How I Prepared for Maternity Leave and Motherhood as a Full-Time PA
Once you learn you’re going to be a parent, nurseries and car seats are not the only preparations to consider. As I type this and quickly scan my baby monitor to make sure my own bundle of joy is still asleep, I can’t help but remember the worry I experienced when preparing for maternity leave as a full-time dermatology PA.
At that time, I had just signed a contract to resign from my position at a university hospital, which included over three months of maternity leave, to start working closer to home in a private practice. There were still so many unknowns: How would I tell my new employer I would be going on leave in six months? What other considerations did I need to focus on before my impending due date? Here are a few pieces of advice I learned while preparing for maternity leave as a PA.
Discuss your plan with your partner
My husband is very supportive of my professional decisions. We go on walks and talk about everything, from my decision to start working over 50 miles from home when I was just out of PA school to the optimal time to discuss maternity leave with my employer. Having another person to listen and help develop a template for how the communication should go helped to ease my concerns. We decided that once my five-month sonogram and testing was complete, I would tell my employer my plans for maternity leave.
Set a meeting
In my opinion, discussing a significant leave (such as maternity leave) with your employer should be face-to-face. Discuss replacements, sign any paperwork, and confirm your intended dates.
Be clear with expectations
Since I felt healthy enough throughout my pregnancy to work at a new practice, my husband and I decided I would plan to work up to the final Friday before my anticipated due date. This gave me estimated leave and return dates for my new employer at a private practice. I also planned to return from leave for two weeks of part-time work to ease my transition back.
Depending on your place of work, expectations for maternity leave may vary. At my previous position with a large university hospital, I was able to use up to 40 vacation days yearly so long as my supervising physician allowed. These days accumulated weekly, so over the course of a 40-day or 8-week maternity leave, I would have accumulated an additional 10 days. Further, vacation days would have been used with full salary and benefits for the duration.
Plan for the unexpected
I was fortunate that my new practice allowed me to use vacation time and short-term disability to pay at least half my salary during maternity leave. I know other PAs whose employers, usually large hospitals or corporate practices, provide full salary and benefits during leave, and a few with no salary or benefits, more often private practices. This may be an important consideration if you’re starting a new job and plan to have a family.
Under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), the U.S. Department of Labor specifies up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave for specific family and medical reasons, including the birth of a child, prenatal care and incapacity related to pregnancy, and serious health conditions following childbirth. Your partner can also use FMLA leave for the birth of a child and to care for you during pregnancy or childbirth.
If you take unpaid or partially paid leave, think about how you will budget during these weeks with no or lower pay. If you can set aside savings ahead of time, I recommend it. During the weeks I didn’t receive my full salary, I noticed our accounts dropping, because, as I’ve learned with time, it’s better to have a stockpile of diapers rather than making frequent trips to the store when you run out. However, since we planned for the unexpected, we were not struggling when it came time to start buying megapacks of diapers.
Prioritize your recovery
Looking back, planning for the unexpected isn’t limited to finances, it also includes your recovery time. My labor and delivery required a longer stay in the hospital than I planned, so not only did I have a more expensive bill, but I also spent one week of my maternity leave in a hospital room rather than settling into my new routine at home. My maternity leave went from eight weeks full-time and two weeks part-time, to seven weeks full-time and two weeks part-time.
Since I did not have the benefit of a full salary during my maternity leave, I planned to return too soon after delivery. In hindsight, the two weeks part-time were not necessary, and I should have taken that time off to recuperate. I was too anxious to get back to treating patients and earning my paycheck when I should have been equally as eager to treat myself to more time to recuperate. I thought that the two weeks of a part-time schedule would allow me to adjust to working and having a newborn, but I didn’t accommodate for the time required for my body to heal after major surgery, a new baby in the home, and changing parental responsibilities.
In my previous challenges as a Division I athlete, PA student, and dermatology PA, I have been able to plan, execute, and succeed at whatever task I set my sights on. However, becoming a mother is not as straightforward as other challenges. Even with financial implications, I wish I had chosen to take the final two weeks to rest at home.
Discuss your return to work arrangements ahead of time
At least two months before my due date, my husband and I prepared daycare arrangements for our child, beginning once I returned to work. We were fortunate to find a wonderful center with trained early childhood education teachers who truly care for each student as though they are their own children.
Nonetheless, setting up a daycare enrollment required weeks of telemeetings to see the center and meet with the coordinator and our child’s first teacher prior to enrollment. Going into the final month of my pregnancy, it was reassuring to know I already had plans solidified for my child’s care.
Prepare feeding options for the baby
A fed baby is a happy baby. I was able to supply my child with nourishment, but even planning for breastfeeding was not without challenges when I went back to work full-time as a PA. Stress does not boost breast milk output. Hormonal change does not boost breast milk output. Being separated from your baby all day does not boost breast milk output.
Knowing that my output was suffering from my decision to work and breastfeed, I chose to include galactagogues like hydrating waters, breastfeeding brownies, and lactation massagers to try to make my responsibility more effective and enjoyable. I chose to eat a well-balanced diet, made sure to wear clothing that allowed me to pump or breastfeed comfortably, and gave myself understanding if I did not have the energy to pump exactly every three hours as suggested.
I checked with insurance (both mine and my husband’s) to get either a free or discounted breast pump prior to giving birth. My pediatrician’s office offered visits with a lactation consultant for new moms. The consultant was integral in helping answer many of the questions that arise, including whether the baby is eating enough, what sensations are expected versus abnormal, and how much output to expect. If you breastfeed and have access to a lactation consultant, I highly recommend using one to ease any concerns.
With the assistance of the consultant, lactation supplements, warming massagers that charge via USB, and wireless pumps that conceal under clothes and whitecoats, I was able to feed my baby breastmilk for over the first year of life, all while working a full schedule. Including daily reviewing, fastidious documentation, and stubborn will, I used many of the strategies that made me successful in PA school when packing my supplies, so I always had extra bottles, bags, and chargers handy.
With the help of wireless pumps, I was able to pump during clinic when obligations ran into my dedicated time. I would pack a chilled lunch bag with supplies for the day so I could keep my liquid gold safe. All of my planning even allowed me to transition to keep pumping while out to eat, grocery shopping, or going for walks with our baby.
Grant yourself grace
Having a new baby in the home is challenging in itself, and combining this with a full-time medical profession and household responsibilities makes things even more difficult. As new milestones occur with the baby, my husband and I learned there are days when we feel confident about our ability to work, parent, and function as productive adults. There are also days when we only sleep in 10-minute increments, yet still choose to smile and speak positively with each other because it’s all we can do to try to make our day go smoothly.
We’ve also learned to grant ourselves grace. When I need time to rest or complete work responsibilities, I let my husband know, and he takes the baby to play in a different room or out for a drive. I gladly reciprocate the same for him. I am grateful to have a spouse who collaborates on parenting and professional responsibilities. With that, we have learned eating out more often than not and doing less cleaning or laundry from time to time is not a bad alternative to spending time with our baby or catching some extra sleep.
Similar to PA school, I understand that this time in our baby’s development is finite and will soon pass. I will not always have a mini cosmetic fridge in my bathroom full of bottles for late-night feedings or diaper packs in my trunk. I grant myself the grace to admit when I am able to contribute more and when I need help and rest.
If you’ve made it this far, you will be glad to know my baby is still peacefully sleeping. I hope to join him soon enough. Hopefully, these insights into how I was able to navigate my first year postpartum will help you learn the peace of a baby sleeping quietly in their own bed, a career that provides a lifestyle you can be proud of, and a family that brings you joy.
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