my department will fall apart if I get pregnant and take maternity leave

A reader writes:

I am currently an HR generalist for a medium-sized not-for-profit (health care). I work under the HR director and am also over one HR assistant. I learned that my boss will be moving in the next few months and my company wants to promote me to HR director. I am only 26, and have been trying to start a family with my husband for one year (with many failed attempts, loss, and much heartbreak). My company is aware of my plans but still wants me for the position. I have every intention of accepting the job and know life will go on if I do get pregnant and need to take leave. I have some issues though:

If I get promoted, and get pregnant right away, I would be out on leave during the busiest time of the year, putting undue hardship on my company. If I get promoted and pregnant, I feel like I wouldn’t be able to take any leave, as our department is busy non-stop, all day long. Any amount of time off to care for my child would absolutely be accompanied by non-stop phone calls and emails. I would be expected to work from home, whereas my other collegues have others in their department who could fill in easily. There are things in my job that only I can do. My first year as HR director would be even harder being pregnant, plus having to find and train the ideal person to take over my current position.

Also to note: my assistant just found out she’s pregnant. Our payroll person is trying to get pregnant as well. All of HR can’t be out on leave at the same time, can they?

HR fights for our staff day in and day out, so what happens when HR is not there? Our staff wouldn’t have anyone to turn to and nothing would get done! I know that life goes on and you can’t plan for everything to be perfect, but I dont want to have to be worrying about things getting done at work if I were to take my 12 weeks of FMLA. I feel so stressed out about this. I feel like it will never be the right time to have a baby, and I’ll just keep pushing it back and before I know it I’ll be 50 and childless. As much as I want a child, I don’t want to put my company in a bad place. Everyone in the organization would be affected if there were no HR director. Yes, if I do leave there may be two other people in HR, but those two will be very, very new and will not be able to run the department alone for 12 weeks.

I’m at a loss. Who knew having a child would be so stressful? So I guess my question is, do I put off growing my family until i’m more settled in my new position? Or do I just try and see what happens, knowing that if I do get pregnant, it will put a lot of strain on my company as well as myself?

Oh my goodness, take the promotion and keep trying to get pregnant if you want to!

Your company will survive. What would happen if you were in an accident and out of commission for months? What would happen if you had a family emergency and needed several months off? What if you quit? Your employer would go on. That’s what happens at work. Things might get inconvenient, yes, and they might have to curtail things they were otherwise planning on doing during that period, but THAT IS FINE. That’s how this stuff works.

No reasonable employer expects employees to put baby-making plans on hold because it would inconvenience the organization. That is just not in any way a reasonable thing to expect, and you’re being tremendously unfair to yourself if you feel like you need to.

I know you’re worried in particular about it being HR that’s gone*, so here’s how your company would get by even in the absence of all three of you (but it already sounds like the pregnancies will be staggered enough that at least one of you will be there even if others are out): You would do a lot of training of the other people on your team before you left, and you’d leave behind lots of if/then documentation (“if X happens, do X”). You would have many months of prep time to do that. You would assign a point of contact to handle high-level decisions that others on your team can’t make on their own. such as your own boss (so some of your ifs/thens will be “if X happens, contact Jane”). You’d ensure that there are clear procedures during your absence for absolutely crucial things like harassment or discrimination reporting. You would back-burner some projects that would otherwise be planned for that time period, which is a normal thing that happens when people go on leave. You might farm out some responsibilities to people on other teams. You could also look into hiring long-term skilled temps from a company that specializes in HR placement (these aren’t like admin temps, but are people who are trained in HR and can actually fill in for some of the core work that you do).

This will not be perfect. Things won’t run like they would if you were there. That’s fine. That’s how it’s supposed to work when people are on leave. Your company and your coworkers will survive three months of “not perfect but good enough.” They’ll even survive three months of “kind of chaotic” if they have to.

By the way, about this: “Any amount of time off to care for my child would absolutely be accompanied by non-stop phone calls and emails. I would be expected to work from home.” Noooooooo. That would actually be illegal because it’s what’s considered FMLA interference — as you probably know from working in HR. You’re probably thinking that it doesn’t matter because there’s just no way to make this work without accepting those conditions, but that’s only the case if you decide it’s the case! Plenty of people with high-level positions whose work is crucial to their companies simply say “I will not be reachable while I’m on maternity leave, period” and their companies make it work. People will follow the boundaries you set and enforce.

You don’t need to put your baby plans on hold (and potentially lose your best window to fulfill them) in order to keep your organization running, and no decent organization would ask that of you. Please go accept that promotion, keep trying for a baby, and trust that your employer can handle some chaos for a few months if they have to.

* I don’t know if you were being hyperbolic when you said “HR fights for our staff day in and day out,” but HR’s job isn’t typically to fight for employees. It’s to help the organization succeed (in areas like staffing, compensation, benefits, training, and legal compliance), which certainly sometimes can include advocating for employees — but that advocacy isn’t the core mission, unless your organization is quite unusual. If there’s truly a need for you to fight for your staff every day, the organization has problems bigger than what HR can solve.

{ 209 comments… read them below }

  1. Anonymous Poster*

    If the organization won’t make it with this sort of thing, it has larger issues.

    Don’t put your life plans on hold for the organization. It’s really heartening you care, but your family should be more important, and good organizations recognize that.

    Also, look at it this way – there’s a lot more notice for a long term absence with a pregnancy than with say, a car accident. You have a lot more time to prep for this, so take advantage of that! It’s not as though you’ll suddenly call out in three weeks for maternity leave with no notice, so this is something that can be planned around. There are lots of options, like training people, bringing in consultants to help fill the gap, and all sorts of things.

    Please don’t put your family on hold for this, if that’s what you really want.

    1. Specialk9*

      Alison forgot the other option: they’ll outsource HR. That’s happened at every company I’ve worked at (though most eventually transitioned back to having US HR workers for the high knowledge stuff).

      Please don’t change your life plans for a company. You cannot be loyal to a thing because things aren’t loyal back. Take that promotion, have that baby – your promotion will make it so much easier to provide for your baby.

      Don’t illegally discriminate against your own self, for heaven’s sake! :D

      1. Annonymouse*

        I can understand your position better than most since I was in the EXACT same boat as you.

        I was literally doing the work of two and a half people, they didn’t manage to get a proper replacement for me until AFTER I left and no-one understands a few of the things I do.

        I return to work Tuesday next week after 5 months off. The business is still going – not as efficiently or well run as it could be – but its still going.

        They survived before you and they’ll make do without you until you return.

        Plus it reinforces how valuable you are to them and how important and appreciated you are.

    2. Foreign Octopus*

      There was a study done a few years ago (if I find the link, I’ll post it) where people were asked on their deathbeds what they regretted the most about their lives.

      Working too much was number one.

      Don’t make that mistake.

      1. MsMaryMary*

        No matter how much you love your job, it will never love you back.
        Focus your love on your family, your spouse, and your future children.

        1. Elizabeth the Ginger*

          Yes. There *are* great companies out there, full of bosses that take good care of their employees. But that’s not the same as the love you can get from a child.

          (Or a significant other, or other family members, or the friends who are your family-by-choice – I don’t mean to imply that becoming a parent is the only way to have fulfilling relationships. Simply that the most fruitful emotional connections, for most people, are made with humans who aren’t also part of the way you earn money to pay rent.)

    3. One of the Sarahs*

      +1. So many organisations seem to think that they need X people to be successful, and that’s bullshit, because there is *always* someone out on annual leave, sickness, maternity leave etc etc. A company *needs* this flex in their structures – if they try to make you feel guilty for being on annual/maternity leave, or off sick, they’re a badly structured company. No excuses.

  2. Observer*

    You don’t need to put your baby plans on hold (and potentially lose your best window to fulfill them) in order to keep your organization running, and no decent organization would ask that of you.

    This, soo soo much!

    If your organization DOES expect that, then take the promotion and start looking for a new job.

    1. Slow Gin Lizz*

      I have a coworker who was told at her former job, along with another female coworker, “I hope you’re not looking to start a family.” She inconvenienced them by leaving and getting a job here and having two kids.

      1. CMF*

        Most of the people in my sister’s department are women of childbearing age, and right before she got married, someone who worked there informed her that the department couldn’t function with too many people out too close together. Therefore, she wasn’t allowed to try to get pregnant until it was her turn, based on seniority.

        She laughed, because she thought the woman was joking. Because who on Earth thinks they get to dictate all of their co-workers sex lives?!

        The woman was not joking, and didn’t understand why that wasn’t a reasonable request.

        1. RVA Cat*

          It’s going to be really tough for that company to get their senior executives to schedule their heart attacks…. :/

        2. Sualah*

          In my 4 person department, we did wind up going in seniority order, for both first and second kids, but that was just a funny coincidence. (Although when I told him I was pregnant with #2, my team lead said, “But we’re not ready for our #3 yet–give us another year!”)

        3. Observer*

          That’s jaw dropping. What other boundaries did she cross? And what else was she utterly clueless about?

        4. NextStop*

          Apart from trying to control peoples’ sex lives, that’s also ridiculous because pregnancies can’t always be planned so easily. If one coworker has fertility issues, does everyone else get held back, or do they skip to the next person’s turn?

          1. CMF*

            I think that was literally what my sister said when the woman (NOT a supervisor, I’m not sure where she fell in the seniority order) doubled-down that it was “how things are done here.” She asked a bunch of sarcastic questions that pointed out how ridiculous that kind of policy would be. “What happens if I get accidentally pregnant before my turn? Do I still get my turn later? Will I be required to terminate? Is it one person pregnant at a time, or once someone gets pregnant, the next person gets to go? If I have twins, does my second turn down the line get skipped? Will I be required to share my method of birth control and the details of my cycle?”

            The funniest part was that this particular field is swimming in temps, and full time positions are hard to come by. They wouldn’t have a problem finding people to cover multiple maternity leaves with no break in service.

        5. Former Temp*

          I’m reminded of when I was expecting one of my children–I took a retail job, and the store assistant manager was pregnant and due in mid-April. There was another employee (we were both part time) who was also expecting. Other employee and I were due first week of June. Wouldn’t you know that the AM went post-due, and other co-worker and I both delivered prematurely, so the babies were born–AM’s baby on a Tuesday, mine on the Wednesday, and other co-worker on a Friday in the same week. And this was a tiny store with just the manager and two other part-time employees.

          Which just goes to show how you can think you’ve got it all worked out (AM should have been out and ready to come back from her maternity leave when co-worker and I were in the week of our due dates), stuff happens. And workplaces can figure things out.

  3. Dee*

    If I get promoted, and get pregnant right away, I would be out on leave during the busiest time of the year, putting undue hardship on my company.

    And it’s not an undue hardship for you to have to schedule your life around the company? Of course it is. You and your family come first.

    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      Yes! I also suspect OP is snowballing a little bit, and then that snowball became an avalanche of worries. Make babies! Do what you need to do! The world will keep turning and everything will not fall apart.

    2. LizB*

      100% this, plus: it’s not undue hardship for an employee to be on leave during the busiest time of the year. It is a perfectly normal hardship. This kind of thing happens all the time, and if a particular company can’t handle it, that’s a big problem with the company; it doesn’t mean the person taking leave is in the wrong.

  4. K.*

    All but three members of my old team were women of childbearing age. Three of them were pregnant at the same time; two gave birth within weeks of each other. It was fine! We made it work. Live your life. Your company and team will manage – they’ll have to.

    1. Anon today...and tomorrow*

      this! We had three women all give birth within days of each other in my last company. We made it work but the excitement we greeted them with when they came back to work was genuine. One woman said it was the nicest feeling to know that she was truly missed.

    2. overly produced bears*

      Yeah, 6 members of my department are out on (staggered) maternity leave between something like June and December. The thing about mat leave is you have time to plan. You can see it coming. If they don’t plan for it, something’s wrong.

      I’m roughly in the age cohort of the LW, so I totally understand the stresses and pressures. But I also want to stress: if they can’t handle someone being out, they have more problems than that are on YOU to solve.

      Live your life. Best of luck with having a baby. If the place will collapse without you, it would still collapse WITH you. Don’t put yourself underneath it trying to prop it up.

    3. another Liz*

      We had 4 out of a staff of 9 pregnant, with 5 months between the earliest and latest due. Medical facility, with potential health hazards to feuses that took some seriously creative shuffling of duties to compensate for. We made it. But we took it as a challenge to overcome, not an obstacle or inconvenience to the non-pregnant.

    4. SpaceySteph*

      Yup, we have had 6 babies born in my group this year. Me and another person (who happen to work on a lot of the same projects) were actually due 2 days apart and delivered 9 days apart. Our group is small and our work is highly technical so we can’t temp it out. The team was absolutely strapped for people but they got through it. Nobody even suggested that any one of us should have waited out turn, because that is absurd.
      It was a great conversation when we both found out though:
      Her: “I’m pregnant.”
      Me: “That’s great! When are you due!”
      Her: Beginning of April!
      Me: Cool. Um… I’m 8 weeks along. (I wasn’t really telling people yet but she was an early sharer)
      Her: But that…that’s the same?!
      Me: Yup…
      Both of us, simultaneously: Poor Fergus (guy who had to cover our project while we were out)

    5. Jean Lamb*

      I still have a picture of the six women who were pregnant in our building all at the same time (granted, the baby showers were exciting, and I did quite a bit of shopping then). And yet we survived.

  5. Shiara*

    You might consider that part of your duties as an HR manager could be argued to include setting a good example by showing that the company will handle maternity leave and FMLA properly no matter how “inconvenient” it seems in the moment. If HR is seen not to handle these things correctly for their own staff, how will other employees trust HR to handle their situations well?

    1. Augusta Sugarbean*

      Really, really good observation. OP I know you are looking at this from your own perspective but what message are you sending to the lower levels employees? Company Is Life. And that sucks. If you want to stick with the “HR fights for employees” side, then fight for them to be treated like humans not company property. And lead by example.

    2. Lars the Real Girl*

      Yes! I had a friend who went on FMLA maternity leave and just COULD NOT shut off (not really the company’s doing, but her own). Finally a coworker threatened to call their insurance company (temp disability cover during maternity leave) and tell them she was working and not really on leave if she wouldn’t stop answering emails.

      It wasn’t meant to be a threat *against* her, but more to force her to reevaluate and TAKE THE TIME.

  6. Mary Dempster*

    Everything that was already said, AND – you never know how long it may take to get pregnant. With minimal fertility issues, it took my husband and me TWO YEARS to get pregnant, after one loss last year. Again, this is someone with no fertility issues. I have friends who did IVF after 9 years of trying, and finally are pregnant.

    Do NOT plan your life around the potential pregnancy, until it’s actually here and real. It is not worth the emotional turmoil, I promise you. Your health and family should take priority over your job, and pregnancy falls into both of those categories.

    Signed, due in 6 days and even though my boss is a bit stressed I’ll be off – everything will be FINE.

    1. SignalLost*

      Yup. My sister and her husband have been trying for at least 18 months. They had a loss at <5 weeks and again at 12 weeks. (Meanwhile, I wasn't trying at all and caught the one time my BC failed.) You can't predict when it will happen, so stop trying to game out what will happen for the company, because you just don't know. I hope that relieves some stress for you!

    2. Anon today...and tomorrow*

      Congrats! Best wishes with your delivery! I was starving afterward so make sure you have a snack at the ready, in case the cafe is closed (as it was with both of my kids!).

      1. Mary Dempster*

        Thanks Anon! I may or may not have strategically chosen the hospital 1 block away from a Taco Bell and a 24/7 diner. We live in the boonies so it’s actually QUITE a treat for us!

        1. OwnedByThCat*

          We were due 11/6 but baby had other plans and today is the first day of my maternity leave. This post is so time!

          But more importantly we stopped at taco Bell on the way home from the birthing center and it was amazing.

    3. NW Mossy*

      It took me four years and three miscarriages to get pregnant with my second. I had many of the same worries about bad timing as the OP, but finally told myself that I couldn’t wait on what-ifs and maybes – I had to just let my career and life proceed forward while the trying was happening in the background and trust that even if the timing was “bad,” I’d find a way to make it work. I bought clothes knowing that I might never wear them. I planned trips knowing I might never take them. I applied for jobs and took them knowing that leave might be a hassle. I had to get comfortable with the idea that I’d make choices that would look silly in hindsight, and that was HARD.

      And all said and done, I see where I’m at with my career and my family now and feel nothing but tremendous good fortune to be in this place in my life. None of it went the way I thought it would 5 years ago, but where I landed feels right.

      1. Lynn Whitehat*

        Yeah, agreed. It’s depressing watching the new kitten, the Caribbean cruise, the new job, the volunteer leadership opportunity, etc come and go because “you were supposed to be pregnant by now”.

    4. Marzipan*

      Yup. This. I’ve been trying for, what, three years now? To begin with I kept planning ahead for ‘what if I have had a baby by then’ but at this point I just go ahead and do the stuff. Hopefully the OP won’t have any issues conceiving but it’s not worth putting life on hold, either way.

    5. CA in CA*

      Agreed. We were trying for two years with three losses before we brought a baby home. They would be building snowmen in hell before I considered how my pregnancy would impact my employer because as it turns out, it’s not always as easy as they tell you in sex ed.

  7. Dinosaur*

    No job is worth you sacrificing having a family if you want one. No one is so irreplaceable that they can’t be subbed for, even if that substitute isn’t as productive and efficient as the original person would be. The fact that you’re thinking that it is reasonable for you to put off starting a family due to your workplace’s needs is a bit worrying. Are you basing those thoughts on pressure from your superiors? Is the culture at your nonprofit unhealthy with regard to work-life balance? Are people so enmeshed in the mission to where everyone feels that they can’t take reasonable time off or else everything will fall apart? Are things understaffed to the point that the workplace is in crisis mode at all times? It could be helpful to look at your workplace from a more objective/outsider lens and see if there are deeper dysfunctional dynamics going on here.

  8. ScoutFinch*

    Are you a member of an HR Professionals group?

    If not, check for one in your area. (can’t think of any names, but I am sure they are out there) Maybe someone (retired, looking, whatever) in that group could help out at your place for a while. They would know the legal stuff & know how to operate in an HR office.

    1. ScoutFinch*

      Found this:

      You might even get some ideas/contacts on getting your department staffed after you get promoted.

      Use these resources. Professional people are glad to help those just starting out. No one expects you to know everything NOW – or EVER. Just know how to find the answers.

  9. Colors of the Wind*

    It’s too funny that this letter came in. I am currently the most senior in my department of which two more senior staffers are/soon will be out on maternity leave. As the one with a) the most seniority b) been here the longest/institutional knowledge and all that, I’m expecting a lot to fall on my shoulders. But, my goal really is just to keep the wheels on the bus moving until everyone gets back.

  10. AKchic*

    You work for them, but they don’t own you.

    What if you weren’t trying to get pregnant and just happened to get pregnant without trying, and without actually wanting to? Like a lot of women/couples do? The old “accidental” pregnancy (I find that term a little irritating, but that’s my own issue with semantics, nothing more). You’d still be dealing with a pregnancy and a promotion, maternity leave, training a new staff member in your old role, etc.

    Your commitment to your employer is great, but your first commitment is to YOU.

    Good luck!

  11. C.*

    To add to the “Any amount of time off to care for my child would absolutely be accompanied by non-stop phone calls and emails” point, this might not happen regardless of FMLA! If you’ve taken one day off and gotten a bunch of calls, that does suck, but I’ve found that people tend to readjust their thinking when someone is out long-term vs. for one day only. And I say this as someone who thought she would be calling her boss daily when she was out on maternity leave; I and two other people had started in our department all at the same time and she went out a month after we began. I was so worried that I’d be calling her constantly, but other than a one time “Where’s the key to your file cabinet?”, all of us new people were able to figure out things on our own or find other people in the office who could help us out. Things may not run as smoothly while you’re out, but by default, they’ll have to run without you.

    1. hbc*

      Yep, they’ll manage. I literally got a call while I was in labor at the hospital (the guy didn’t know) telling me my replacement quit and asking for passwords. There was *no one* there who had the right skills or knowledge to do my front-line customer support role, and they still left me alone after that. We were a ten person company at the time.

      People can be resourceful when they need to be–you just have to decide that they need to be.

    2. Elizabeth the Ginger*

      Also, if any of the people who would be calling you are parents who’ve been through this themselves, I suspect they’ll really be respectful of your time because they’ll get it – caring for a newborn is a big job.

    3. Lars the Real Girl*

      I actually prefer to (and have the ability to, luckily) take a couple of long vacations (3-4 weeks) per year instead of a series of week-long ones.

      I think when people know you’re going to be out for 1 week or less, they just let stuff pile up on your desk/email being like “she’ll get to it when she’s back on Monday” vs solving their own problems/finding other solutions when it’s “oh, she’ll be back in December.”

  12. HistoryChick*

    I also work for a mid-sized non-profit and recently our entire HR department left, including our HR director. All three of them gave notice after accepting positions in other companies within a week of each other. (I’m sure there is a story there that I don’t know…) I just want to tell you that we made do! Some things were put on hold. Some jobs took a little longer to fill. Senior directors stepped up and took on some of the responsibility. And we hired an HR temp from an HR-specific agency, just like Alison suggested. The temp had great experience and was able to step right in…even during open enrollment! He was great (and we didn’t want to see him go!) We have an (almost) full team back in place now and everyone survived. I tell you this so you know that another non-profit survived and yours will too. Try to take at least this stress off your plate and congratulations on your upcoming promotion!

  13. Artemesia*

    Some things are more important than other things and having the child you want is one of those things. The organization will be just fine over time but this will be the most important thing that every happens to you.

    My SIL is out on paternity leave right now for a month; I asked him if they weren’t struggling without him and he told me that an organization that can’t get by without an employee for a month is not well run; he works for one of these new young vibe kind of places where lots of guys are becoming fathers (and women becoming mothers) and parental leave is something they support. During pregnancy you have time to get things organized. My daughter made sure things were in good order and is thus able to relax on her maternity leave. Unlike a middle aged manager having a heart attack or someone being hit by a bus, pregnancy gives you lots of lead time to transition.

    I almost postponed having my second because of work demands; then when I was 4 mos pregnant there was an unexpected merger and my entire department got cut. I was so grateful to have this great baby when I didn’t have that great job. My daughter’s office was shut down when she was on maternity leave with her first child and she was out of a job. Both of us were glad we had not put the job first.

    Hope you have good luck with this and a baby this time next year.

    1. Thlayli*

      I just want to add that this happened to me too. I was made redundant when on maternity leave when my company got sold and they shut down the office in my country. You can’t plan for everything. Imagine if you give up having a family for the sake of your job and then you end up losing this job in the future …

  14. Amy*

    When I left my old HR position, the lady that replaced me went on maternity leave and the HR asst (it was just the 2 of them doing all HR and payroll) had to be hospitalized for an extended period. My old boss called me to come help. I was happy to pitch in as needed, plus the new HR Supervisor could work from home as needed, but told them to only call her during emergencies. She actually extended her maternity leave and ‘worked from home’ a little longer. Definitely check around the community and/ or former HR employees and see if you can get some temp help. Please don’t put your life on hold for your job.

  15. NYCWeez*

    I know someone who was given a MAJOR project at work and literally a week later got the call that there was a baby available to adopt. It’s rough and bumpy, but there is no one who isn’t 100% committed to helping out as much as we can. I would not prioritize work over anything as important as this, and your coworkers should hopefully be as supportive as we are trying to be.

  16. Broadcastlady*

    Breathe! None of this has even happened yet. There is great Tom Petty song with lyrics along the lines of, most things I worry about never happen anyway (rough paraphrasing there). I was in a very similar situation and (finally) got pregnant. My company and I carefully planned maternity leave, my coverage, everything…and we were so prepared. Right up until my water broke at 2:45 a.m., five weeks early. I was due at work at 5 a.m., and was instead instantly on maternity leave. It was rough on my co-workers and boss, but they made it, and had a whole new appreciation for my role in the business. It will be okay. And as much as we plan pregnancy, you can’t ever really plan an entire pregnancy. Best of luck too! In the job and family departments.

    1. E*

      This! Plan what you can, but expect to make contingency plans too, even at the last minute. I went into labor about a week before my due date, and my coworker had already previously joked that “you can’t go into labor yet, you need to walk me thru one more time on the monthly processes next week”. Somehow everyone survived and nothing major broke. Document your processes for a temp to cover the duties and cross train whenever possible so others know at least a bit of your processes.

    2. Elizabeth the Ginger*

      Yup! This happened to a coworker of mine – who’s an elementary school teacher. She was planning on finishing out the school year but instead went on leave abruptly about three weeks before the end, with report cards still to write and everything. The associate stepped up to lead, the school hired a long-term sub to assist, the parents were all super understanding, the kids were fine and excited to hear about Ms. X’s new son, and everyone was okay.

  17. Sid Viscous*

    Get a contract HR director during the pre- and post-child birth period. The added expense will be well wroth it to the organization, if chaos is thus prevented.

    Babies are hard to time right. This is a given. Keep trying and do so with the knowledge that you will do a good job and your organization will remain intact even though you will not be there.

    Start creating documentation for the HR director contractor now.

    1. Ann O'Nemity*

      Agree with this.

      We recently had a great experience with a HR director contractor. It would have gone even better if we could have planned ahead and created documentation before we needed to bring them in to fill a gap.

      1. Bibliovore*

        This. Think outside the box. If there is a local HR professional group, someone who knows someone will know someone who is recently retired who can “sub” as director while you have leaves.

    2. Thlayli*

      This. As I understand it fmla is unpaid anyway so the company will have money to spare on a temp.

  18. a1*

    Your company will survive. What would happen if you were in an accident and out of commission for months? What would happen if you had a family emergency and needed several months off? What if you quit? Your employer would go on. That’s what happens at work. Things might get inconvenient, yes, and they might have to curtail things they were otherwise planning on doing during that period, but THAT IS FINE. That’s how this stuff works.

    This will not be perfect. Things won’t run like they would if you were there. That’s fine. That’s how it’s supposed to work when people are on leave. Your company and your coworkers will survive three months of “not perfect but good enough.” They’ll even survive three months of “kind of chaotic” if they have to.

    These 2 thoughts came to mind as I was reading, so I agree wholeheartedly with Alison here. The company will survive, maybe not perfectly but it’s fine. Just take your maternity leave when you need it.

  19. Shoe*

    Recently where I work, the manager in a department that was doing this huge, visible project that affected everyone had a baby at the most inconvenient time possible.

    And everyone lived.

    And everyone was happy for her.

    And everyone still likes her.

    And a few of the people who work under her got a chance to shine while she was away.

    It will be OK.

    1. Elizabeth the Ginger*

      “And everyone still likes her.”

      I think this is a huge thing to highlight. Not only will your company survive, OP, but unless they are huge jerks, your coworkers will be happy for you, happy to pick up some slack and make do in your absence, and happy to have you back without resenting your being gone. If they do resent it (and especially if they in any way verbalize that towards you!), they are, in fact, awful people, and you should find a new job with less-awful people. (But maybe wait until after you’ve taken your FMLA leave.)

  20. CodeWench*

    I’m wondering if the “fights for our staff” line maybe had to do with benefits administration? If so, I’d think that is definitely the job of HR.

    1. JulieBulie*

      That’s what I thought. I remember one really crazy medical billing/insurance problem I had that went on for over a year. Finally, our HR/benefits person got involved. She got me, my doctor’s billing person, an insurance person, and herself all together on a phone call, and bingo, problem resolved. I hadn’t been able to make any headway on this issue by myself, and don’t know what would have happened if she hadn’t intervened. Everything got fixed, and the insurance and billing people both apologized for their errors. Wow.

  21. McWhadden*

    I agree with the general consensus. And I have to say I’m not surprised that HR has to fight for their staff constantly in the health care field. Lower level employees in health care are often over worked and underpaid and are regularly screwed out of overtime and other things they are legally entitled to. They can also be treated like dogs by those above them in some places.

    It’s not how it should be set-up but I can’t say I’m shocked that it is that way.

  22. AvonLady Barksdale*

    I want to address this: “My company is aware of my plans but still wants me for the position.” Yes, because to take you out of consideration because you might get pregnant is discriminatory! And kind of silly to boot. Your family planning is your own business. This is not to say that I think we should never ever share such things in the workplace (I’ve had good friends at work at various companies), but talking about them is one thing; they shouldn’t have an impact your position or career trajectory unless you want them to.

  23. mia*

    I think this falls under the common mindset that a company cannot go on without someone, and/or that someone is 100% indispensable to a company. All which is unlikely.

    Trust me, they CAN and WILL go on without you. When I worked for Target in the HQ, a common thing we’d say is “if this doesn’t happen, they will still have TP and socks for sale tomorrow”.

    Do NOT let the company own you. If it is that bad they have THAT many expectations on your PERSONAL life, then I’d look for a new job.

    1. NW Mossy*

      My mentor/former boss has a saying for when a problem/inconvenience in our decidedly not life-or-death industry is getting painted as a catastrophe when it’s really not: “This isn’t hearts in coolers.” We tend to attract highly conscientious fretters in our workforce, and sometimes, that reality check is necessary.

      1. Jen S. 2.0*

        Heeee, that reminds me of that one episode of One Tree Hill where someone knocked over a cooler with a heart in it, and a golden retriever scurried onscreen out of nowhere and ate the heart, right in front of the horrified transplant patient. I’m laughing so hard remembering that.

        Ah, here we go:

        1. Julia*

          I have been in the waiting room of several hospitals (though not in the US) and have never seen any medical staff going through there with medical equipment, let alone organs. What the heck.

          1. Jen S. 2.0*

            You really needed to suspend your disbelief for a lot of that show. That was in no way the most unbelievable plot twist. **eyeroll**

            The character waiting for the heart was also the main villain of the show, so you were stunned as you watched the dog gallop away with the heart, but you were also… kind of rooting for the dog.

      2. One of the Sarahs*

        And even if it was hearts in coolers – good ambulance services and hospitals know that not only only one is irreplaceable, but if 2, 3 or 4 levels down the “what if” structure are out, they can cope.

      3. HB*

        My amazing boss (who helped me get promoted into leadership roles) always said: the work will still be there tomorrow. I say this to myself when I’m thinking about staying late to work on something that’s not emergency-level.

    2. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

      My boss used to say “There’s no such thing as a leadership development emergency.”

  24. ArtK*

    From bitter experience: Putting life goals on hold for people who would and could fire you at a moment’s notice is a very bad idea. I’ve hung on to jobs far too long merely because of a sense that leaving would hurt the company. I’m still teaching myself that it doesn’t really matter. It helps that, right now, things are falling apart despite all of my best efforts — a lot of people are contributing to the failures and I realize that I can’t carry the weight all by myself.

    If you are so critical to the survival of the company and the company doesn’t have backup plans in place, then that’s the company’s issue to solve, not yours. Even if you are in HR. I think that Alison and the other commenters are right, that you really aren’t that critical to the company’s survival; they will endure, albeit uncomfortably.

  25. Tuesday Next*

    You absolutely should not put your company ahead of your plans to start a family. However loyal and committed you are to the company, that’s not a sacrifice worth making. (And think seriously about whether any job should demand that level of commitment from you.)

    Think about the life you’re hoping for 10 years from now, and do what is right for you.

  26. Cafe au Lait*

    Speak to me about FMLA interference. Asking because a friend (me) has encouraged members of the committee she chairs to reach out when they have questions. Friend is expecting two to three questions over her leave, not every day all day.

    Friend is wondering if she told them incorrectly, and should email with an update.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Two or three questions shouldn’t be a big deal. Courts have found that occasional requests that don’t require substantive work is fine — like asking where a document is located or the password for a file. It’s not okay to contact them a lot or to ask them anything that requires them to perform actual work.

      More here:

      1. Karen W.*

        HR told me that I was “donating” any time that I spent working while out on FMLA. Unfortunately, my department chair fired my boss a week before my due date, and if I didn’t take on his responsibilities, people would literally not get paid, so what the hell was I supposed to do?

        1. Evan Þ*

          Tell your department chair to do it himself, and email everyone instructions on how to file a wage claim?

    2. Jennifer Thneed*

      Yup, you should email with an update. It could say something like, “I thought x would work but I’m finding it doesn’t. Please do y instead. I’m looking forward to seeing you again in # of weeks.”

    3. McWhadden*

      Just FYI FMLA only covers employers who employ 50 or more employees. It sounds like the OP is easily covered by that. But if your friend is working for a committee it might not (or it might I don’t know.)

      1. Broadcastlady*

        Right. I wasn’t covered, no FMLA. We came to a mutual agreement that I’d get paid 50% of my salary for eight weeks and work roughly 20 hours per week from home. I got really ill though, and didn’t do much from home. They still paid me.

  27. Faith*

    If you are a professional woman, there is rarely a good time to get pregnant and take time off to care for your child. And it can take months, and sometimes even years, to get pregnant (and stay pregnant). So, timing “just right” can be incredibly difficult. That’s why you don’t put your life on hold – you decide when it’s the right time for you and your family, and you go for it.
    Although, I am currently putting my pregnancy plans on hold myself due to my work circumstances. However, the reason why is because I will be attending a major work-related event that is being held in a region where Zika is prevalent. I do want to attend the event, so I made a decision to delay getting pregnant until after the event. However, that was a decision made based on what is going to benefit me and my career growth. I am not doing this for my company, I’m doing it for myself.

    1. Artemesia*

      My daughter had to disclose her pregnancy earlier than she would have liked because she was needed to do a pitch in a zika prone area and her doctor absolutely ruled it out. Just another thing women now need to consider in their work planning.

  28. Mike*

    Some questions:
    Does your company want to have you as HR director 1, 2 or 4 yrs down the road? Is this a place you like to work?
    Does your boss(whoever the HR director reports to) know about your family plans? Are they willing to work with you and others to make sure HR is functioning for the 3-6 months (or more) that you may be off?
    Good luck with the family plans!

    1. Observer*

      Are they willing to work with you and others to make sure HR is functioning for the 3-6 months (or more) that you may be off?

      Legally – and I would argue also ethically – it doesn’t matter. They can’t not hire her because of her plans. And they need to work with her to make it work.

      1. Mike*

        That’s a good question. Legally, if they know before they offer her the position, they should have some obligation. Ethically, it’s more about neither side being surprised. If she doesn’t feel comfortable with what her mgmt promises, she should look for another job. My feeling, based on what she’s said is that she likes her current job.

  29. Bette*

    They got along without before you were there, they’d get along without you if you weren’t there. You’re not that important (and I mean that in the kindest way though I know it sounds harsh).

    1. A Turtle Without A Shell*

      I had the same thought.

      President is arguably the most “important” job in the United States…and there is a system in place if the President is out of commission. And a system in place if his/her replacement is out of commission.

      If the most important role in my country can be filled, so can OP’s. It may not be smooth or ideal, but life moves on when someone is out of commission for a few months.

  30. Atalanta0jess*

    Please please please please, just do your life plans. This is a perfect time to remember that your company doesn’t change its major plans for you, and you shouldn’t change your major plans for your company. If their needs changed, they would lay you off…that’s how business works. Can you imagine, what if you put off having a child (which is time sensitive, as you know!) and then got laid off? Your loyalty and devotion can never be returned by a business…it just is not how the world works. You and only you have to look out for your own priorities. Your family is what is most important.

    Honestly, twelve weeks will go by fast. As Allison said, they’ll handle crucial things, and other stuff will just kind of float by, and before they know it, you’ll be back. Everything will be ok. Don’t take calls, don’t read emails. Don’t even turn on your computer. That time belongs to you – don’t let them steal it from you (and definitely don’t just hand it right over!)

  31. Fake Eleanor*

    About 18 years after your kid is born, you’re likely to be watching them graduate from high school, and you may not be able to remember the names of anyone you happened to be working with at the time they were born.

    Time passes. Things work out. Even if there is a period of upheaval at work — which is not your fault — it will end. But a kid you don’t have will never become a kid that you do have.

  32. Jaybeetee*

    I feel the need to insert the obligatory Non-American comment that where I live, parental leave lasts a year! And I’m not hearing of companies going out of business or burning down during that time! If a company can spare the body, they do (I’ve had a colleague on mat leave since January, due to return back this January, we’ve hired on in the meantime but we’ve left her position open). If a company can’t spare the body, they hire a contractor to fill in.

    It’s been said here before that every good company has a “bus plan”: “If so-and-so were to get hit by a bus tomorrow, what would we do?” It’s generally a mark of badly-run companies if one person’s absence brings the whole ship down.

    1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

      I actually think it’s easier to plan for someone being gone a year than just a few months — I hope that more organizations in the U.S. follow our international friends’ lead!

      Being gone for a year means hiring a temporary replacement, and creates opportunities for junior people to get experience stepping into more senior roles. Being gone for a few weeks more likely means that organizations will just try to get by, leaving challenges and backlogs when parents come back to work.

      1. Jennifer Thneed*

        I often write training documents, and I used to use the bus analogy, but I disliked it so badly that I came up with “Your whole department wins the lottery and they ALL go on a cruise together”. Because I needed to make the point that the docs I was writing had to be good enough that another department in the same business could do the work if necessary, even if a little slower.

        In other words, I wasn’t writing a checklist of reminders, I was writing actual “how-to” documents, and that usually helped them aim for an appropriate level of detail.

        1. Thlayli*

          We actually have a lottery syndicate in my job. If we win 20 out of 27 of us will be gone. My boss was lamenting at lunch the other day how he should have joined the syndicate when he had the chance.

      2. Antilles*

        My old company used the creepily specific phrase of “a manager getting run over by a vehicle backing out of a space in the parking lot”. I never did get nerve to ask exactly *why* everybody felt the need to be so worryingly precise in their description.

        1. Jadelyn*

          …yeah, that’s one of those things like the weirdly specific “no doing [random weird thing] here” signs that you just know has to have some wild story behind it.

  33. New-ish Manager*

    Oh, I can definitely relate to this. My husband and I are thinking about starting a family and the idea of taking a mat leave is terrifying to me in some ways – however, I know that people will understand and will find ways (with my help) to make it work.

    I don’t think this sentiment is unusual. As a manager myself, it has been interesting to observe how staff members handle going on mat leave. Despite my re-assurances, almost everyone on staff who has taken leave has vocally expressed concern about making things difficult for everyone and “leaving us in the lurch”. It always turns out fine, even when it has seemed impossible to imagine functioning without that person.

    Good luck! You only have one life to pursue your dreams – if one of those is family, don’t let your job stand in your way!

  34. JD*

    You should do whatever you want but you won’t be 50 and pregnant if you wait a year. You are 26. It strikes a painful cord for me as someone who waited too long to have children and now cannot to hear that complaint.

    1. Rusty Shackelford*

      This a good point. I’m not suggesting you wait until “the right time.” I was about your age when I first started trying, and I was 34 when I finally got pregnant. So I’m not going to say you’ve got “all the time in the world.” But you’re 26. If you feel more comfortable waiting a year, or even six months, for things to settle down? That’s not throwing away your childbearing years.

    2. LSP*

      It sounds like she’s already had some trouble conceiving though, so her concerns may very well be justified.

    3. Friday*

      She may only be 26 but she’s been trying for a year with no success, which means she’s suffering from infertility in a clinical sense. It’s good she started trying somewhat “early” (mid 20s instead of mid-30s) but she could still have a long road ahead before birthing a child. If I were her, I would absolutely not take a year off because of work. For mental or other health reasons, sure, because the process is probably intense. But not because of work.

      1. Rusty Shackelford*

        Having been there and done that, I know it’s an intensely stressful process. And she’s stressed about the promotion. It may not be a bad idea to take a few months just to catch her breath before diving in again.

    4. Observer*

      You of all people should understand, then. Once you start putting off something like while waiting for “the right time” it becomes easy to push a year, then another, then another, then… This is especially problematic when what you are looking for is so poorly defined.

      It’s different than the person who decided to wait 6 months so she could go to a conference in a Zika zone. That’s a specific issue with a clear time line. If the OP had something like that going on, it would be different. But to put off having kids for an undefined and undetermined amount of time while waiting for an undefined “good time for the company” is a recipe for finding a ridiculous amount of time having passed with nothing to show for it.

      1. Jen S. 2.0*

        “…what you are looking for is so poorly defined.”

        Or, frankly, nonexistent. There may never be a good time. If there is a good time, it may be 3 days long. OP would love for everything to be perfect, but perfect doesn’t exist. She can’t time her pregnancy around this mythical perfect 12 weeks where nothing important is happening. Further, once OP has a child, that child may well need her attention during busy times at work. Kids don’t time illnesses or injuries or soccer tournaments or whatever around busy times at work. You just have to make it work. That starts now.

      2. VerySleepyPregnantLady*

        Yep. For two years, my husband and I kept doing to the “now’s not a good time” song and dance. Eventually, we said F-it. Now is still not the best time. But the best time may have not come for a decade, and then we’d be 40 instead of 30. And my brother in law & sister in law just went through this. An IVF twin pregnancy at age 42 has resulted in micro premies and a ton of medical, professional, and financial complications. It was the “right” time for them, but there were steep costs in waiting so long.

        There are BAD times to aim to have a kid (sole breadwinner just lost a job? Use those condoms), but no time is really ideal. If you keep waiting for the ideal time, it may never come.

  35. LSP*

    When I was pregnant with my son, my manager’s wife was pregnant at the same time. Our due dates were within four days of each other, and we had our babies two weeks apart.

    At the time, my manager and I were nearly the entire team for a couple of different high-impact projects. Although he wasn’t recovering from giving birth himself, he obviously wanted to spend a few weeks at home helping out his wife, This meant that from the time his wife gave birth to the time I returned from maternity leave, our team was 50% absent. Deadlines got pushed back, but work kept happening, and no one, at all, gave the slightest hint at being aggravated about that being the case.

    It sounds like you’ve been through enough stress just trying to get pregnant (something I’m going through now trying for my second), and there is no reason you should put your job before your family if that’s not something you want to do. They will survive, and if your company, or anyone in it, feels emboldened to lay on a guilt trip or anything of the kind, run for the hills, because that’s not a healthy place to work.

  36. Gandalf the Nude*

    Fellow HR professional here. It’s easy to feel like we’re indispensable, and over a truly extended period of time, not having the expertise of someone dedicated to our various functions can end up having huge consequences for a company. But there’s a reason most organizations don’t have a dedicated HR professional until they reach a certain size, and it’s that it’s not hard to outsource most of what we do, either to other departments or third parties. The general, keep the company running stuff can be picked up pretty easily–it’s just a matter of keeping track of it. The higher level stuff that you’ll be responsible for at the director level is not generally so urgent that it can’t go on the back burner for a few months, and the things that are can usually be handled by committee or someone higher up. None of that is ideal, but it’s functional, or as Alison put it, “not perfect but good enough.”

    Now story time: I am also an HR professional, but I started this job as a temp with no HR experience brought in to assist a one-man HR department. My first three weeks were spent on filing and data entry. And then my boss died. For 4 months, I, the n00b, handled payroll and benefits and workers comp and all the other little things that people don’t even realize we do. I had no idea what I was doing, but between google and brokers and customer service reps, everyone got paid, no one lost their insurance, and nothing fell apart. It sucked, but it worked. If we did it with no notice, I’m confident your long notice period here won’t be nearly the disaster you’re envisioning.

  37. Mike B.*

    1) What everybody else said.

    2) Won’t they be backfilling your old position after you’re promoted? Having another staff member in place and up to speed would definitely ease the transition.

    3) I suspect you’re simply too close to the problem to see the answer. If your assistant were panicking about her upcoming leave and making plans to keep doing her job remotely even as a brand-new parent, what would you say to her? This is a pretty standard problem for HR.

  38. Ann O'Nemity*

    DO NOT put your life and personal plans on hold.
    DO NOT turn down a promotion or other job opportunity because you want to have a baby.

    DO document your processes and SOPs, cross-train your team, and cultivate a list of temps and contractors that can be hired when you and/or your team takes extended leave.

    The last bit will be particularly helpful since you know you may be taking maternity leave. It’s also good practice for any role or team.

  39. Anon for This*

    Alison…I would be curious if your response would be different if this person wasn’t protected by FMLA? Because of too few employees within 50 miles?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      It would still be appropriate for her to say “I’m not going to be reachable while I’m on leave, and here’s the plan for keeping things running in my absence.” But depending on the circumstances, it might also be reasonable for her to say “if you absolutely need me for something, you can email me at (address) but be aware I may not be checking that more than once a week.” (And in general, if you do that, it’s good to have only one person who’s authorized to contact her there, with all requests being funneled through that person, who has instructions about what really rises to the level of bothering her.)

      1. Anon for This*

        Thanks for the feedback. I was curious if FLMA status of the employer might change the advice, and it sounds like it really doesn’t.

      2. mk*

        A few years ago a very high level (and awesome) VP at my company went out on maternity leave.

        In addition to the big picture things (she had strong leaders in place for all her teams and projects were on the right track) she left a very detailed flow chart on an internal company site. (“If this is a question about potions documentation ask Horace. If he doesn’t know the answer ask Severus”)

        A few things lead to her boss. The only things that lead to contacting the employee on leave was “this is a people problem” and even then only her boss could do it.

        Everything was fine and when she came back we were very happy for her enjoyed seeing pictures of her son.

    2. Antilles*

      Can’t speak for Alison, but for me, FMLA protection (or lack thereof) doesn’t change it. Even without FMLA, my answer would still be “Do your life and let the company deal with it”. Several reasons:
      1.) Most decent human beings react to the news of someone getting pregnant with happiness. Regardless of their legal obligations under FMLA, if the company is willing to fire/discipline you over having kids…well, that’s a major issue even if they’re legally in the clear.
      2.) The overall reasoning that the company should be able to muddle through is accurate regardless of FMLA protections – after all, FMLA does nothing to stop you from quitting, winning the lottery, or getting into a car accident.
      3.) Even if OP decided to wait for a while for things to settle, there’s no guarantee a better time would arrive. Maybe the busy season gets extended. Maybe the assistant leaves the company. Maybe the company hires a bunch of new people, so the workload for HR drastically increases. Maybe it takes long enough to get pregnant that the due date ends up for the 2019 busy season instead of 2018. This is all way out of your control, but if you really want to, you can *always* invent reasons why Now Is a Bad Time.

  40. StellaM*

    You’re in HR. What would happen if people in other departments were pregnant (or sick, or quit, etc.) at a busy time? You’d hire on contract or change priorities or figure it out – and your employer will too. You’re in HR, you know how it works.

    Also, I agree with Alison: “I don’t know if you were being hyperbolic when you said “HR fights for our staff day in and day out,” but HR’s job isn’t typically to fight for employees. It’s to help the organization succeed (in areas like staffing, compensation, benefits, training, and legal compliance), which certainly sometimes can include advocating for employees — but that advocacy isn’t the core mission, unless your organization is quite unusual. If there’s truly a need for you to fight for your staff every day, the organization has problems bigger than what HR can solve.”

    1. McWhadden*

      Sometimes an organization is its own worst enemy. And if HR isn’t fighting to make sure everyone gets their overtime or the benefits they are entitled to then the organization will prevent that from happening.

      This is especially true in organizations that have a lot of low-paid often foreign born non-exempt staff. Like hospitals or hospices.

      By fighting for the employees HR can be doing best by the company, which could be on the hook for a big class action lawsuit down the line.

      1. Observer*

        That’s all true. But if that’s going on, then it’s also true that the problems at the org are bigger than the OP can fix.

        1. McWhadden*

          No doubt about that. But I’m just not surprised at that particularly comment in this one particular industry, is all.

  41. Tegularius*

    To add to what has already been said above, perhaps imagine this scenario:

    Your best friend comes to you and asks you the same question you’ve just asked Alison. Would you tell her that she should postpone trying to get pregnant, that she’s too indispensable to the company for them to cope without her for a few months, that she needs to stay and do her job rather than start the family she dreams of?

    It seems unlikely, right? My guess is you’d tell her that she should take the promotion and, if she should happen to become pregnant (or even if both she and her colleagues fall pregnant at the same time) her company would find a way to manage.

    1. Agent Diane*

      I was thinking this. And what you’d say if a male employee asked if he should put plans on hold “in case”.

      My place does good paternity leave, plus shared parental leave (we’re in the UK where there is statutory mat leave). And we cope just fine with all kinds of variations of leave by senior leaders. You will be able to delegate who makes decisions in your absence (or who to escalate to) and your employer can get mat cover.

  42. Another Type "A"er*

    If the OP is reading these comments, please consider getting a handle on your anxiety before having a baby. I’ve been there…trying to plan everything to the last detail, and ruminating on all the possible issues with a specific scenario. But having a baby forced me to change all that. I had a difficult delivery coupled with a difficult and very painful postpartum recovery, and work was the last thing on my mind. In fact, I also planned trying to conceive around work and family obligations (like job interviews and weddings), and now I wonder if subconsciously I actually didn’t want to change my entire life with a child. Of course, now my kiddo is here, and I’m making it work, but I also learned that a baby truly changes everything, and that you very likely will not be able to plan and control for everything like you used to. Good luck with whatever the future has in store for you, and please take good care of yourself with whatever you decide to do in your life.

    1. Atalanta0jess*

      Babies certainly teach you to be flexible, don’t they? And also to prioritize. I feel like having one has helped me become more assertive and set priorities more appropriately.

    2. LSP*

      This is a good point, in terms of understanding that no matter how well you think you’ve planned, you will never have planned well enough when it comes to having a baby.

      My mother is a midwife, and despite being super supportive throughout my whole pregnancy, she told me that while having a birth plan is nice and all, it’s something that nurses tend to roll their eyes at while patting you on the head, because it hardly ever goes to plan.

      For instance, I really, REALLY wanted a natural birth. Well, after I was 2+ weeks overdue, my doctor said we needed to induce. Oh, and MY doctor wasn’t actually there, so it was a different one from the practice. Then the pitosin didn’t take ( I had zero contractions). Then the baby’s heart rate kept dropping into dangerous territory, so the doctor finally said I needed to consider a c-section. I had a choice here though: get an epidural and be awake through the c-section, or keep trying for natural birth, which probably wasn’t going to happen, in which case I would be knocked out for the c-section and be all groggy when getting to meet my baby for the first time.

      It sucked having everything go so far from what I wanted, but I knew to expect that things were more likely to go that way than to be the childbirth experience of my dreams. At the end of the day, my son was born healthy, I recovered, and I have a thriving career and wonderful family.

        1. Caro in the UK*

          I can’t speak for the US, but here almost all C-sections are performed with the mother awake (but with local anesthesia, obviously). It seems to be considered much safer, and better for mother and baby. General anesthesia is only used in specific, exceptional circumstances.

          1. aebhel*

            It’s the same in the US. Emergency C-sections may be done under general anesthetic (because it’s faster, I think), but most routine ones are done with an epidural.

          2. Agnodike*

            Confirming that’s true for both the US and Canada. We only use general anaesthesia if there’s an emergency so immediate that there’s no time for a spinal to take effect, or if someone has a particular physical difference that would make it impossible for them to have a spinal. There’s a drape up between the pregnant person’s head and belly, so they can’t see the surgery being performed (which, yes, would probably be unsettling for most people!)

    3. I woke up like this*

      Any chance you had a severe tear? Your story resonated with mine. There’s so much you just can’t plan! I had an easy conception and pregnancy, and then a birth that required months of physical therapy. I’m 36 weeks pregnant and doing it all over again, but I always stress to expecting parents that there is just so little you have control over throughout this entire process.

  43. LizM*

    I have a mentor/former boss who once told me, if an employee is irreplaceable, there’s been some failure in management. Employees get new jobs, they go on vacation, they go on medical leave, they go on family leave. Sometimes the employer will have plenty of warning (6 months or so for a normal pregnancy), sometimes they’ll get a few minutes (an emergency that occurs while an employee is on their way to work). A healthy organization understands and plans for that.

    That advice really helped me put things in perspective.

    It’s great to be able to time your pregnancy if you can. I have friends who are teachers who try to time their pregnancies around summer breaks, or tax professionals who try to avoid giving birth between January and April. And you may get lucky and get pregnant right away. But I was one who struggled with fertility, it took me 2 1/2 years and several months of hormones to get pregnant. Good bosses understand that there is an element of family planning that cannot be controlled.

    Based on that, I would say, if you and your husband feel ready, start trying. The same mentor told me that, in the grand scheme of things, 12 or 16 weeks is a blip in a 30 year career. If an organization can’t survive that, they’re not stable and I’d be looking for another job regardless of whether I was planning on having children.

    1. LizM*

      That said, I will say that it may make sense to postpone trying if you want to spend the year focusing on your new job. I put off trying for a couple years because I was pushing hard on some professional goals. Even though getting pregnant was harder once I started trying, I don’t regret that decision. But it was because it’s what *I* wanted to do, not something I felt I owed my company.

      But I had an end goal in mind, I knew when my fellowship would be complete and I’d have achieved what I wanted to achieve in that push. Reading through your question, it doesn’t sound like that’s the case for you, there’s no end in sight. So if you decide now isn’t the right time, what conditions would make it the right time, and are those conditions within your control? If they’re not, think really hard about whether you want to condition your family planning decisions on them.

    2. City Planner*

      I want to underline this point – 12 weeks (or so) is such a short period of time in the scheme of a career, or even in the scheme of an individual job. I took 12 weeks with both my kids, and for my first, my job kind of jerked me around about planning for maternity leave (the first was small enough to not be covered by FMLA). When I returned to my job after 12 weeks (12 weeks that I had to fight to get because they weren’t sure they could spare me), my boss’s comment was “oh, are you back already?”

      They will get by without you. Don’t plan your family around your job.

  44. CJ*

    I’m the director of a nonprofit and the only staff member. I recently took maternity leave and had to count on various board members to hold things together while I was away. It was not perfect, some non critical things had to give, and I came back to a big list to catch up on — but they survived, and your company will too. Women shouldn’t need to sacrifice their careers to have babies. Model that for your employees by claiming that promotion and enjoying your family!

  45. Jennifer Thneed*

    OP: setting the other HR stuff aside, payroll is definitely something that can be taken care of by a “temp” from a professional agency. You can hire all sorts of people on a temporary basis these days, even accountants. (But you probably want to use the specialty agencies, not a general admin-skills one.)

  46. Been there*

    I find it so ironic that a soon to be HR director is wondering how the team will cope. The answer “Like every other department does” Aren’t you in a position to influence how your company handles employee leave?

    If it’s not maternity it’s short term medical leave. If it’s not maternity or ST medical, it’s something else. I mean, what would you tell the Marketing Director, Sales Director, or any other leader in your organization who came to you with the same problem? At my company they tell you ‘good luck, I hope you are cross training’. I’m really trying not to come off as snarky but this is a problem your employees are facing everyday on their teams.

    I’d use this opportunity to understand how short term leaves are affecting your organization and really start to look at what you can do to help.

  47. Lily in NYC*

    Your company will survive without you for a few months – none of us is truly indispensable. They already know all about this, so I don’t understand the reluctance. I know it’s easy to get completely wrapped up in this stuff when you are trying to get pregnant, but please remember that you are not the first busy woman to have a baby – it can be done and you shouldn’t feel guilty or second-guess yourself for prioritizing your personal life over work.

  48. Tim C.*

    Been through this, twice. Only it was my wife having the baby. If I did it all over again I would do it younger, like you are. (Very smart BTW) I postponed family making far far too long.
    If the thought of such a promotion is this distressing, I would recommend not taking it. My experience with promotions and management in healthcare are they give you very little compensation for the promotion. In my opinion, it is not worth it. I can smell the panic in your letter and it makes me believe your department is short staffed. No offense, but I would also question the decision of promoting someone with few years experience to director level. Can your upper management see where your department’s labor weaknesses are? Age 26 would put you 4 years out of college. So are you sure you are ready to be a director? My personal observation is healthcare works the krap out of managers. I gladly took a step down for a small pay reduction and far far less stress and hours. You only have one family. They should come first.

  49. Anon Preggo*

    So, my boss is out on maternity during one of our busiest times this year due to one Big Project. I’m going out on mat leave in a few months myself. And we just had a Bad Natural Disaster strike our area. So things are OK but definitely not ideal. I am probably not working through the Big Project with the amount of finesse she has in the past, and I’ve made a few goofy mistakes that I have been able to fix, thankfully. And we’re cutting some corners because the Big Project timeline is compressed this year (decided on by upper management, before Bad Natural Disaster, and they don’t want to lengthen it at all since then). So it is what it is and we’re getting through it.

    My boss has also not checked in with me after the disaster (she knows my family is fine) about work or life or anything and that ‘s GOOD. She’s taking a true maternity leave, despite all of this, and I couldn’t be happier that she is because that’s exactly what I want to do in a few months as well.

  50. CR*

    There is no such thing as an employee who is indispensable or irreplaceable. We have new Popes every few years for goodness sakes. They will cope without you.

  51. Anancy*

    I agree with previous comments in regards to planning your life around your needs, not your companies. That said, it sounds like you are dealing with a lot of stress and heartbreak around trying to get pregnant. I’ve been there and it sucks. Does saying to yourself “My company needs me and I can’t go on maternity leave so I need to take a break from trying to get pregnant.” give you a sense of relief? If so, would taking a couple months off from trying to get pregnant be something you’d like to do? After trying for a long time, and having a miscarriage, I found it a relief to give myself a break from trying and waiting and anticipating and planning. I was able to just focus on other parts of my life. After a few months I was ready to try again.
    Don’t put babies on hold for your job, but put it on hold for you if that’s something you need.

    1. Gloucesterina*

      Anancy, this is extraordinarily compassionate advice! I have never tried to become pregnant so I have no idea what it’s like but it seems worth sitting with the question of how one can reduce stress in the moment.

  52. Clever Alias*

    LW, I felt exactly this stress when I had my daughter last year. I told them to call me, email me, keep me cc’ed. Give me three weeks and I’ll be right back at it. I “had” to be.

    The moment they put that little girl in my arms, I forgot all about them for 12 blissful weeks. It was a very important break from work for me. My priorities re-aligned, magically, though I swore they wouldn’t.

    It was also good for my company. With me not there to put out fires, they finally saw the fires I was keeping under control. I came back to a sincere we missed you, as well as a slight re-org that shifted things in my favor and the ability to hire junior staff.

    It could be the best damn thing that happens to your career.

    (FYI – maternity leave, while a nice break from work, was by no means a vacation. Oy. Another story. :) )

    1. Cristina in England*

      “My priorities re-aligned, magically, though I swore they wouldn’t.”

      Yeah, evolution is a funny thing. Babies are extremely well designed that way. ;-)

    2. RVA Cat*

      Plus a sane company should not want you making decisions on zero sleep with a newborn, any more than they should want someone working high on painkillers from surgery.

  53. Master Bean Counter*

    OP-You’ll be the HR director. It will be well with-in your powers to ensure that you have good temps in place to help cover the holes. You have the control, use it!

  54. Nonprofit Chicago*

    First – congrats on your upcoming promotion! Take it, and regardless of work keep pursuing your family plans on the best timeline for you and your partner. I write this as a still “new” executive director of a non-profit, 9 weeks away from having my first child. We in the midst of hiring a new management team, putting together a strategic plan, and running large-scale, time-sensitive fundraising campaigns. The show will go on (or will just have to go on) while I’m out working on the most important adventure in my husband’s and my life – growing our family. The great thing about pregnancy is you have 6-7+ months to plan to be out. You clearly have the confidence of management and you should very conscientious. I am sure something can be figured out. Hopefully your next question will be that you are expecting, and how can you best support your company during this time of transition? We can all weigh in on ideas for managing the workload while you are away! Good luck!

  55. Cristina in England*

    I am concerned about why you are so worried about these things, OP, and where these worries come from. Is your workplace dysfunctional and or toxic? Are you generally a worrier? Were you brought up to believe that a person’s worth was measured solely through work?

    I am especially curious as to why you are anticipating things that, as Alison pointed out, are illegal (I am assuming your org is large enough to fall under FMLA if you have an HR dept). So, why do you assume this? Is it because your org doesn’t follow employment laws? The mention of fighting for employees steers me in that direction but I would love it if you could come back and give us more info about where you’re coming from. As others said above, might be time to get promoted then get out!

    1. Karen W.*

      Many, many US employers do things that are illegal regarding FMLA and childbirth. Quite a lot of them have no idea that those things are illegal, mostly because they have never been called on it. Some of them know those things are illegal and don’t care because they think that FMLA is a stupid law and should never have been passed. You’d be amazed how often the latter is true.

  56. Maya Elena*

    I am lower on the totem pole than director, but I am the only analyst and experienced Excel user in my business unit. As such, I was freaking out about what I didn’t finish (training! Documentation! Backing up files!) when I went into labor a week or two before my due date.

    I came back after my 12 weeks ans POOF: my projects hadn’t really moved or crashed down burning, nobody seemed to have missed me other than on a personal level, and the monthly reports got done somehow.

    I expect, if your company isn’t staffed by idiots, a similar thing will happen to you.

  57. CanCan*

    Definitely don’t put your family planning on hold! Imagine how you will beat yourself up in 30 years if you postpone your childmaking plans for a couple of years and then never succeed. Will the thought that you didn’t inconvenience your company be a big solace? I doubt it.

    Now, if you do get pregnant, and the department does “fall apart” and cause a big mess for the company, – what will you think in 30 years’ time? “I wish I hadn’t had my wonderful son/daughter! ABC Inc. might still be in business. I woudn’t be working for DEF Inc. – though that worked out pretty well. “… nope, doesn’t work.

    Maybe if the company was your creation and the product of your dreams, blood, sweat and tears. Maybe then it would be worth it.

    Take the promotion too. And congrats!

  58. prgrmmngr*

    I was working in a small department (3 pe0ple) at a small non-profit (25 employees) when I got pregnant, and there was no redundancy in my position. In addition, my boss was overly dependant on me – the program had previously become essentially inactive when I needed time off for knee surguries. There were a few things that I did to prepare the organization as well as I could for my leave and structured my leave in a way that worked well for my organization and me.

    First – I started putting together documents that detailed how I did many aspects of my job that are absolutely essential (in my case, it was mostly federal compliance issues). I made sure those were distributed to a number of people (COO, my boss, a colleauge, some of our finance team) in oarder to make sure there were no excuses for this work not getting done, and did so as it was coming together so people had a chance to review and ask questions.

    Second – I structured my leave so that I wasn’t completely unavailable for 12 weeks. I took 8 weeks off completely, and then worked part time for 8 weeks, with my son in tow. People loved having a baby in the office (I was the 2nd woman to have a baby in the 13 years I worked there). This worked out really well, especially since I had a federal deadline with unknown dates when I went on leave, knowing that it would be announced while I was on leave and possibly due before I returned. Another team member was able to get the work 80% done, my federal contact was able to reach out to my personal email to let me know when announcements were made and documents would be due, and it was easy to complete when I came back part time.

    Finally, I did what I believed was reasonable (ie, I connected with our bank after our team managed to get locked out of a service we needed and they recognized that the guy with an Middle Eastern accent calling wasn’t their primary female contact with an Irish name) and refused to feel guilty or take on more than I had time and energy for. I had nothing to do with the endless snow before I went on leave, or the fact that my boss took a vacation in the weeks leading up to my due date. If things weren’t perfect because of these, that wasn’t my issue. I took calls at times when I knew I would have help, which was often in the evening.

    The guy who did the bulk of filling in for me was a recent collegx grad who had been in his position for about six months when I went on leave. I knew his work because he had interned for me a couple of years earlier, but he really stepped up and has since excelled – I think this was an opportunity for him to shine. I left that organization when my son was 4.5 months old, and the program did flounder after I left, but the documents I put together helped through a change in leadership for the program after I left, and the new director as well as past and present executive leadership have let me know that what I did to prepare for leave made transitions go as well as they can (and they’ve hired me for occasional consulting work).

    Ultimately, preparing for leave can be a great experience, and having a child is as well. Do what you can for your office, but don’t plan your family around your employer.

    1. Laverne*

      “I took 8 weeks off completely, and then worked part time for 8 weeks, with my son in tow. People loved having a baby in the office”

      While I commend you for giving such thorough advice, respectfully…please *don’t* do this. I don’t want babies in my office for extended periods. Some people may be OK with it, but others are not. Your office’s reaction wasn’t necessarily typical. It’s also possible that your co-workers didn’t really want a baby in the office but were too polite to be candid about it.

  59. zapateria la bailarina*

    your company doesn’t care about you half as much as you care about them. make decisions about your family and your workplace will adapt.

  60. Rebelina11*

    There is NEVER a “right” time to get pregnant. There’s always going to be something that goes wrong or something that’s “not quite right.” Just continue TTC’ing as you are – the work stuff will sort itself out.

    I do agree with Alison, though, regarding advocating non-stop for your employees. As HR myself, that’s not your main job. You’re young and *maybe* relatively new to HR, but we need to protect the company first and foremost, THEN you advocate for employees. It’s just the nature of that particular beast.

    I do wish you the best of luck with TTC – don’t stress about work, as that’s never good! Just focus on your efforts to have a baby.

  61. AK*

    I can’t wait for the update on this one that says “got the promotion, had the baby, everything was fine!”

    1. Been there*

      I’m not sure, some of the updates lately have been pretty far out there. With the way some have been we’d probably see “Got the promotion, baby turned out to be an alien, and they hired elvis while I was out”

      Kidding aside, I think the OP was feeling a lot of stress at the time of writing this letter and I’m sure things have settled in now.

  62. Health Insurance Nerd*

    LW, if you wait for the right time to get pregnant, it will never come. There will always be something happening, some kind of stress and obligation; I encourage you to continue on the family planning course you’re on, and I promise that one way or another, things will be ok at work.

  63. Good Company*

    Just a bit of perspective: 12 weeks is really not that long of a time. Where I’m from people take 12-18 MONTHS leave. More if they have children back to back.

  64. Sarah*

    I will be going on maternity leave in about 3 months, and I totally understand the instinct to try and make myself available — luckily my manager will have none of it and every time I suggest coming in for just this one thing or doing an important meeting over Skype, she reminds me that I won’t just be on vacation, and my maternity leave is protected. (She is awesome!) Of course there are some “non-ideal” solutions, but at the same time, 9 months is actually a really long time to plan ahead for coverage. Even if you don’t tell other people at work until the second trimester, 6 months is also a long time. We’ve been able to figure out different ways to cover my various duties, and also some of them just won’t happen which is okay too. I am probably similar to you in that it does bug me to know that certain tasks won’t be done in the “ideal” way I might have done them, and that I am inconveniencing some of my coworkers. But, honestly, everything will be fine and also it’s not as if I would be upset to cover for my coworkers if they were having a baby/got sick/etc. so it’s not like I’m asking them for something I haven’t/wouldn’t/won’t do in the future!

    1. Elizabeth the Ginger*

      “9 months is actually a really long time to plan ahead for coverage. Even if you don’t tell other people at work until the second trimester, 6 months is also a long time.”

      Yes! You can even lay some of the groundwork for your absence before you’re even pregnant – updating documentation for common processes, organizing information that a replacement would need, etc. These are all good practices in general and would be worthwhile to do even if you weren’t planning an absence. I’m a teacher and have a one-year-old, and I’m so happy this year with how organized all my unit plans are. I got them all nice and neat a year and a half ago for my long-term sub, and now I’m reaping the benefits myself. It’s a little like how I only get my house the actual cleanest when I’m going to have house guests – but then get to enjoy the really-clean house myself even after they leave. (Until it all goes to chaos again, as it always does. Oh well.)

  65. Sara*

    On the non-work side of things, OP, I’m sending mental support your way. I know how hard it is to see that negative test every month and how helpless it can make you feel. (It took us almost two years and two miscarriages; I’m seven months along now and I still get nervous thinking something’s going to go wrong again.) Wishing you success both in babymaking and in professional life.

  66. Isabelle*

    “As much as I want a child, I don’t want to put my company in a bad place.”
    You are far too loyal to your employer. If the company suddenly decided to outsource HR and put you out of a job, I can promise you whoever made that decision would not care about putting YOU in a bad place.
    Just go ahead with your plans and good luck!

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      To be fair, many people who make those decisions do care very much about putting people in a bad place. But they still do make those decisions, because that’s the job.

      1. Observer*

        True. They might very well care. But how many companies would actually NOT outsource a function if they felt they could really do better, just because it would put the current employees in a bad place? As you say that’s the job. And that’s really the thing the OP needs to remember. Not that her employers are evil People Who Don’t Care TM, but that they WOULD do something that put her in a bad spot if they needed to or if it was better for the organization.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Absolutely, and I know that’s the point being made — but I always want to point out that this idea that people are totally callous about cutting jobs is really often not true.

      2. Amazed*

        Thank you so much for making this distinction. There isn’t enough of it in this world and it leads to some very hateful statements when it’s left out.

  67. Leslie Knope*

    I also want to point out that so far, there is only your assistant that’s pregnant! As a super worrier, the best advice I’ve received is to not dwell on the “what ifs” but focus on the actual situation at hand. As many of the commenters have mentioned, should the stars align and all three of you are gone at the same time, your company would still survive! But still, focus on the facts and understand that your problem solving is best used when applied to the actual situation. It’s not irresponsible to take the promotion and continue trying to get pregnant!

  68. Stephanie (HR Manager)*

    To comment on Alison’s asterisk, I work HR in healthcare as well. There’s this phenomenon in healthcare: eating your young. Manager sometimes do it too. Add this on top of my theory that (IN GENERAL–I’ve seen the exceptions that prove the rule), the kind of people that make good nurses don’t make good managers (different skill sets.) So HR in Healthcare can in fact be spending more time than you would expect talking managers into providing training and feedback instead of firing.

  69. Amanda*

    I waited six months to get pregnant for one reason only – to make sure I would reach a years tenure in my role before going on maternity leave so that I would qualify for paid leave. That’s the only reason I waited – leaving my workplace in the lurch a year after starting didn’t even register!

    I’m now two weeks off going on maternity leave for a year – a year! My workplace will survive, I’ve left comprehensive handover notes for the contractor filling my position.

    She has a different skill set than me, and some of the things I normally do will not be done to my usual standard…but you have to learn to let that go because she has other skills which means she can take on some of those back burner projects that I never got around to.

    Maybe view this as an opportunity for your organisation as much as anything else – if they are able to get a temp HR person in to cover as some people have suggested above, this temp may have skills in other areas that helps achieve some other goals for the organisation that you’ve not been able to get to.

  70. Agnodike*

    I deliver babies for a living and I also had a baby six months ago. My pregnancy was super, super, super planned, because in the baby biz we’re always planning nine months ahead in terms of our patient roster, so pretty much as soon as I knew I was pregnant we set the wheels in motion for planning my leave. Then I got sick – like, really sick – and I had to go on leave at 12 weeks pregnant. I had patients who were depending on me, with whom I’d built a relationship, whom I suddenly left in the lurch. And guess what? They were all fine! My excellent colleagues took them on, they had their babies, they sent me get-well cards with adorable baby pictures in them, and I focused on what I needed to focus on: keeping myself and my tiny fetus alive. I had my baby, all was well, and now I’m enjoying my parental leave.

    There is no right time to have a baby. There’s no right time for your work, or your finances, or your readiness, or the rest of the landscape of your life. Doesn’t exist. And once you have a baby, the old version of normal you’ve enjoyed is gone forever. A carefully planned life trajectory with every step accounted for and everything done just so is for robots. There’s no such thing as a human life that proceeds according to schedule, and having a baby will teach you that in the first week.

    Your work isn’t your life. Your life is your life. Work is part of it, but is it really the most important part? Is it more important than your family, and than your other goals? Are the needs of your employer and your colleagues more important than your family’s needs? Balancing the different aspects of your life is something that just gets harder in the post-baby world, so it’s probably not a terrible idea to get your priorities sorted out pre-baby!

    Good luck!

  71. OhBehave*

    Congratulations on the promotion!

    I think just about everyone here is saying if you want to start a family, do it! You do not put your life on hold for a job.

    All the planning in the world will not prepare you for being pregnant and having a baby. What if you’re put on bedrest because you have a high-risk pregnancy? You want a natural birth but you have to have a C-section?

    That being said, you can start planning for your absence right now. If your work is such that you have recurring, monthly tasks, start focusing on that now. What happens every January? etc. Or start task by task.

    There aren’t too many of us who are indispensable. Yes, there are task that maybe only we know how to do; but that’s easily fixed. Those tasks that are specific to you only; start documenting. Don’t forget adding in the ‘if this happens, do this’ items.

    Above, do not let the worry about something that hasn’t even happened yet stop you from living your life. Your loyalty is commendable, but it’s your life. Live it!

  72. imaskingamanager*

    you sound like a dedicated employee. Do NOT let this job turn into something that keeps you from having teh life you want. Believe me, they will figure it out. You can do some things to help them–many of the suggestions about how to prepare for a leave are really good. Best of luck to you.

  73. Jaydee*

    Dont forget that parental leave is one of the easiest types of extended leave to plan for. Right now it feels like the progression is: 1) accept promotion, 2) almost immediately get pregnant, 3) almost immediately abandon your team for 12 weeks (aka “an eternity”). In reality it goes more like this: 1) accept promotion, 2) feel like you’re drowning because new job is so hard, but then start feeling like you’re figuring it out, 3) at some point find out you’re pregnant, 4) spend 6-8 weeks sipping ginger ale, eating saltines, trying to barf silently, and worrying that your co-workers know what’s up, 5) tell people that you’re pregnant, 6) spend a few weeks of people congratulating you, asking when you’re due, asking if it’s a boy or girl, asking how you’re feeling, 7) start showing, resulting in a whole new round of congratulations and questions, 8) hopefully start feeling better, 9) still have about 4-5 months of growing increasingly large, answering the same questions over and over and over (“18 weeks, we’re having a boy, no names picked yet, feeling pretty good, yes I’m taking 12 weeks, yes I’m coming back after that, oh thanks for the recommendation but I already have a placenta encapsulation person lined up…”), and getting things in order for your leave. Even if you go into labor early or end up on bed rest or something you have MONTHS to plan for your leave. That doesn’t mean it will go seamlessly. But it does make it much easier than if you just had a heart attack tomorrow and we’re out for 12 weeks with no time to plan anything.

    The real reason that so many women freak out about maternity leave is not the leave itself. Employers and coworkers can deal! It’s all the other baggage that comes with motherhood and the workplace. All the subtle (and not-so-subtle) hints that you aren’t committed to your work and the constantly growing reminder that YOU ARE FEMALE that you are literally carrying around with you. That’s what makes you (and me, I’m ashamed to say) plan childbearing around the convenience of our employers. It’s too late for me, but not for you. There is never a “perfect” time to have a baby (and if there is, then you can’t have a baby then – it’s like frequent flyer blackout dates). Don’t put your life on hold.

  74. cynical_george*

    OP – it might help if you realize that you are over-valuing your importance. No mid sized company will be that reliant on an individual. Someone could leave for planned or unplanned reasons at any time. I have worked many places where someone was thought to be indispensable but this has never turned out to be true. They were admittedly very good workers but when they left, the company dealt with it. Other skilled people are out there ready to take up the slack. Do not put off life for work. I have known many work-dedicated people, that especially in mid to large organizations are thrown out if the company needs to make savings or change direction. The decision on which jobs go is made high-up and is role-based. For example, we are getting rid of all middle managers, it is not Jane is dedicated we will keep her, Judy is a slacker we’ll let her go. Having shown dedication and ability to the job will not stop you being ditched for corporate economic or political reasons. Do not make that mistake, act in your own best interests.

  75. Katy*

    Having worked at a bunch of places where I usually felt like things would fall apart (payroll wouldn’t go out, the lights would get switched off, etc) if I took time out to have babies, I will say that getting your department organized and running to the point where you can step away is HUGE and a big testament to your abilities as a leader. In fact, I think lots of people should take 6 week sabbaticals to make sure that they aren’t bottle-necking and that they are creating systems that allow everyone to flourish. (and yeah, maternity leave should be more than 6 weeks and is no “sabbatical).

  76. Not That Jane*

    Ooh, I’ve had a lot of these same thoughts. Wondering what would happen with my job / organization if I needed maternity leave. Here’s what I eventually came to realize: it is part of the JOB of a good organization (or heck, a minimally functional organization) to ensure that its work is carried on when someone has to be out on leave. Maternity leaves are part of life! No decent organization can afford to be so fragile that one person’s leave jeopardizes its work. So when I did need maternity leave, and finding coverage for me was a struggle, I kept the stress of that at bay by reminding myself that there were people in my organization whose job it was to keep my classroom running without me.

    I also, to be honest, kind of saw it as a civil rights struggle: my maternity leave, and my personal reproductive plans and timeline, are things I have a right to. If I let the worry or pressure of my job curtail those rights, what message would that send to other young women in my position? And what message would it send to my organization about the needs or personal plans of its employees? (Note that this is NOT intended to be a guilt trip for anyone who thinks or chooses differently – it was just a mindset that helped me, personally, reconcile myself with the idea of leaving the classroom for months at a time.)

  77. Anon attorney*

    I admire your commitment but like everyone else has said, please put your own needs above the company’s. Nobody else cares about your needs and life plans as much as you do. It’s not just OK to prioritize them, it’s essential!

    I don’t have kids (and never wanted to) but I work in a team where just about everyone else has been on a maternity leave in the last five years. We have three people out just now. We have managed. I’m happy for my coworkers and don’t mind covering. Everyone understands that childbearing is a normal part of life and work has to accommodate it. Your company will too. If it doesn’t, do you really want to jeopardize your family for them anyway?

  78. Shay Simmons*

    In case no one else has brought this up:

    I’m a Red Cross volunteer and retired bioterrorism/emergency preparedness planner, so heed where I’m coming from. EVERY company (agency, organization, group) needs a COOP – Continuity Of Operations Plan. This is the plan that allows you to keep working and serving clients/customers/staff in the face of things like wildfires and hurricanes. It sounds like a great time for your company to revisit yours.

  79. Kiwi*

    6 weeks after I got my first promotion to manager, I was off work for 6 weeks. I was a brand new manager and it was a stressed, overworked, dysfunctional team. Me being away was a whole lot less than ideal but, you know, it all worked out. There were a couple of messes I had to clean up when I got back, but overall it was fine. People coped. And you’d have a lot more prep time than I had – you’ll be fine and so will your company.

  80. MissDissplaced*

    Well, I mean it’s not like you get pregnant and are immediately out for months! A lot of women work for a good 8 months or even just up to a week or two their delivery if all is well.
    So take the promotion and don’t put your life on hold. There are plenty of ways for this to work out.

  81. MommyMD*

    You are an integral employee but absolutely no one on earth is irreplaceable. They will get by. Take your FMLA when the time comes and don’t spend it stressing about work. Life at the job will go on. It really will.

  82. Stellaaaaa*

    I don’t think it’s necessarily about pregnancy; I think there are genuinely some jobs (they are rare but they exist) where you know ahead of time that you really can’t take a lot of time off. People who choose to accept those jobs know what they are getting into. They are people who live to work and likely don’t want children. However, I don’t think you are in one of those jobs. And please don’t factor other women’s pregnancies into your thoughts about this. I doubt they thought about your family planning while they were going about living their lives.

  83. Ruthie*

    Ask yourself if the decisions you make will matter in hours, days, weeks, months, or years. Don’t let your office’s months (and not even that many!) come before your family’s years.

  84. Wintermute*

    Once upon a time employers had veto power over personal decisions, by their ability to simply decline to let you come back if you took maternity leave. They abused this ability and basically gave people a “family or career” ultimatum and that’s why we have laws about maternity leave now.

    Never apologize for exercising your legal rights and never let someone try to convince you that you shouldn’t use them.

  85. drpuma*

    Think of this as an opportunity to set a positive example. If the *HR department* can’t make maternity leave work, what hope is there for any of the other women at your company? You’ve got this! Good luck with the baby-making!

  86. SimilarSituation*

    I’m in a very similar situation that is playing out currently. I am second in command of a very small 4.5 person team with a very important function at our midsize company. My boss and I are both currently 9 months pregnant, due 5 days apart. We hired and started training the 4th team member only 8 weeks ago for a job with a 4-6 month learning curve and the “.5 person” is an intern who works part time remotely. So once we go on leave in a couple of weeks we will have 1 junior staffer with a year of experience, one person with only 10 weeks experience and one part time intern running our department. But it will be ok, huge projects got postponed until my manager and I get back, the junior staffers will work with more seasoned people in other, tangentially related departments, and people will find a way to make it work. Sometimes non-ideal timing like this even gives junior team members a chance to show their strengths!

  87. Manic Pixie HR Girl*

    Am I the only one who thought the OP meant, by “fighting for staff”, that they were fighting management to get (and retain) the fill levels necessary to do the work expected of them?

    If that is what you meant, OP, take the promotion and start tracking metrics. Getting the systems in place to do so can be a bit of a workload, but not as much as you might think (we use a spreadsheet; the data entry is a bit cumbersome, but it works and isn’t a huge workload lift), and it will show a very clear picture of how much work your department produces. Doing this a couple of years ago gave us the leverage to significantly increase our staff, once we could show tangible proof of our work product.

    1. cynical_george*

      Maybe you were. The full quote does not support your interpretation but instead how Alison read it. “HR fights for our staff day in and day out, so what happens when HR is not there? Our staff wouldn’t have anyone to turn to and nothing would get done!”

  88. RB*

    I’m glad Alison mentioned temps. Unless you’re in a small town that is not near a city, there are mid-level HR staffers available from temporary staffing agencies. And you would have time to train them if you start looking for one before your last trimester. And, no, you don’t need to be in contact with your company at all during your leave. It will be good experience for them to deal on their own.

  89. Jen*

    As a Canadian, I still can’t believe you only get 12 weeks off work! I am just getting ready to return to work from my 52 week maternity leave. Trust me, you will need those 12 weeks at home with your baby. Your company will not implode without you so take the time and enjoy it! Then you can return to your newly promoted position and kick butt!

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