Pregnancy involves a significant amount of decision-making. When I was pregnant with my first child, questions ranging from the trivial to life changing would constantly race through my mind.
Choosing a name was a complex decision because it needed to be one that could easily be pronounced in both English and French. Prior to settling on a name, we held countless virtual video conferences with family and friends on both sides of the pond.
I became nearly apocalyptic when I started researching childcare options at the six-month mark. Unbeknownst to me, I should have placed my unborn child on the waitlist for a potential childcare provider as soon as I discovered that I was pregnant!
I spent weeks crafting the perfect birth plan. Imagine my dismay when my waters unexpectedly broke before I even experienced a single contraction. The ensuing induction and four days of labor meant that my plan for a natural water birth got thrown out the window. So much for all my forward planning!
Fortunately, these complex decisions were balanced by less complicated ones such as whether to breast or bottle feed. My decision regarding this particular matter was rooted in a mix of scientific research, ‘best practice’ and personal preference, rather than the opinions and experiences of family members and friends.
Details such as what items to include on the baby registry list were also decided with relative ease. After accepting hand-me-downs from family members and friends, I consulted online resource lists and forums for the latest ‘must haves’ and added missing items to my wishlist.
Out of all the decisions I had to make, the one that really gave me pause for thought was when to begin my maternity leave. There did not seem to be any hard and fast rules to follow. In the end, several factors, including time, finances, commute time, health, my role at work, and pregnancy to-do-list, ultimately influenced my final decision.
I had an estimated due date (EDD) of December 3rd. While I notified my head of school of my pregnancy following my 12-week scan in late May, I held off making a decision about the date I expected to start maternity leave until late September/early October.
I first considered the length of my maternity leave. I was fortunate enough to have both my children while I lived in the United Kingdom which has a maternity leave policy that is quite generous in both time and pay, especially when compared to what is currently offered by most U.S. employers. As a teacher employed by a local government authority, I was entitled to a total of 52 weeks of leave, paid and unpaid, broken down like this:
- 4 weeks at full pay.
- 2 weeks at 90% pay.
- 12 weeks at 50% pay plus statutory maternity pay ($226/weekly).
- 21 weeks at statutory maternity pay ($226/weekly).
- 13 weeks unpaid.
I also had total job security at the school and the right to resume to my original position upon my return for work.
Due to the liberal maternity leave policy, I felt I could be fairly flexible with my start date and end dates and did not feel as if I needed to wait it out until my EDD simply in order to maximize time off with my child after the birth.
I next considered the financial implications of maternity leave. Before making my final decision and notifying my head of school, I meticulously calculated that I could stop working at 38 weeks – a full two weeks before my EDD – and remain at home until July 3rd before I entered the unpaid segment of my maternity leave. At that point I would return to work for the last two weeks of term and then have another six weeks at home with my daughter at full pay!
After weighing up the potential time and financial implications, I considered my commute. Because I resided in a heavily populated and congested area of Southeast London, I relied on public transportation to travel to and from work on a daily basis. My journey involved two bus rides and a short walk and could take upwards of an hour and twenty minutes during rush hour.
Buses with standing room only were often the norm since my stop was in the middle of one of the most congested routes in Southeast London. It was bad enough riding the bus during rush hour pre-pregnancy. The thought of being wedged in between other passengers while heavily pregnant, and my burgeoning bump taking a potential bashing was completely unappealing. All the more reason, I surmised, to curtail my commute a couple of weeks before my due date!
Speaking of due dates, my mother cautioned me that every female blood relative in the family had given birth on or within a couple of days of their EDD. On the flip side, I was also advised not to trust the EDD as pregnancy, childbirth and babies are wildly unpredictable. As I carefully weighed my options; work up until my due date or stop two weeks before; I pondered the following questions:
Did I really want to chance going into labor at work and then need to make my way to the hospital via crowded bus or overpriced taxi?
Did I want to run the risk of not making it to my chosen hospital in time?
If I had to rush to the hospital nearest my school, would my husband make it there in time considering he worked way across the other side of London?
These queries resulted in a firm no, especially since my home was a convenient and inexpensive 5-minute bus ride from the hospital’s front door!
I also took my health into account while making my decision. Although my pregnancy was fairly straightforward and I was in good physical condition, my belly was growing at an exponential rate. As early as four months along, I was often asked if I was carrying twins! This was not the case, but I was on track to have a BIG baby according to my mother and my midwife.
At the time I was making my decision, moving around was already becoming a little more difficult thanks to the shift in balance and extra weight. Sleep was also becoming elusive due to the baby’s nighttime ninja movements. I reasoned that having some down time before my EDD would allow me to attend additional prenatal yoga classes, go for a relaxing swim at the pool, or simply catch up on sleep.
I also considered my job and the likelihood of being able to meet all my responsibilities at 38+weeks. As an Early Childhood teacher, my job involved lots of walking, running and sitting on the floor and in pint- sized seats so that I could communicate and engage effectively with my 3 and 4-year old students.
When I initially notified my head of school about my pregnancy, she had completed an in-depth risk assessment. I was provided with an adult-sized ergo dynamic chair and was able to delegate some responsibilities to my two classroom assistants. Despite these factors, I reasoned that as my belly continued to grow, it would become increasingly more difficult to keep up – and down – with my students.
Not wanting to sacrifice the quality of the education and support I gave my students, stepping away at 38 weeks sounded more appealing given my particular set of circumstances.
The final consideration in the decision-making process focused on the extensive list of ‘jobs’ I wanted to complete before my daughter made her appearance. Although she would be staying in the master bedroom for the first few months, I still wanted to get the spare room converted into a nursery. I had a crib to assemble – with help from the other half of course; clothes to wash and iron, fold and organize; meals to cook and freeze; and last-minute purchases of baby gear to make.
I also had a Thanksgiving meal to plan, prep and host one week before my EDD. Christmas was on my mind as well. As an American living in London, UK, I needed to do my shopping, wrap gifts and get them sent back to the U.S. before the end of November. I reasoned there would be no time once the baby arrived.
I also needed to purchase gifts for my husband’s family members in France; book tickets for the Eurotunnel; and pre-book appointments for the baby’s birth certificate and passport so that we could travel. Now this last concession was a bit of a gamble, but if my mother’s predictions were correct, I would give birth on or close to my due date and we would be able to spend Christmas and New Year’s in France!
Having two weeks before the birth to complete all these tasks meant I would not feel rushed. There would be no need to try and squeeze them in the evenings after work or during the weekends leading up to the birth.
After carefully reviewing all considerations – time, financial, commute, health, job and personal life – I realized that my list was populated exclusively with ‘pros’. The only ‘con’ I perceived was the potential for being overdue. But, if genetics played its part like I was anticipating, then this point would be a non-issue. I reasoned that even if I did go a couple days or even a week overdue, my maternity leave would not be severely impacted due to the time I was allotted. And, I would surely find ways to fill the extra time.
As it turns out, I did not get any extra time beyond my EDD. Exactly two weeks to the day that I left work, I woke up to my waters breaking. Three days later, I finally gave birth to my daughter. Thank goodness I had spent a considerable amount of those fourteen days unwinding with yoga classes and catching up on missed sleep. Otherwise, I am not too sure I would have had the energy to make it through the three-day ordeal of labor and delivery!
Flashforward a year and I found myself needing to make this decision again. The time and financial factors remained unchanged. I was fortunate that my EDD this time fell a few days after the two-week Spring Break at the beginning of April. This meant I could enjoy the two-week break at full pay and officially start my maternity leave the first day of the following term.
My mode of commute had improved, albeit slightly. Because I was dropping my daughter off at childcare en route to work, I was now driving our car rather than taking the bus. However, despite being in the comfort of my own vehicle, I still had to contend with congestion on the road so my commute time was roughly the same.
I remained in good health for the first six months of my pregnancy, but my belly was again taking on a life of its own. I was being asked when my twins were going to be born despite the fact that there was only one baby percolating!
As I entered my seventh month, I started to suffer from symphysis pubis dysfunction or SPD. At this point I had already made the formal request to stop work at the start of the Spring Term and very nearly reconsidered. Fortunately, my workplace agreed to an adjustment to my teaching duties instead.
When I was not at work, I was at home breastfeeding and chasing after an energetic soon-to-be- toddler. My daughter would be seventeen months old at the time I was expected to give birth and I planned to remove her from childcare and have her stay home with myself and her brother during my maternity leave. It would be nice, I reasoned to have a couple of weeks to spend with her before her brother made his arrival.
On this occasion, I enjoyed a leisurely two weeks and four days and then, like clockwork, my son decided to signal his arrival. I had contractions that started on the morning of my EDD and by 12:30am the following day, I had given birth! Not nearly as labor intensive – ha! -as the experience I had with my daughter, but I was nonetheless grateful for those two and a half weeks!
My parting words of advice are really just to listen to your body and consider your own personal circumstances. What worked for me may or may not work for you, but I hope my story has at least given you some insight on the decision-making process as you consider when to stop if you are ready to pop.