maybe this is one of those “know your workplace” situations, but talking about my plans to move on in 18 months would definitely impact my relationship with my manager.

        In my case, it seems a lot more reasonable to just try to get pregnant, and when/if that happens, I’ll have a much more clear idea of how the timing might work out. That would still give my employer and me at least 6 months to come up with a solid transition plan.

        1. I teach*

          Not knowing what you are studying, consider how having a child will affect grad school. I have known only two people that got pregnant during grad school. Otherwise I knew no one else with kids. One decided to start trying when she knew she would deliver after she graduated, and one decided to wait until she was “all but dissertation.” Grad school is stressful and I can’t imagine starting out with a newborn. And if there is an environment that is not understanding of parenthood, it’s academe. You might want to wait until your child is a little older until you start back to school.

    8. Joey*

      You might initially be pissed but I bet if you put yourself in that same situation you’d do the same. Kinda hard to be pissed them don’tcha think?

    9. Elizabeth the Ginger*

      I think the fact that OP is being screwed by her state’s discriminatory laws is a bit of an extenuating circumstance here. It sounds like she might consider just quitting when it’s time to have the baby, except then she and her spouse would have to pay out-of-pocket for health insurance for the baby during the first few months of the baby’s life – and also presumably for insurance to cover the OP while she gives birth. That’s a HUGE deal. If I were the OP’s boss I’d be more sympathetic given that.

      Marriage inequality: punishing not just “nontraditional” couples, but also babies and employers. Whee!

      Ideally, if there’s a good trusting relationship between OP and her boss, she could sit down with the boss now and say “I’m thinking of going back to school in 18 months,” the boss would say “Thanks for letting me know” and could start to unofficially plan. However, if there’s a chance that the boss would say, “Cool, we’re going to go ahead and fire you now then,” then OP has to look out for herself and keep this information private for now.

        1. Zillah*

          Ditto, especially since I wouldn’t want to plan to be replaced so far in advance when a lot can change.

    10. Nerdling*

      I think this is just one of the realities that arise in a world where employment and health insurance are tied together. Because if a woman has no affordable options for having prenatal and antenatal health benefits unless she’s employed and she risks losing her job if she is honest about needing to take maternity leave, come back and work a brief time, and then leave for other opportunities, that puts her in no position other than not being truthful. I think it’s a situation that should have you upset at the system, not at people who are trying to be able to make a living and have a family.

      1. aebhel*

        This. You can go on about honesty and openness and trust all you want, but the reality is that you’re asking a woman to open herself up to the risk of having no health insurance for herself and her baby–neonatal care and childbirth is expensive even when everything goes right–in order to make life easier for her employer. There aren’t many reasonable people that would make that choice.

    11. Student*

      For several women I’ve known who have done this, it comes down to either re-prioritizing and/or health care availibilty.

      Women who love their job don’t usually quit after the baby arrives. Women who were already unhappy with their jobs face up to the new demands on their time, evaluate whether their old job was worthwhile, and finally conclude they should be doing something else with their lives, whether that is a career-change or dropping out of the workforce for a while.

      Women also do this because they’re desperate for health care while pregnant. There are still a lot of things that can go wrong during a pregnancy, either with the mother or the child, so it’s important to take advantage of the best health care you have access to at the time. Health care in the US is heavily tied to jobs. If you start a new job and are expecting within the first year, FMLA doesn’t apply, so you can get screwed out of any maternity leave whatsoever, paid or unpaid, no matter how badly you need it.

      If we didn’t have such ridiculous health care policies, this would be a non-issue and most women would opt to be more upfront with their employers over whether they intend to come back after a pregnancy. Fix the healthcare policies that force women into this corner, then complain about women who screw their employers when they actually have viable alternatives.

      1. Anx*

        ” If you start a new job and are expecting within the first year, FMLA doesn’t apply, so you can get screwed out of any maternity leave whatsoever, paid or unpaid, no matter how badly you need it. ”

        I’m sure this is going to become an increasingly difficult situation, as more and more people are doing short-term stints because that’s all they can find.

  5. Mallorie, the recruiter*

    Regarding maternity leave when you might be leaving shortly after: I think this can go both ways… for instance, if your due date is May 1 and you would need to quit July 1 (during your maternity leave), I feel more icky about it. But, if your maternity leave is May 1 through Aug 1, and then you would need to quit Sept 1, I feel way less icky. Especially since conceivably you’d need to work and have income for the month of August. I feel like this is more just bad timing than acting in bad faith. But ultimately, if you qualify for FMLA and maternity leave, you should not feel guilty about using it.

  6. Beth*

    What are the company’s rules? Most places understand that some people end up leaving after a maternity leave. If the company has a policy that says you need to be back for xxx time or you forfeit your paid time off or some other item, follow it to the letter. But don’t over analyze it. Life happens. Have a happy, healthy baby that you and your spouse love. Follow the rules and let the rest be. Good luck!

  7. Artemesia*

    When I was ready for the second child, I actually thought of postponing because of career considerations but went ahead — when I was 5 mos pregnant my business went through a merger and my whole department was cut. I was so happy I had but the most important thing first — and the job is not the most important thing.

    I had an employee I had to cover for with long hours two years out of 3 because she had kids during our busy season. I resented it, because she did plan it that way, but still — her family was more important than our busy season at least in her life.

    Having a kid if you want one is the most important thing you will ever do. Nothing about other people’s convenience is as important as that. And for some people, it is easy but others hard to conceive. Our first child took us two years and treatment to conceive; our second about half an hour — you don’t know what it will be for you.

  8. Jennifer*

    I think you can do the best you can on timing, and trying to do that would be appreciated, but it may not be entirely under your control to time a pregnancy just right.

    1. Clever Name*

      This. Please don’t get too wrapped up in a plan where conception occurs at any particular time. It really is a total crapshoot. Some people get pregnant right away, sometimes it takes a few months, and sometimes it takes years or it just doesn’t happen. It’s one of those things where nobody really has any control over it, and it’s extraordinarily frustrating.

      1. sunny-dee*

        Yeah, except the odds are way better with IVF than naturally. I turn 35 next month — my odds of getting pregnant are less than 10% in any given month. With IVF using 4 eggs (which is generally recommended), the odds of getting pregnant are 35%; with 10 eggs, it’s 50%. That’s a big, big difference in probability.

        1. Artemesia*

          Wow. 4 eggs? Everything I have read suggests that more than 2 is considered very bad medical practice given the disastrous outcomes of most multiple births beyond twins.

          1. ReanaZ*

            Except the implantation rate is nowhere near 100%. It is not very likely 4 eggs will result in multiple births.

        2. Marzipan*

          FOUR embryos!?! Clearly wherever you live the rules are very different – in the UK, single embryo transfer is generally recommended; for some women two embryos can be transferred, and the absolute maximum that can be transferred is three (and that’s only for women in their 40s with a history of failed treatment). A clinic that transferred four embryos would be very likely to lose their licence.

    2. JustMe*

      I was thinking along these lines as well. In addition to that, how does one know she can give birth. Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst in every situation.

    3. OP*

      I know! I think I’m putting extra pressure on myself since we’ll be using artificial insemination. It *seems* like we have more control and thus should be intentional about the timing, when in reality it’s a total crapshoot just like a straight couple!

  9. davey1983*

    Are you sure your spouse’s company won’t provide health insurance for your kid? Even if the state you live in doesn’t recognize the marriage (and assuming you are married), many companies will still recognize the marriage (regardless of what the state does or does not do) and provide health insurance. There are also the healthcare exchanges ( is a great place to start).

    Also, I learned from experience that you can’t predict/time when you will get pregnant. It took my wife and I 5 years of trying (and lots of money in medical bills)– nothing is certain in this life!

    Also, I don’t see a problem with your plan as long as you are open with your employer (assuming you have a good employer). You may not get accepted, or have your admission delayed a year, etc.

    When I was applying for grad school I told my employer up front that I was exploring my options and I wasn’t committed to going, or that I may not even get accepted, but there was definitely a possibility that I would leave. I had a great manager at the time, and she was fine with it.

    In fact, when I did decide to leave and go back to school, I had a 3 week vacation scheduled (I would get back from my vacation and only have 1 week left of work due to when school started). When I told her that I was accepted my boss brought up my vacation and told me to make sure I still took it! I think the key for me was that I was honest and didn’t try to mislead my employer.

    1. fposte*

      Oh, good point on the insurance. I know insurance through my employer (which is the state) covered stuff in advance of state recognition. Definitely worth checking that out if you haven’t!

    2. MaryMary*

      I was also coming to post about insurance. Depending on how your partner’s health plan is written, you and your baby maybe be able to be covered. The IRS uses a “state of celebration” rule for tax deductions, meaning that if you were marrried in a state that recognizes same sex marriage, you are also married in a state that does not. The medical plan document should define which dependents are premitted, if it doesn’t specifically say that a spouse is an opposite sex married parter, you may be able to get coverage. If your partner is planning to adopt the baby, then it would be even easier to add the baby to her plan.

      If that doesn’t work, there are plans available on the public exchanges. Loss of employer coverage is a qualifying event to enroll, you wouldn’t need to wait for open enrollment. If you aren’t eligible for employer coverage, you will likely qualify for a subsidy to bring the cost of your coverage down.

      1. Elizabeth the Ginger*

        It sounds like OP’s spouse isn’t legally *able* to adopt the baby in the state where they live. (Boy, does it make me mad that these laws are on the books. How exactly does it help a kid to prevent someone who loves him from adopting him?)

    3. nk*

      Oh yes, that’s a good point. My company recognized domestic partners with our benefits before our state recognized same-sex marriage.

    4. Kathryn T.*

      I know in Michigan, at least, it is (was?) illegal for companies to offer health insurance to same-sex domestic partners. Not just “not required” but actively illegal.

      1. OP*

        That’s right. I can be on my spouse’s insurance, because my wife’s employer is awesome and recognizes “any valid marriage performed in any US jurisdiction.”

        But the baby, which will only be legally my dependent, will not be eligible for my spouse’s insurance until my state’s laws change.

        1. Davey1983*

          I get that, and you are probably correct. However, I have seen some company insurance plans that will also cover spouses dependents. I guess what I’m saying is contact your spouses HR department and see what your options are.

          You may also be able to adopt in another state. I don’t know the laws in that area very well, but I wouldn’t be surprised if there is some states out there that would allow you to adopt even if you are not a resident. I’d contact a lawyer about this– perhaps in some state all you need is a PO Box or something simple like that.

  10. tesyaa*

    One of my co-workers gave birth right before our busiest time of year and missed the entire crazy year-end season. We worked around it. No one mentioned it other than to tell her how smart she was to “time” her maternity leave around year-end.

  11. IvyGirl*

    Going on maternity leave and then quitting is not looked upon fondly by managers – and I say this as a former manager and having just returned from maternity leave myself.

    I completely understand wanting to go out on leave while trying to have it paid (usually by burning through your vacation and sick time) is admirable, and if you’re able to do so, fortunate. You’re even more fortunate if you work for a company where don’t have to use up your PTO time to cover the leave.

    However, pregnancies are unpredictable. I think being as open as possible with your management is the way to go.

    Also – keep in mind state programs for children’s insurance (CHIP is what it’s called in my state). On the other tack, if you’re going to go back to school full time, you’re most likely going to be required to carry health insurance through your school, which can be extended to children. Be careful here, too – if you end up not getting pregnant until you’re in school and your due date is a certain time after graduation, your student health benefits will not apply.

    1. Tab*

      ” I think being as open as possible with your management is the way to go.”
      I disagree. The employee owes her employer two weeks of notice, regardless of whether or not she takes leave, regardless of her plans after. That’s it. She certainly wouldn’t get a better deal from her if they decided to let her go, for any reason.

    2. OP*

      Yes, I’ve looked into this! My understanding is that my state’s program for children’s insurance is based on the income of the parent. Assuming they determine income based on the previous year’s tax filings, my income would be too high for my child to qualify. Don’t get me wrong, this is a good problem to have! I’m definitely going to keep this option in mind, though.

  12. Painter*

    I agree with when it happens it happens.

    In the word of one of my favorite past managers in response to an ill timed Mat leave and a sorry employee: “We’ll be fine, you’re continuing our species… that’s more important than [project]”

  13. Accountant*

    Sooo… tax accountant here.

    Something I didn’t take into consideration when attempted to “time” my pregnancy was how physically hard pregnancy can be. I wanted to have my baby right after our fall busy season, because our longest period of down time at work is right after fall extension season is over. It turned out that I got pregnant in January (the ideal time for this scenario), but I spent the entire spring busy season working 60-80 hours a week while having horrible all day long morning sickness, and the fall busy season a late third trimester exhausted, stressed out, waddling mess.

    If I had it to do over again, I would not have made the decision to try and time my pregnancy for the convenience of my employer, since I’m not sure how much it benefitted them anyway. And FWIW, its very difficult to time a pregnancy. It was just a coincidence that this worked out the way it did for me.

    1. Erin*

      That’s a really good point! I have fairly difficult pregnancies, which is not something I could have predicted as otherwise I’ve always been very healthy, even robust. But as someone who is near the end of her third pregnancy, busy times as work during morning sickness and/or final trimester exhaustion and aches and pains, there really is no ideal time to have a baby!

  14. BizzieLizzie*

    Speaking as someone who was work-focused all my life & put career & work no.1 – my advice is give zero consideration to your employer in this. Have the baby when you can – you could plan it to the nth degree but these bundles of joy tend to have their own time table & agenda :)

  15. Lizzie*

    To echo Davey1983 above, you should check with your employer and your spouse’s employer about the insurance thing. I am in the same boat as your partner (the non-pregnant spouse, legally married in a Gay Marriage State, not recognized in my state of residence) but my employer does recognize my relationship for purposes such as insurance and Family/Medical Leave. If you and your spouse are comfortable talking to your respective HRs, it might be worth seeing what they say.

    Good luck!!

    1. OP*

      For insurance purposes, my wife’s employer recognizes our marriage, but would not recognize my child as her dependent. Interestingly, both of us would be able to take FMLA to care for the other and our children, regardless of who is the legal parent. This is fascinating to me, because in my wife’s case, they’ll let her take leave to care for the child that’s legally mine, but won’t let that same child be on her insurance. I would love to know the origin of that discrepancy.

  16. Lindrine*

    My actual concern for you is how worn out you both will be with the baby and then starting school – but it also sounds like you might not actually start courses until the baby is almost a year old. There is actually less control over timing with pregnancy as most of the posters already pointed out, so take a deep breath. Good luck!

    1. OP*

      Ha! Yes, this is one of my concerns, too. :) Luckily I have an awesome spouse who can’t wait to be a mom and while I’m sure it will exhausting and crazy at times, we’re really excited.

  17. Melissa*

    OP, I was coming to say the same thing as others – that really, you can’t control when you have a baby as well as we would like; sometimes people take longer to conceive than they expected (and sometimes they get pregnant before they originally intended to).

    Over the weekend I actually read some pretty funny blog posts that made me feel better about it, over at Renegade Mothering. Here are the two that are relevant:

    Are you reading for parenthood? A helpful checklist just for you!
    To all you married people in your 30s “getting ready for a baby”…lemme tell you something…

    The latter one is more relevant than the former, but both are related. They’re tongue in cheek but the general gist is that we all want to lay out plans for what life will be like with a baby, and when the best time to have it is, when there really is no best time and your entire life is going to be transformed and reorganized around the kid anyway. The blog author has 4 children between 6 months and 13, so I assume she knows that of which she speaks, lol.

  18. HR Girl*

    One other thing to think about is that if there’s a scenario here where you don’t come back after a maternity leave, the FMLA allows your company to require you to repay the money they spent on your health insurance during your leave. The company could also just let it go – they don’t have to go after you for the money – but that’s their call. That’s a super expensive proposition and not something you would want to be a surprise! Just something to be aware of.

    1. Joey*

      Thats only really a realistic option if others on FMLA have been required to pay it back also. The company is asking for it big time if they only do it for a pregnancy

  19. remarkable*

    The only problem I see the the backward ass state the OP lives in that doesn’t recognize same sex marriage.

    1. Elysian*

      It might not be a same-sex marriage, we don’t know. There are other marriages that aren’t recognized – plural marriages, “common law” marriages in some states, marriage involving certain family relations…. I mean you’re right that same-sex is probably the statistically most likely, but there are other possibilities.

      1. Poohbear McGriddles*

        If the OP’s spouse is a woman (spouse can’t add the baby to “her” health insurance) and the OP is the one trying to get pregnant, then it’s probably safe to assume they’re both women.

        1. Elysian*

          Ah, I missed that pronoun. No matter what though, it is a little outside the question and not really something we need to speculate too much about, in my opinion. For whatever reason, the state doesn’t recognize it. I don’t think that the reason why they don’t recognize it is an important part of the question.

      1. l*

        If you have both opposite sex and same sex on the books, everyone is covered in some fashion. Years back, two men married (legally) in TX – because TX only recognizes gender at birth, they had to recognize this union.

  20. Jamie*

    Little bit of a tangent but important – I do not know what state the OP is in, but I would strongly encourage her to consult with a local adoption or estate attorney in her area, ideally one that specializes in the LGBTQ community (I’m making the assumption they’re in a same-sex partnership). I’m a financial advisor who likes to do planning work for same-sex couples, and even in the states where same-sex marriage is recognized there is still SO MUCH up in the air. Lawyers are always telling me what “should” happen, not what will happen, because your case can still hang on the personal whims of whatever judge you get in front of. If the OP has the means, it would be to her great benefit to make sure all of her affairs are in order, because unfortunately we still have a long way to go in terms of true equality.

    1. OP*

      Thanks for the nudge! We’re definitely planning to meet with a lawyer as the time draws a little closer.

  21. Case of the Mondays*

    This won’t work for OP’s question for the aforementioned reasons but I did observe one employee pull off a perfect pregnancy announcement with an off the cuff, “the best laid plans sometimes lead to surprise due dates” or something like that to imply she hadn’t intended to be out the time she would be out. I can’t quote what she said but she did it so well. She didn’t imply her baby was an “oops” or “unwanted” just that the timing wasn’t what she had initially hoped for. It seemed to instantly smooth over any issue with her being out during Important Time.

  22. Tattooine*

    Once you decide you want a child, have it whenever you can. You can only control so much.

    On a side note: this whole inquiry makes me sad sighly. The legal question marks about your wife’s parental rights to your future child, the dance for paid maternity leave, the thoughts of how best to retain health care at a time when you will certainly need it (post-partum follow-ups, well baby visits, sick baby visits, mental health care for new moms). Ugh. We don’t make it easy in the United States, do we?

  23. Jill*

    Here’s something else to consider, OP. It sounds like you’re planning on taking 12 weeks maternity leave. FMLA only requires unpaid leave. However, the law permits an employee to elect, or the employer to require the employee, to use accrued paid leave, such as vacation or sick leave, for some or all of the FMLA leave period. And then some states have medical leave acts with different rules. This was an eye opener for me – I wanted 12 weeks and used up ALL my accrued sick and vacation time for part of it, in order to be paid (I’m in Wisconsin). My last six weeks of leave were totally unpaid.

    So, as you’re making plans, you may wish to speak with your Leave Coordinator about how your pay would be affected. It just may be that it’s actually more cost effective to take a shorter leave (so your delivery is covered by insurance at least) but resign sooner and use COBRA to keep baby covered by insurance. Especially if baby’s arrival will coincide perfectly with the start of your schooling. Then in that case, you can be more forthcoming with your team and help them plan accordingly.
    Best wishes on your future nugget!

    1. IvyGirl*

      And, according to your employer’s policies, you may be allowed to only use sick for a portion of it.

      My employer allows a generous amount of sick to be “banked” – think several months of working days. However, they will only allow eight weeks of sick time to be applied to FMLA for a natural pregnancy, and ten weeks for a Caesarian delivery. Pregnancy is the only leave reason where there is this restriction.

      1. doreen*

        You might want to check on the specifics- at my former job (where we could also bank months of sick leave) everyone thought there was a similar policy (2 weeks prior to the due date until 6/8 weeks after birth) but they were incorrect. The policy was actually that you could use sick time for however long the documentation said you were medically unable to work just like any other medical leave . It just happened that those were the time frames most doctors used if there were no complications.

      2. Amy*

        That seems sketchy. Definitely not cool in my book. I also thought the Civil Rights act protects against pregnancy discrimination?

  24. Satsuma*

    I’m so glad someone else asked this. I’m having pretty much the same issue. Although I realize that I am completely over-thinking the timing, as you can’t really plan these things. But I can’t help thinking – if I got pregnant in say, April, that would mean coming back to work after my leave during a super busy period. Will I be able to cope?

  25. Anonathon*

    Just sending some solidarity to you, OP. I was in your same position about a year ago. (I’m assuming that you’re also part of a same-sex couple.) Before we started this process, we spent all this time planning how it would time out and … that all went out the window pretty darn fast. My personal advice is that, if you have the resources and the desire, you should start whenever you want to start. The timing will always be a little (or a lot) random. But other than health insurance considerations, don’t worry about your employer. They’ll figure it out. Many good wishes to you both!

  26. Nerd Girl*

    ” I do think it’s acting in bad faith to take maternity leave on your employer’s dime if you know for sure that you’re not coming back. But if you’re not positive — or if there are health insurance reasons forcing your hand — well, that’s how this stuff works out sometimes.”

    Allison is right on the money here!

    I took the Maternity leave with every intention of returning to work and then we had several issues happen all at once to our small family during the last two weeks of my leave. I ended up giving notice and not returning to work. I was very clear with my employer as to why and luckily I had a manager who understood that sometimes things happen at not convenient times.

  27. OP*

    I’m trying to respond to questions on my phone and having a bit of trouble, but I’ll check back when I get in front of a computer later this afternoon.

    I guess it’s not actually maternity leave – it’s FMLA. We use all our accrued PTO, then go on short term disability for a few weeks depending on the type of birth at a small percentage of pay, then take the rest of the 12 weeks unpaid. Some people come back from leave early, which is definitely a possibility in this sutuation.

    1. MJH*

      This is how it is in our office, too. I’m happy for the 6 weeks of short-term disability (at 60% pay), but the last 6 weeks are entirely unpaid and I am only able to make that happen because I’ve been able to save $$$$ ahead of time. I mean, the mortgage must be paid somehow!

    2. Amy*

      *Especially* because you’re not being paid your full wage the whole time, I absolutely think you should take as much leave as you want/need. It may be somewhat inconvenient for the company, but you and your family’s health comes first!

  28. alexa*

    Just responding to your concerns about the baby having healthcare. I know in my state there are great options for children’s healthcare. My girls were on it while my husband was unemployed and my very small non-profit employer’s options to add coverage for them were obscene.
    Don’t let healthcare for your baby determine your best choices for employment and school. The coverage my kids had was fantastic and very affordable.
    And good luck!

    1. Melissa*

      Er, I’m not sure if I totally agree with that. It all depends on the state and the laws.

      First of all, states have different levels of income eligibility for children’s healthcare as well – could be less than 200% of the poverty line (which is just about $40K for a family of three). It really just depends on the circumstances. OP would need to find out whether her child would even be eligible for SCHIP given her partner’s income.

      Second of all, OP herself may be in need of healthcare during and after her pregnancy, but the availability and eligibility of Medicaid coverage for parents of dependent children varies from state to state. I think in most states women who are pregnant can get it, but once the baby is born it’s income-dependent.

      Thirdly, you have to find a provider who is willing to take Medicaid. That can be a feat in and of itself, as a lot of providers don’t want to take it.

      1. Zillah*

        I have some significant health issues and live in a huge city, and yeah, I still have a hard time finding doctors who take Medicaid and spend any substantial time with me.

  29. Amy*

    I think you should do what you need to do. You and your baby needs health insurance, and because of BS laws, you can’t be on your spouse’s insurance.

    I say take the leave and if you end up quitting right after – well, it sucks, but that’s the side effect of a discriminatory system.

  30. K.*

    I ended up with a job interview (for a job that paid 40% more) on my first week back from maternity leave, when my baby was 10 weeks old. I ended up getting an offer and taking it and switching roles when she was 13 weeks. Surprise! I felt bad bailing on my old employer but, hey, crap happens. And they were mostly pretty understanding, even though I had promised them I would stay.

  31. Anx*

    Oh man, this is another reason I’m hoping when day I can find a full-time job. I would love to be able to qualify for FMLA in case I needed it. I have never qualified.

    Question: My W2s and pay stubs show that I’ve paid FMLA taxes. Does that mean I paid to the state? Or is that federal?

    Because it feels like you shouldn’t have to pay FMLA unless you’d be eligible yourself.

  32. OP*

    Thanks for the feedback, everyone! Your responses were really helpful in helping me tease out some of the potential reactions and ways to mitigate the negative blowback.

    1. neverjaunty*

      Being pregnant and having a little one is going to result in everybody offering you their two cents about why their way is right and your way is wrong, no matter what, so don’t worry that if only you’d done something different people would have behaved better. Best of luck to you!

  33. Snarkus Aurelius*

    Take it from me…I thought I’d get pregnant immediately. It has been 14 months with no results. Both of us have been tested so there’s nothing wrong. Just because you start trying doesn’t mean it’ll happen ASAP.

    That was one aspect of 8th grad health class that was SUPREMELY misleading.

  34. Loose Seal*

    I believe that the Supreme Court is supposed take up the issue of marriage equality this summer. So hopefully, the question of having baby on spouse’s insurance will be moot by the time baby is born. That might make it easier for you guys to make a decision about when to leave your job.

    I wish you both smooth sailing and a healthy baby!

  35. cv*

    OP, if it’s really just the health insurance and not the income you’re worried about, find out how much it would cost to COBRA the health insurance if the baby ends up being due close to when you’d leave for grad school.

    I’m in a same-sex marriage and had my twins (another thing that can really change how the pregnancy and newborn stage go!) during grad school. Luckily I’m in a state that recognizes the marriage and my wife’s name went on the birth certificate immediately, but leave and insurance were still a hassle for various reasons. Good luck to you!

  36. Not telling*

    Am I not reading the same post here?? Taking maternity leave, whenever it happens isn’t screwing over your employer. It’s the quitting right afterwards to go to school that is screwing them over.

    And all the ranting about healthcare reform seems misplaced because that already happened. OP can quit and buy private insurance through the exchanges. And even assuming OP is in one of the states that doesn’t participate in the healthcare exchanges, Medicaid covers pregnant women and mothers and children.

    You don’t have to put your life in second place to your employer, but I don’t see any reason to be secretive to your employer and in so doing screw over both the management and your coworkers. I mean if it turns out that you get pregnant right away and will have nine months between returning from maternity leave and quitting for school, then I can see why you wouldn’t want to give them advance notice, as you may put yourself out of a job.

    But if it turns out that you don’t get pregnant for a few months and there may only be a few weeks of work before you quit again, I don’t see why you would actually bother planning to return at all. Buy a private plan on the exchange and plan on staying home until school starts. Let your company make plans and your coworkers move on. Otherwise you’ll just be creating resentment and ill-will. Whether you’re planning on staying in the same field after school or not, you may very well need a reference from them. Don’t ruin it by being deceptive about your plans.

    And don’t ruin it for all the mothers coming after you, or for the next time you want to take leave, because as others have pointed out, all it takes is one person exploiting the leave laws and company good will, and the next time around they aren’t going to give another woman (or you) anything more than the minimum they are required to by law.

  37. Labratnomore*

    I know I am a little late for this one, and I am sure this has been said already, but it will not work out like you plan. No matter what plan you try for the timing is extremely unlikely to work out as you plan, pregnancy just doesn’t happen that way. Babies have their own timelines, it’s just the first lesson to parents that they are not in control anymore (wait until potty training and you will really learn who is in charge in the house).

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