I’m worried my team will fall apart if I take maternity leave

A reader writes:

I’ve been offered a promotion to lead my department, but I have also 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 wanted me for the position.

However, if I get pregnant right away, I would be out on leave during the busiest time of the year, putting undue hardship on my company. 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 be accompanied by non-stop phone calls and emails. I would need to work from home because there are things in my job that only I can do.

I know that life goes on and you can’t plan for everything to be perfect, but I don’t want to have to be worrying about things getting done at work if I were to take 12 weeks of FMLA. 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 out of time. But as much as I want a child, I don’t want to put my company in a bad place.

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?

I answer this question over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them). You can read it here.

{ 143 comments… read them below }

  1. DrSalty*

    You must put your life and your family first. As you know it is very unpredictable when you might get pregnant. There is no optimal time. You just need to do it on your schedule when you are ready. Work will cope without you; they will have no other choice.

    1. Chilipepper Attitude*

      I came here to say that even before reading Alison’s response!

      Put your family first AND shut down any response from work. 12 weeks is a very short time, it is your time – USE IT!!

      1. rebelwithmouseyhair*

        12 weeks is a long time at work and absolutely nothing when it comes to tending a newborn baby! So OP should not entertain as much as a minute of work even if it were legal.

      2. Random Dice*

        I love that Alison pointed out that it’s ILLEGAL to work while on maternity leave, in the US.

        You can send a photo of your baby.

        That’s it.

    2. Not a butt*

      this! there’s a limit to how much you can plan when you get pregant and when you deliver. But also, don’t feel guilty for priotizing your family. Remember most people work to support our lives and family. overall work should serve that not the other way around.

    3. Dona Florinda*

      Right. Your employer will survive your maternity leave, the same way they will survive when you eventually leave, even if you stay there until retirement.
      Alison said it perfectly: don’t risk losing your best window to have kids because of your job.

      Also, my boss has been on maternity leave since February and won’t be returning for another two months. I thought it would be chaos, but the team manages just fine, and no one contacted her at all about work since.

      1. Rose*

        Yes! At the end of the day you’re just selling your labor to a company that purchases it. It’s a two way financial transaction. You wouldn’t put off having a child because you’d cancel your gym membership and you’d be worried they’d go out of business with the lost money right?

        1. Somebody Call a Lawyer*

          I love this analogy — it really puts the overemphasis on the company’s priorities into perspective.

    4. Artemesia*

      Some things are more important than others. Having a child is more important than any inconvenience it might create for your job. Make sure if you become pregnant that one of your more competent subordinates is trained to step in. Don’t hesitate to take the promotion or try for the child. And I hope you succeed.

      Learn to put your own interests and those of your family first. Jobs come and go; family is forever.

    5. Momma Bear*

      I agree. You are not 100% assured of anything – be it your own health and fertility or the health and growth of the company. Do not give a company more loyalty than your family – they certainly won’t sit back and think “well OP wants babies so we can’t lay her off.” Make a plan, assign an acting team lead, and take your maternity leave when it happens to occur. And I say when it happens because you never really know when a baby will be born. Do not strain yourself/stress yourself more than necessary. If the company is short staffed, push for more staffing for your team. Do not break yourself for your job.

      1. DataSci*

        “You never really know when a baby will be born” goes quadruple for adoption. My wife and I became parents on 24 hours notice – our son’s birth parents made their placement decision at the hospital. Both of our companies survived just fine (to be fair, she works for the US government which is more robust to single-point failures than most companies).

    6. The Shenanigans*

      Yup. What would they do if you quit or were hit by a bus or something? They’ll cope. They’ll have to. They aren’t ALLOWED to contact you that much while on FMLA anyway. Do what’s right for your family. Do enough for your company to fulfill your core obligations, and you’re fulfilling your end of the employment deal. Good luck!

  2. Dust Bunny*

    If your workplace crashes and burns once you leave, there are bigger problems there that you can’t fix.

    1. WellRed*

      Yep. OP if there are parts of your job only you can do, that should be the top priority to change when you get promoted. Unless it’s cashing your paycheck there shouldn’t be any tasks that only you can do.

      1. rebelwithmouseyhair*

        Yeah. Even getting pregnant straight away, there’s time to plan and train staff to step in when necessary.
        And it’s OK if a few things go wrong, if anything it’ll prove to your boss that you are an important contributor to the department.

    2. sofar*

      Yep, I read the “undue hardship on my company” part and was like, “There’s no such thing!”

      1. Mrs. Hawiggins*

        Exactly this. Not even jury duty thinks that’s a thing.

        We are not responsible for what our coworkers/teams/leads/managers can or cannot do. While on a recent vacation I happened to glance (quickly) at an email wanting to know how to order sandwiches from the deli across the street.

        Life comes first, last, and always. Work is just one of the joys (cue trumpet noise) that falls in between.

    3. Observer*

      If your workplace crashes and burns once you leave, there are bigger problems there that you can’t fix.

      Yes. 1,000 over!

    4. Reluctant Mezzo*

      This is why the ‘if I am hit by a bus’ file is so important. Because you could be kidnapped by a UFO. You could be hit by a bus. You could be chosen to go on Jeopardy. You could hit the MegaMillions ticket (that reminds me, I’d better buy mine). With a pregnancy, you have rather more warning on how to prepare for that busy time of year.

  3. Rick Tq*

    OP, start your family and don’t worry about the company, and especially do not worry about the team you currently manage. If you are a single point of failure right now start training your alternate so you WILL be able to take time off to care for your children.

    The team and the company will survive if you died. Your family and future children should have the highest priority in your life. Work is just work and will go on.

    1. DJ Hymnotic*

      “Especially do not worry about the team you currently manage”–YES. I work on a team with someone who is away on military orders a few months out of the year (like, an amount of time roughly equivalent to an FMLA leave our LW is talking about here). When they expressed feelings of guilt to me because of those absences, I told them not to feel guilty about “abandoning” us because they’re not the one leaving us high and dry–the issue is our employer refusing to give our team any additional temporary resources to cover those absences.

      Don’t worry about your team. You’re not abandoning them in order to have a child. Your employer is the one doing wrong by them by not setting them up to succeed in your absence, not you.

    2. Introvert Teacher*

      Was going to say this! If you died tomorrow, they would find a way to move on. Therefore, don’t put living your precious life on hold just for your job. I’m sure everyone at work will (or at least should) understand and agree that having a family is important, and there’s no perfect time to do anything.

  4. TKR*

    (roughly) half of the world population has children – it really isn’t that big of a deal! I have taken 10 weeks off and 16 weeks off – and both times there was catch up, but nothing burned down.

    It is a normal thing for people to have kids and take time off work. Any workplace that makes you feel like it is a Big Deal likely has other red flags.

  5. AthenaC*

    One of the great things about pregnancy is that you have several months notice before maternity leave. That is MORE THAN ENOUGH time for your company to develop a Plan B for the things that currently only you can do. And they will need to – you will not be able to work from home while on FMLA. Not just because it’s illegal (I think? I feel like an HR person told me that at some point) but because you literally will not be able to work while recovering from childbirth and figuring out your life with a new little person in your family.

    Go start your family if it’s the right time for YOU. Good luck!

      1. rebelwithmouseyhair*

        And a newborn baby needs its mama far more than any company ever needed any worker!!!

  6. Caramel & Cheddar*

    Like Alison says, the benefit of pregnancy is that you can actually plan ahead for your absence, which isn’t true in so many other scenarios! Your company knows what your plans are; there’s a pretty good chance they were assuming you’d be off on leave once promoted and they were fine with that. Trust that and make appropriate plans.

    I know it’s potentially your busy period, but twelve weeks is also not very long in a work context. If your team falls apart in a mere twelve weeks, your company probably has bigger problems than someone being off on maternity leave and it’s probably not your job to fix those wider problems.

    1. Quinalla*

      Yup, you have a long time to plan, usually 5-6 months if you wait to reveal after the third trimester which most people do. It will be fine, seriously! Yes it won’t be perfect when you are out, just like when anyone goes on vacation, but it doesn’t need to be. You will prep people as best you can and they will do their best and it will be just fine.

      Do NOT put your plans on hold. You never know what may happen with you journey to try and get pregnant. Some do get pregnant right away, but most do not and some even have infertility issues.

      I went on maternity leave twice myself, were their hiccups while I was out, sure, but everything was fine and folks were glad to have me back. I’ve picked up work when others were on maternity (and paternity) leave too, yes it doesn’t go perfectly, but from the not-on-leave side they are gone and back before you can hardly blink. Leave seems long when you are on it, but it is really short for the people who aren’t.

  7. Agency Escapee*

    I am currently on maternity leave and left during my team’s busiest time – and it turned out that my boss left a month into my leave! Anyone facing this situation should put their family first because timing isn’t always guaranteed for when you’ll get pregnant – but then also be as clear and up front as early as you can. I started planning for my leave June-Sept leave in January and spent five months creating extensive documentation for what I do and who would cover it but also clarifying the roles and responsibilities for everyone on my team so that they all had a crystal clear idea of their day to day work. I’m sure I didn’t cover every possibility, but having our systems documented, roles defined, and clarity for inter-department operations helped me to leave my team in a great spot. and from what I hear, they’re doing great in my absence!

    1. mlem*

      What are the odds that there just isn’t time to do that around the existing workload, though?

      (And what are the odds the company likes it just fine that way? At least until someone actually does leave or have an unexpected absence and the lack of backup burns the company, but then, that’s what they get for so badly misunderstanding “running at peak efficiency” and the like.)

      1. Ann*

        Things are pretty bad in some industries/regions now, though. My company is in a position where I could literally give nine months’ notice, and they would still not be able to plan around my absence. I know they’re trying a lot of things, but it’s all one step forward and one step back. I feel like we’re always one staff departure away from collapse. Just barely limping along. It’s gotten ridiculous – there’s now a pattern where we finally manage to hire one more person… and, count on it, within the week someone quits.

      2. Daisy-dog*

        Hopefully anyone in that situation will put in plans to prevent catastrophe and everyone else will just figure it out.

      3. bamcheeks*

        Then your company has problems that you can’t (and shouldn’t!) solve by forfeiting having children.

    2. christy7h*

      THIS! I took maternity leave this year from March – May, during the busy time. I also came back, my boss was retiring, and I got a promotion to C suite literally my first day back in the office. It is hectic, but it worked out well. Being able to plan for maternity leave is HUGE. Trust me, work will survive, and others will be given opportunities to shine and try out new responsibilities. That was a big plus for when I took my leave. If anything wasn’t a good fit for the person covering it, it was only 3 months and I’d take it back.
      Also, prepping for maternity leave – I made a huge list of everything I was doing, and realized a lot of it should have been delegated ages ago, but with the chaos of COVID it just wasn’t. (easier for me to send this email myself, and suddenly I’m doing a monthly email thing my admin assistant or staff should be doing). It was a great opportunity for a reset.
      Also, I strangely think starting a family when you are getting a promotion has worked well for me. I have workaholic tendencies, so if it happened before having a baby I would be working nights and weekends to catch up. With a baby who I would much rather cuddle, I’m doing a better job of prioritizing my workload.

  8. Voldemort's Cousin*

    OP, just remember that your company would let you go in a second if business needs dictated doing so. Which is fine – it’s just how the world works. But it also means that you should put yourself first too.

    1. online millenial*

      This is what I was thinking as I was reading this letter. The way people factor their company’s needs and wants into their lives, when the company will cut them loose if it makes business sense is truly heartbreaking. Don’t factor emotion into your business decisions, because your company absolutely will not do that for you.

    2. Pastor Petty Labelle*

      Yep. You cannot put the company’s needs above your own. Unless you own the company you don’t owe them planning your life around the company’s needs.

      It’s a business transaction, you work to the best of your abilities WHILE THERE, and they pay you for your work. That’s it. There’s no emotion, there’s no loyalty, there’s no duty except the duty of fair dealing, involved.

      You have a compensation package of which maternity leave is part of it (whether paid or unpaid, its all part of the package of what the company gives YOU in exchange for YOUR labor). Not taking your leave because it is inconvenient for the company is the same as if you gave back part of your paycheck because you felt the company needed the money more. (and yes this will bring to mind that letter. Don’t be that person).

  9. Thatoneoverthere*

    Are you the only one able to do things, based on skill level or some other reason? If its a matter of training I would suggest getting a back up started ASAP. Aside from a maternity leave, what if something were to happen to you? If you were ill, or otherwise indisposed? Someone needs to know how do your job.

    1. She of Many Hats*

      Or your dreamiest of dream jobs made an offer you couldn’t refuse? Or you were abducted by a carful of clowns running away to a deserted island? As others have said, with maternity leave, you have time to implement Plan A and Plan B.

  10. Sad Desk Salad*

    A company that can’t survive without one single particular employee is a house of cards. What would happen if you got hit by a bus tomorrow? I guarantee life would go on. If you can’t take a single break to feed your child, is that really a role you want to be in permanently?

    I used to handle contracts for a particularly dysfunctional company, where stakeholders would try to circumvent our three-quote minimum by claiming this was the only person/company who could perform this task. I would mention that we weren’t able to work with them at all, then, because if something happened to the company, we would’ve wasted all this time and resources starting a project we couldn’t finish. Somehow they were magically able to produce two more quotes after that.

  11. LHOI*

    Not only is it okay, but maternity leave (especially for someone in a leadership position) CAN have some of the same benefits of a sabbatical–it gives others in the organization the chance to step up, to take leadership roles on an interim basis, and to try new things. It allows for cross-training and builds robust teams. It’s not just a strain–it’s an opportunity, too!

    1. pally*

      This is the way to view this-as an opportunity!

      Otherwise, there’s always going to be some reason to put off the maternity leave. And then there’s no more opportunity to have that family. Don’t go down that path.

      1. Ali + Nino*

        Not to mention that women in leadership taking maternity leave can set a positive example for their colleagues!

    2. Bibliothecarial*

      That is so true! One of my colleagues got a highly-coveted managerial position partially because of the experience she had gained while our boss was on maternity leave. Win-win for everyone!

    3. Random Dice*

      Yes! I love the Canadian and European approach to maternity leave. Stepping into a temporarily open position is a growth opportunity for people who otherwise wouldn’t get that experience.

  12. SpecialSpecialist*

    As the department head, prioritize making sure your team can function without you. Fully document all of your processes from the little ones all the way up to the big ones. Cross train your people; don’t rely on one person to do something. Deputize somebody to make basic day-to-day decisions on your behalf and identify who they should go to for bigger decisions. Develop your team to be self-sufficient.

    Not only will building a self-sufficient team help you with a long-term absence, it’ll make it a lot easier to take vacations and be out of the office whenever you need to be out. It’ll also make it easier for others to be out because you’ve cross trained folks to cover whatever needs to be done.

    The biggest mistake any organization can make is relying on one person to do a specific task/function/process. Their absence shouldn’t bring the whole organization to a grinding halt.

  13. A Simple Narwhal*

    1000% put yourself first and do not delay your family plans for a company. Ignoring the fact that a company can never care about you back, the sad truth of family planning is that there is no perfect way to plan. Don’t put things on pause just because it might not be perfect timing for someone else on the off-chance things do happen to work out immediately.

    Sending lots of good thoughts your way! Since this is an old letter I hope there’s a happy update.

  14. Bunny Watson*

    You need to prioritize yourself and your family first. You will have time to plan for a leave if you find yourself in that position. I want to also add that in a leadership role, you’ll also be in a better position to start now to restructure the unit to better handle any vacancies, not just yours. You’ll be able to advocate for more positions or be able to ensure cross-training or set up procedures and policies that will minimize these issues for everyone on your team as much as possible for any vacancy which will be a benefit to all.

  15. Coverage Associate*

    Counterpoint: My mother owned her business when my sister was born almost 30 years ago. (Still does) We have a photo of Mom running payroll from the delivery bed.

    But neither I nor my siblings intend to have children. Can’t say how much of that is the example Mom set. I don’t feel it’s a big factor for me, but the decision to have children is so personal, who knows what influence my childhood experiences had?

    1. Kiitemso*

      Eh. Good for your mom but the exceptions can’t be the bar that others expect to reach or should want, either. A woman might be out like a light post partum due to a c-section or just tired or overwhelmed or have a very rough recovery.

      1. Caramel & Cheddar*

        I think Coverage Associate was using the example of their mom as somewhat of a cautionary tale, not something to emulate.

      2. BubbleTea*

        My interpretation of CA’s comment was that it wasn’t a celebration of their mum’s dedication to work but a cautionary tale from childhood.

    2. Pastor Petty Labelle*

      It’s different when you run your own business. Then you benefit directly from priortizing the business. But for anyone else, there is literally no benefit to prioritizing the business. Oh let me NOT take maternity leave so our 3rd quarter profits don’t dive and the CEO can’t afford another yacht.

    3. SoloKid*

      What does this counterpoint have to do with how she feels about letting her team down?

      And as a counter counter point, my mom dropped out of the workforce entirely and I also am not wanting kids. Really, the only scientific evidence to point to number of kids a woman has is whether they are being raised in a country with high rates of post secondary education for women.

    4. Coverage Associate*

      Part of my counterpoint was that in some businesses, everything can fall apart from one absence. It’s different when it’s the owner, both because they profit and because of the bigger role, but I think it can happen in other businesses too.

      I work for a business with over 1000 employees, but on a small team, which is totally going to end because our boss left.

      But also the cautionary tale others have mentioned about the long term consequences. When it comes up, Mom is fine with her decision, and even most of her whole lifestyle while I was growing up, but definitely my decisions are not hers. I acknowledged that even within my own mind I can’t know all the factors re the decision to have kids, so I don’t know that statistics/“science” comes into it.

      I am not saying that someone dedicated to their job shouldn’t have kids, or that someone dedicated to their job won’t have grandkids, just that we can’t know all the consequences of kids and work decisions.

  16. Heart&Vine*

    Oof. It’s letters like this that make me want to scream “Everyone! Stop drinking the Kool-Aid!”. If a company absolutely can’t run if you were abducted by aliens tomorrow, they don’t deserve to be in business. Parental leave, medical leave, etc. should be an accepted part of having employees at this point and, if a company doesn’t consider it to be so, then (again) they don’t deserve to be in business. Please please please do not ever treat yourself with so little respect you think a work project should take precedent over bonding with your child. Please do not ever consider your personal life and family planning secondary to concerns about your coworker temporarily having to take over some of your responsibility. That’s ludicrous!

    1. Ahem*

      100% agreement over here. I always end up staring at my screen, just blinking, when questions like this come in. In my country people can choose to take an 18 month long paid parental leave. The idea of holding off on my family planning because some business can’t manage without me for a measly unpaid 12 weeks is wild to me. Just…wow.

      1. RVA Cat*

        American exceptionalism at its worst. I swear our workplace norms are still warped by slavery.

        1. Heart&Vine*

          And we’re indoctrinated at a young age. I remember being in high school, getting home around 5pm and then having to do 3 hours of homework (more if there were multiple projects due at one time since teachers never collaborated on their schedules). I had enough time to eat dinner, watch an episode of Buffy and go to bed so I could wake up at 5am and do it all over again.

          When your 1st grader is given an hour’s-worth of homework every night, something is very, very wrong. We’re teaching children that work obligations should never end and you shouldn’t expect to have any personal time otherwise you’re a slacker and underachiever.

      2. lucanus cervus*

        I think this is actually part of the issue. In my country parental leave is 12 months, and so of course companies actively seek maternity cover – most employers do recognise you can’t be down one person for an entire year without any impact. But for 12 weeks, companies reckon they can just push through it and not bother making any cover arrangements beyond dumping that person’s work on their colleagues. They just let the minions absorb the impact.

        All the more reason not to shape major life choices around work, to my mind – you certainly won’t receive the same consideration from the company in return!

  17. Firecat*

    Considering you are having fertility issues and losses already, please do not worry about your job while planning at all.

    Signed: started trying in 2015 and only just now have a viable pregnancy.

    1. Namenlos*

      Congratulations, Firecat!

      I can relate. I thought about turning down a promotion in 2015 because I had just married and wanted to get pregnant. Eight years, another promotion and two surgeries later, we will likely stay childless (not our dream, but also not soul crushing for us). I’m so glad I took that promotion.

  18. HonorBox*

    OP, you absolutely should prioritize your own wishes and your own family. There’s never a perfect time to be out on leave, but as Alison notes, you’re going to have MONTHS to prepare yourself and your team for the time you’ll be away.

    And I’m so glad Alison pointed out that them bombarding you with questions while you’re out would be FMLA interference. You need to focus on your child and yourself during those weeks of leave and the rules of FMLA or other types of leave (short-term disability, for instance) are there to protect you and that time.

  19. Dontborrowtrouble*

    Don’t borrow tomorrow’s trouble today. You may or may not get pregnant. It may or may not be convenient for work. You should work on having plans for if any single person on your team (including yourself) is out for a period of time. People have accidents, people have surgeries, people get sick. While maybe not everything could be done, and some things may need to be put on hold, there should be someone empowered to make those calls without interrupting your leave (should you be out).

    While it’s taken some time, my work has come up with a few plans. A few people are cross trained with the stuff we absolutely cannot put off if someone is out. Because of this, for the first time in a long time, my bosses (married couple) got to take an actual vacation, absolutely no checking email for over 2 weeks. And because of their example, the rest of the team is taking staggered vacations during our slow time. So far, it’s helped immensely.

  20. TeenieBopper*

    Man, the greatest trick capitalism ever played was convincing people that they owe their job anything.

    1. Pastor Petty Labelle*

      Louder for the folks in the back.

      It’s a BUSINESS TRANSACTION. You work, they pay you. that’s it. Nothing more.

    2. not a hippo*

      I owe my job 8 hours/day, they owe me a paycheck & health care. That’s it.

  21. Critical Rolls*

    Just echoing everyone else that you cannot and should not make your family planning decisions based on your org’s decision to be understaffed and disrespectful of boundaries. Especially if you are facing infertility and/or pregnancy loss, there’s no way to reasonably manage those timelines even if it was an okay thing for your company to ask, which they actually have not! You don’t know if it will take a month or ten months or two years to have a successful pregnancy, so by the same token that you shouldn’t put career stuff on hold for an unknown timeline, you shouldn’t put personal stuff on hold when you can’t predict the timeline and it might delay something that’s so much more important that your job, and not even have a meaningful benefit.

  22. PleaseNo*

    LW if it’s that important and you can do family planning, then go ahead and do so. Good luck!

  23. Good Enough For Government Work*

    Please, please, PLEASE stop feeling like you owe your company anything. As your employer, they owe YOU maternity leave, should you need to take it. You do not owe them your personal life.

    Good luck with getting pregnant! If it all works out, please spene the time enjoying it and not fretting about your employer. They’ll cope just fine.

  24. Dustin the Wind*

    When a previous Pope retired, the Catholic church did not go out of business. Everyone is replaceable. If your company will shut down if you leave, they are already on the skids.

  25. AbsolutelyBaffled*

    As someone not from the US, this letter absolutely baffles me. My country provides 6 months state paid maternity leave, not including missed bank holidays etc., with the option to take a further 6 months unpaid. My cousin is living in a country where they get 2 years paid maternity leave and nobody would ever even consider delaying their family plans for work, in either country. We are just a number the majority of the time and nobody is that crucial to the success of a business.

    1. ornery*

      Yeah yeah America is backwards when it comes to parental leave/sick time/insurance/gun safety/life in general. How is this comment helpful?

      1. AbsolutelyBaffled*

        To point out that in plenty of other countries, leave is much, much longer and those companies just deal with it, nothing goes on fire. Ps. From reading this site I think America’s sick time is actually more generous than where I am.

      2. Tick-of-approval*

        As a reminder that that setting is not the default / normal in plenty of places.

  26. Ginger Cat Lady*

    Your job should fit around your family. Do not try to make your family fit around your job.
    Like it or not, you are 100% replaceable at work, they don’t care.
    At home, different story.

  27. Natasha Hollenzoller*

    Oh no, definitely do not plan your family around work!
    People will manage, everyone manages. Also, set some boundaries of when and where you will work.
    The old adage, you are replaceable at work, but not replaceable to your family, and when you are retired, are you going to look back and be glad you were available during one busy season at work, or that you have the child you wanted and get to spend time with them?

  28. Checkert*

    Just as you’re finding, family planning for some of us isn’t so much planning as hoping and trying an unpredictable amount of time. Length of pregnancy (and truly everything that goes with it) is also unpredictable. NONE OF THIS YOU CAN OR SHOULD CONTROL FOR. I speak as a type A personality who is currently 9 months pregnant after 13 months of trying and is due at an inconvenient time of year, to go ahead and get used to a lot of these things being up to the course of nature and to release the feeling that it all is on you to figure out. If you are find yourself pregnant, you will likely find yourself relying on others more than ever before, and you need to find a way to let them, or else you make things harder than they need to be, maybe even dangerous. The village starts much sooner than the baby’s arrival, embrace it. And as some others have said, if they fall apart because a single person left, they were never together to begin with.

  29. frustrated mom*

    I will leave you with this tidbit about when I had my 3rd and last baby. I worked for a VERY small non-profit. In which each person really only knew how to do their only particular job. Everyone was too busy with their own work to assist others. When I was about 6 months along, I asked my boss how he wanted to handle my maternity leave. He gave me zero guidance whatsoever. He didn’t help me plan, or come up with a plan on who would cover my work. I finally came up with the idea of hiring a temp or intern. But he didn’t want to pay someone else, so he wanted to an unpaid internship. I didn’t realize that you couldn’t really not pay an intern. I searched high and low, but no one wanted the internship. I begged and pleaded with my boss, but he didn’t care. I knew if I left my work for 3 months I would never get caught up. So I planned on working sometimes.
    Well it turned out my baby was colicy, fussy, had trouble feeding and I had 2 other small kids at home. I barely could shower let alone work. I developed horredous PPD/PPA bc of it. Since I couldn’t work, I came back to a back log of 3 months of work. I tried my best to catch up but couldn’t, Was put on PIP and I eventually left for another job. I realize there were other factors here (my boss was one of them, he was eventually fired), but it was awful. Don’t plan on taking calls or working, bc no one else can handle your work. I am not saying this will happen. But PLEASE start training a back up or assistant now. Or come up with contingency plan.

  30. Peon*

    When I took my maternity leave, I left behind a manual of documentation of stuff that I knew on one critical project (other people knew bits or pieces, but not the entirety), and not gonna lie, they had a heck of a time for the first 3 weeks or so even with my document.

    But when I came back, it was SO NICE having other people who now understood the project and could be real backups to me. Especially because baby had to go to daycare, which meant lots of childhood illnesses, about 30% of which I went on to get from him and some of which made *me* sick enough to miss work for a day or two.

  31. Pool Noodle Barnacle Pen0s*

    LW, respectfully, your company does not need you quite as desperately as you seem to think they do. Whether your warped perspective is the result of a dysfunctional company culture putting too much pressure on you, or something else, I don’t know. But I DO know that it’s always a mistake to live your life around the (real or imagined) needs of a corporation. Even if you are personally invested in your team, and want what’s best for them, your obligation is to do what’s best for you and your family. You’re far more important to them than you will ever be to your company.

  32. Adereterial*

    OP, how do you think companies in European countries, where a fairly lengthy period of paid maternity leave isn’t just something women can access, but is a legal requirement, manage?

    You work to live. You don’t live to work. They’ll manage.

    1. Person from the Resume*

      That’s not quite a fair comparison because in countries with longer maternity leave there is often a process and understanding of hiring a long term temp to fill in for someone taking maternity leave.

      The problem is the US is that they don’t hire someone to backfill the missing parent. That’s on the company. They don’t have to hire people, but they need to be staffed to manage people’s PTO, sick leave, and longer term leaves like FMLA and parental leave. They need their people cross-trained to fill in when anyone is out, even long term, or quits or wins the lottery or is hit by a bus.

      1. Adereterial*

        None of those issues are unique to US companies – European countries have the same issues, and they have no choice but to deal with it as the law requires they do, often for extended periods of time well over what any American employee would consider ‘good’.

        In my experience most places don’t backfill for maternity leave, either – the work gets redistributed, or it doesn’t get done. Some do, depending on the role, but many do not. They certainly don’t use temporary staff for parental leave, or sick leave, or annual leave in any real way. We just work around it.

        It’s a perfectly valid comparison. The US is not unique. If a company cannot manage without an employee for the pitiful few weeks of maternity leave they get, that’s their issue, and not the employee. They’ve got months to plan for it.

      2. Emmy Noether*

        The temp thing depends a lot on the job one does and the time taken off. For example, my job is hard to fill in general – they’d have difficulty finding someone for a permanent position, and there are certainly no temps. Highly qualified positions mostly don’t get filled in with temps because there are none, and because training would take up most of the leave. Even less qualified positions often don’t get filled. So they’ll do with my position unfilled for 6 months and are grateful and astonished it’s not longer.

        It’s like most things – it seems hard, but you make it work if you have to, and life goes on.

  33. Baron*

    Agreed with many folks upthread. What jumps out at me from your letter is your use of the term “undue hardship”. You might be using that colloquially – and it might have a different meaning in the States – but in my country, it’s a legal term with a very specific meaning, and a parental leave cannot construe “undue hardship”. That’s not what that term means. People have babies. It’s not undue hardship at all. It’s maybe an inconvenience, but you’re actually allowed to have a family.

  34. Irish Teacher*

    12 weeks really isn’t a long time to take off. There are many things that could cause you to need that much time off, such as certain operations, long covid, etc. And your company knew there was a possibility you would need maternity leave whereas they can’t prepare for somebody say being in a car accident.

    If they can’t manage without somebody missing 12 weeks, that’s not you causing undue hardship for them; that’s them failing to prepare adequately for something that, well, they can fairly safely assume that at somebody point, somebody will need a number of weeks or months off for some reason.

    If your job is so important, then they should probably hire somebody to cover.

    1. Irish Teacher*

      I was just thinking about how many people in my job have taken leaves that length in the last few years. Apart from the maternity leaves (and there was at least 7 of those over the 6 years I’ve worked in the school, some of which were nearly a year), there were two people who had mental health problems that required them to take a few months off work, there was somebody else who had an operation and was off from November until March (and would likely have been off longer, but I don’t know because covid hit and we went online) and the woman who works as a cleaner dislocated her shoulder and needed a couple of months off as her job is very physical. I think all those things were 2 months or more. We also had somebody this year who was off probably 6-8 weeks in total across three or four months because firstly her sister died, then she got pneumonia, then covid and then a post-covid infection. And only a few weeks after that, another colleague was off for 3 or 4 weeks (but it would probably have been more like 6 weeks if we hadn’t then reached the Christmas holidays) because she had a minor medical procedure go wrong and her eye was temporarily damaged.

      These things are common. There are about 60 people in my workplace and there are probably one or two maternity leaves a year and one or two people out for the sort of reasons mentioned above.

  35. Mrs.G*

    Work comes after starting a family. It’s always going to feel inconvenient. If you moved to the moon tomorrow, your employer would figure it out and find a way to go on without you. Please, have a baby when it’s right for YOU. It will all work out. Signed, a fellow working mom

  36. Countess of Shrewsbury*

    My love, nothing in this life is guaranteed. When you come to the end of your life, will you regret taking time to start your family?* I doubt it. If you don’t try now, will you regret it if it doesn’t happen? Yeah, I bet you will. I also think it’s worth digging into whether your uncertainty here is really about the fear of possibly letting your team down, or if it’s something else? Might be good to talk to someone about the feelings that might be coming up there, because there might (or might not!) be more to it.

    *Disclaimer* This is the case for someone who wants to have children. This is not one-size-fits-all advice. Appreciation to all of the childfree folks out there who have no desire to have kids. Also understand that two people can be a family – kids not necessary. The phrasing used was merely to illustrate the point and emphasize the “family” aspect, not to throw any kind of shade on any different kinds of families out there. We’re all beautiful and contain multitudes.

  37. WorkingMom*

    I needed to see this today! I am in the running for a promotion and just found out that I am pregnant and have been feeling so guilty about it. Thank you for the gentle reality check, Alison!

    1. DrSalty*

      I accepted a promotion in January and then learned I was pregnant in February. It happens! No need to feel guilty. The second I told my company, they started proactively planning ahead to arrange coverage during my leave.

  38. The Rat-Catcher*

    I’m aware this is an old post, but if anyone’s going through this now, please have the baby!!
    Consider this: if your company is complaining about the timing of your pregnancy, they’re actually complaining about the timing of your intercourse or whatever other way your genetic material is being collected and used in this process. And if that feels gross and wildly invasive, that was the point.

    1. Observer*

      if your company is complaining about the timing of your pregnancy, they’re actually complaining about the timing of your intercourse or whatever other way your genetic material is being collected and used in this process.

      Really? Because the only time people have intercourse is when they are trying for a baby?

      This gets thrown around all the time. And it’s gross and untrue.

      It’s a genuine problem that some employers seem to think that they can have a say in other people’s reproductive plans. But lets not pretend that it’s something that it isn’t.

      1. Dahlia*

        Rat-Catcher said: “or whatever other way your genetic material is being collected and used in this process.”

        Considering people tend to not get artificially inseminated for funsies… they’re not wrong.

  39. chocolate muffins*

    I am so curious what this person decided to do and how things worked out. And for anyone else in this situation, one, I agree with everything people are saying above about there not being the perfect time to have kids and about the fact that work will adjust. And two, in some jobs it is extremely easy to feel like you should be working during parental leave. For me, the beginning of my child’s life was all-consuming in ways that I could not have imagined before he was born. I set myself the goal of doing one thing per day and sometimes even that felt like a lot. The thing could be giving my kid a bath, or cutting his nails, or going for a walk, or cooking a meal, or figuring out one logistical thing (there were so many logistics to figure out at the beginning, oh my goodness). I love my work and it is a big part of my identity so eventually the one thing could also be editing part of a paper or some other science thing, because I missed being a scientist and it was important for me to come back to that part of myself. But it took a while for me to get to a place where that could be my one thing, and it required help (mostly childcare), and also not everyone is like this and that’s fine. It is fine for work not to be any kind of priority for you while you are making decisions about family stuff and while you are on parental leave. That is what parental leave is for.

    1. UncleFrank*

      I soooooo want an update! I hope she did have the family she wanted and I assume her office didn’t go up in flames (but would enjoy reading about it if it did honestly).

  40. Name*

    My husband and I had relocated for his career (military). I lucked out and found a management position that would be a step up professionally and give me loads of training. A few weeks in, I found out I was pregnant.
    I was out for 8 weeks only because I didn’t have more paid time off accrued and we couldn’t afford longer time off. You can have both. My work survived without me. They’ll survive without you.

  41. not a hippo*

    I’m sure the LW is a fantastic employee but at the end of the day, we are all expendable/replaceable in the eyes of business. Live your dreams of motherhood.

  42. MomBoss*

    While you are no doubt valuable and talented (and I say this as someone who has been through it on both sides more than once), one of the most humbling experiences you can have is going on maternity leave and realizing the place WILL NOT burn down without you. They will figure it out. You are almost certainly not the single point of failure within your company, no matter how much they try to convince you of that to keep you taking on more work. You will show back up after 12 weeks and everything will be there. If you decided not to come back to work at all, they would carry on. It’s important to keep that perspective and avoid putting too much pressure on yourself.

  43. Zee*

    3 months is honestly nothing. If you didn’t take the promotion, it would probably take 3 months to hire someone externally and your team would be leader-less for the same amount of time anyway!

  44. NobodyHasTimeForThis*

    I’ve never seen a company worry that your life might fall apart if they lay you off during an expensive time.

  45. Ann*

    Very timely. I’m dealing with this situation now. Already pregnant, so that decision has been made, but feeling very guilty about asking for leave. Especially for anything more than the basic three weeks. I agree with everyone who says your company has huge problems if they can’t plan for one person’s absence. But, yeah, my company has huge problems. What now? I know that my leave will mean a big load on my coworkers’ shoulders. And they’re people I care about, they have their own lives and their own families… I wish I could help find a replacement, but we’re having massive problems hiring – worse than I’ve ever seen in more than a decade. What a mess…

    1. Ann*

      *The basic three months, of course. Not three weeks. US leave policies are awful, but not quite that awful (usually).

      1. Jenny*

        Employers are never promised staff! If one of your coworkers quit or was hit by a confused pigeon tomorrow walking into the office and ended up in a coma, your company would not likely immediately collapse, even if it feels like it. They would find solutions. Maybe that would mean reprioritizing, or dropping some things, but that would be your boss’s choice!

        I totally understand having sympathy for your coworkers, but you did not create this environment. Your company did.

      2. Anna*

        3 weeks is quite accurate actually– US employers are not REQUIRED to give even a single day of maternity leave, so many give nothing. For those that do give paid leave, short term disability leave policies are relatively common and those allow 6 weeks for maternity leave, paid at only a portion of your salary. For me, it would have been half pay: effectively 3 weeks of pay spread over 6 weeks. This is not for an “entry level” or “non professional track” job such as fast food, my title is principal scientist at a consulting company.
        My scenario was better though because I live in a state that has a paid family leave law, so I got 16 weeks, but still paid at only half my salary.

  46. AAMSuperfan*

    I waited to try to conceive until a time of year that would have been better for my job and ended up not being able to get pregnant. I’ll never know if the delay contributed to my unexplained infertility or not, but if I had it to do over again, I would have started trying when it was the right time for me, not for my work.

  47. Marty*

    I know this isn’t on AAM’s shoulders to remedy, but for the past couple of weeks when I jump to Inc from your blog it tells me to sign in (I’m already signed in), and when I click the button it won’t let me/the pop-up that tells me subscription options won’t go away. It’s been happening all month ‍♀️

  48. Jenny*

    As a manager, staff turnover is just part of reality! It takes more than 3 months in my field to hire for most positions, so a 3 month maternity leave where I can reasonably assume the employee will come back is ideal in comparison to someone quitting….which most reasonable companies expect and plan for! When you’re in the trenches it’s hard to see how things could continue on with one fewer person, but companies do it all the time. Sometimes your boss will have to reprioritize, or projects off until later, but that’s all a part of having employees.

  49. Numbat*

    I feel like borrowing from the service dog sorry on another thread from a while ago…Go get your baby! They will cope, or they will not, but they’re not more important than your family and your happiness.

      1. Numbat*

        Also, I took 18 months off and my team just…coped. It is possible. Another team member became terminally ill and had to leave and we all just …coped. Put your own needs first on this one, nobody else will.

  50. merida*

    So much YES! Thank you for publishing this, Alison. A good friend of mine continually says very similar things as what OP says here. I encourage her frequently that we need to be fitting work into our life, not the other way around – but she has yet to believe me. The thing with entrenched unhealthy work mindsets is that we can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel when we’re in it and we need to hear the truth spoken to us over and over again before we really believe it. I hope OP can begin to feel this truth from Alison’s letter – you’re a person first, OP! You’re worth so much more than your work.

  51. Boof*

    I know this is an old letter and it would be lovely to have an update if LW catches this!
    — fertility is so unpredictable as the LW was already painfully aware, no point in turning down a desired promotion for a maybe-baby
    — as many others have said, in the scenario where leave occurs during crunch time, take your leave, everyone will figure it out, it will almost certainly be ok!
    — my advice might be different if you were actually pregnant and just didn’t want to deal with new responsibilities on top of everything else that pregnancies and new babies can bring (I say this as a 3x mom and someone who once would have been all “I can do both at once full speed yeaaaaaaaah!” but honestly a lot of stress and drama later kids are a lot, it’s ok to slow your roll for a bit / don’t have to pretend like a huge life event and major investment of time, energy, and even biological resources isn’t happening – save yourself some stress and life is to be enjoyed and there’s no specific prize for doing it on hard mode when you don’t have to)

  52. Jellyfish Catcher*

    Put your life first. You can find another job, but you can’t create more fertile years to produce a child.
    One thing to remember is that maternal leave won’t be like a normal resignation, where a significant employee suddenly gives 2-4 weeks notice.
    You’ll have about 7 months notice before the baby arrives, to prepare the company for your maternity leave. Live your life.

  53. Gretta*

    Having worked my entire career in nursing, a field that historically guilts its workers to show up no matter what else is going on in their lives, I learned a very important lesson: Your family only has one you. You are irreplaceable to your family. No matter what your employer says, they can function without you. They did it before you were hired and will continue after you are gone, and will manage while you take care of yourself (and your baby).

  54. HNL123*

    I’m not sure if one more comment here is helpful, but for anyone who needed to hear this –
    I was the only person in my company who knew how to do the work. I took 12 weeks of maternity leave right at the end of December, heading into the new year, which is a busy time for us.
    My company hired someone while I was away. Something they’ve never done before.
    While it wasn’t a seamless or perfect transition, I have a very adorable toddler now.
    Prioritize your family. Always.

  55. WorkingRachel*

    In addition to all the comments about infertility and how long it can take to get pregnant above, I will point out that biology is real and for women, the longer we wait to get pregnant, the harder it is (also true for men, but it’s a longer and slower timeline). So if you want to have kids now, continue trying just as hard as you want to and don’t give a second thought to what’s convenient for your company. (Or do, just don’t let it influence your actual actions.)

    Signed, a 42-yo with a low ovarian reserve

  56. flora_poste*

    I had a very disconcerting conversation – argument – with a pal a few months back who displayed such regressive, mean-spirited and ILLEGAL attitudes towards parental leave that I have had to take a step back from our friendship. Reading letters like this are quietly devastating on a personal level – no one should have to worry about this, and I still can’t quite believe my friend (a woman! In her thirties! Working at a global health institution!) is part of the reason this fear perpetuates.

    (as a woman in my thirties who is very much hoping to start trying for a family soon, one of the reasons I haven’t cut her off completely is because I am v pettily hoping that one day I’ll be able to tell her exactly and in great details all the ways in which my employers are accommodating, not because they are necessarily wonderful, but because they are reasonable and normal…).

  57. CountryLass*

    As harsh as this sounds, the company won’t hesitate to replace you if they need to, regardless of your plans to have a family. So, yes, try and bear in mind the business needs whilst you try and start a family, but don’t delay it for a company who would (with the greatest respect) start looking for your replacement before your body was in the ground if you got run over by a bus.

    Yes, I know they appear to be a very good company from what is written, but the business will keep rolling on with or without you.

  58. Mimsie*

    I’m going to add another spin to the very sensible responses so far. If you get promoted, I would say that it would be a required part of your job to lessen the risks of everything you described above.
    “Busy nonstop all day long”? Why? If you are promoted you should make it a goal to find efficiencies in the workflow.
    You’re the only person who can do certain tasks? That is extremely poor risk management and contingency planning. You should diversify and delegate so that there is no single point of failure, with you or anyone else.

    The great thing is that these are improvements that will *help* your company. It’s not selfish. It’s good business goals.

  59. AMack*

    OP–I work for a medium-ish family business and can very much relate to the feeling that I am the only person capable of doing my job and that without me, things will fall apart. As a result I worked from two weeks after birth on with my first and I was, frankly, miserable. I was tired, frazzled, I made mistakes because I just couldn’t physically or mentally focus–it wasn’t worth it.

  60. HRtryhard*

    In the last 8 yrs or so of my time in HR not ONCE has a company “fallen apart” because one person left or went on leave. Like Alison says, parental leave is generally planned! Even in cases of adoption you usually have some heads up. Of course we don’t know the details of your job/company size, but I’ve been at or consulted for various company sizes, 20, 100, 300-500, 3000 and NONE of them ever crumpled because someone went out. IN FACT. Knowing you’re going on leave soon when taking a new job can really help you build the role and team to NOT be dependent on just you. Make sure accounts have multiple people who can access, ensure that procedures are written every time you do something new. Have a 6month regular review of existing procedures and training docs.
    I hope you take the leave and DO disconnect and 1. realize things are ok if you’re out (yes there will be mistakes, things will drop, but the job will be there, the company will continue on, and 2. this shows others on your team you trust them, that their leave will be respected.

  61. The Other Red Headed Alison*

    First time I’ve ever commented, but DO NOT WAIT TO START YOUR FAMILY! As someone who has battled with infertility for years, there is never an optimal time to get pregnant, there will always be other obligations when it comes to work, family, personal, financial, etc. I’ve put my wedding, travel, moving, changing jobs, etc. all on hold before since I was sure I was going to finally get pregnant in a timeframe that would be disruptive to those things, but guess what has happened, I’ve now just put that stuff on hold for years and I’ve only just gotten pregnant. So if I had pursued those things while I was trying to get pregnant, now I would be married, in a new house, with a new job, etc.
    My point being, there is never an optimal time and only the luckiest will ever be able to find it. Especially, if you’re struggling to get pregnant, unfortunately you just don’t know when it will happen for you and if you’re like me or any of the other millions of women dealing with infertility, the longer you wait the harder it gets. And you absolutely do not want to be in the position of waiting and then deeply regretting it. Jobs change, becoming a mother does not.

  62. Essess*

    If you are taking maternity leave under FMLA, they cannot legally contact you for work questions. That falls under FMLA interference and would get the company in big trouble. So your concern that “any amount of time off to care for my child would be accompanied by non-stop phone calls and emails” would not legally happen.

    Take the promotion. IF you do get pregnant at a point that would make your maternity leave fall in the busy time, you’d still have 4 or 5 months to get someone trained up to cover for you temporarily before you’d be out for leave.

    Companies cover for leaves, sickness, retirements, resignations, deaths, etc.. as part of normal business routine. Do not stress out about this.

  63. Family First*

    If you are ready, you should start your family. Also, I had 3 children while working for a company that made no attempt to support me during parental leave. I was a manager, and there were no mechanisms in place to effectively delegate even simple tasks like invoice approvals, time cards, etc. I ended up spending most of my “maternity leave” working at least part time while bouncing fussy babies on a yoga ball. This contributed greatly to my stress, my babies’ stress, and I would say contributed greatly to me having post partum depression with all three. Don’t do what I did, even if you feel like you are letting down the company. Turn off everything, and take your leave, regardless of when it happens. If the company falls apart because one person leaves (especially temporarily), that means the company has failed it’s employees. You might have people that don’t support you, and ask “How was your vacation?” when you come back. Ignore them, and don’t let it contribute to any feeling of guilt on your part.

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