As I mentioned in my last post, I have been preoccupied this summer with many questions regarding pregnancy, becoming a mother, and how to mother while doing my “work” as a feminist. But next to my constantly changing physical reality and the anticipation of a new family member, the question of what to do about my actual work, aka, my occupation, has been most pressing—perhaps, because taking leave from my job is something I feel that I can (and must) do something about in a long list of factors that I cannot control. Despite the imperative to act, however, I had a great deal of trouble figuring out where to begin.
As a professor in Los Angeles, I know that I have the same legal rights as other Californian women. I am allowed to take (unpaid) leave. My employer cannot fire me for exercising this right. I cannot be denied employment, legally speaking, because of a pregnancy. And… yup, that’s about all I knew when I started considering what to do about work… which is to say, I had no idea, practically speaking, how to exercise my rights.
Actually, when I discovered that I was pregnant, I was in the midst of applying for a job; I was an adjunct; and I was seriously concerned about when and how to tell my employer that I would need at least six weeks off in the fall semester, which for me is about a third of my semester.
Now, I am under no illusion that no one else could teach my classes for me. I was, in fact, certain that other adjuncts could easily be found to fill my classes, which was actually of great concern to me. Like most pregnant women, I cannot simply take four months off and be okay financially. I was (and am) worried about the six weeks of no pay, let alone four months. Yet, my school, like many schools, has no formal policy for a professor’s pregnancy leave.
So, I started doing research…
What to Expect When you Are Expecting? While a good read for other important information, regarding work there was no practical help there—the book basically advises that a woman be tactful, read the situation and make her own choices.
This was a mixed bag. On the one hand, I found some great college/university geared sites that helped to explain the institution’s role and where professors might begin to search for answers to their questions, including links to Federal informational sites. On the other hand, I was sometimes referred to institution-based resources that do not exist at my school.
Or, alternatively, I found myself reading other professors’ blogs about what they did to take as little leave as possible (so as to maintain as great an income as possible). Mostly these blogs advised teaching online. While practical advice, I will admit that this is not what I wanted to hear. I want the United States to protect paid leave for particular types of absences, like other countries do. I wanted to read about how I could release the burden of caring for my students and my wallet, for a short time, so that I could prioritize caring for my little one and myself. Instead, I found myself frustrated over how a religiously conservative pro-birth agenda does so little to care for the child who is actually born—something reproductive justice advocates discuss a great deal.
The most useful advice I received in my research process was from another professor at my school who was pregnant a little over a year ago. Finding herself similarly lost, she began to build an unofficial ‘how to’ guide for other professors (something she hopes will eventually help to inform a school wide policy). She also shared with me how she took leave; and while the options available to her were different than those available to me due to her academic rank, her advice ultimately helped me to come up with a strategy that I could share with my boss.
It is her advice that inspired this blog. Knowing how others have exercised their rights has been invaluable to be, so perhaps, if we share this information here, on feminismandreligion.com, then we can help other pregnant women to build their own strategies.
My plan? I will be team teaching three classes this fall, and completing one, eight week, online class that starts early in the semester.
I am very lucky in my department. I have amazingly supportive colleagues, two of whom will be taking on the last six weeks of my courses. These are women I trust a great deal, who I know share pedagogical and feminist commitments. We sat down and discussed time lines and syllabi, adjusting certain assignments and projects so that my co-professors could handle grading assignments for these extra classes in addition to their regular loads. (Leave means leave from everything: emails, grading, office hours, faculty meetings, etc.—and I want this time with my child, so it was important to me to come up with a plan that helped free me from all of these responsibilities—or at least, accounts for how these responsibilities might be met by others so that I can have as much leave as realistically possible.) I have cleared all of this with my department chair (who is taking one of my classes); and our next step is to discuss and alter contracts with the provost’s office, so that my colleagues will be paid for their time and effort.
Taking the advice of the previously pregnant professor I spoke with, I will also be asking to use my “sick days” (something I only qualify for this year, as my status changed from adjunct to a one year contract for an 80% position) during my leave, so that I can receive some pay. Yet, these plans, timelines, etc., are all dependent upon what kind of leave I qualify for (see the note below), which I will determine with human resources.
I hope this plan works out—though I am anxious about the details. How will students respond to being graded by two professors? Can I really ignore my emails? (Will I even be thinking about my emails?) I know that all of this planning is just a course I’ve set in an ocean of unknowns. However, I hope that sharing these thoughts and plans will be helpful to some of you.
If you have taken leave, how did you do it? How did it go? What advice can you share for others (and myself) here?
Knowing how we can exercise our rights is sometimes just as important as having them. Having access to these rights is even more important, and denied to too many people because of their class, race, sexuality, able-bodiedness, etc.
I give my thanks to those who have taught me the “how-to-s” of feminist praxis.
 Pregnant women are entitled to up to four weeks prior to and up to six weeks of medical leave after giving birth under State Disability Insurance in California. However, if you qualify, you may be eligible for twelve weeks of leave under Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993.
Sara Frykenberg, Ph.D.: Graduate of the Women’s Studies in Religion program at Claremont Graduate University, Sara’s research considers the way in which process feminist theo/alogies reveal a kind transitory violence present in the liminal space between abusive paradigms and new non-abusive creations: a counter-necessary violence. In addition to her feminist, theo/alogical and pedagogical pursuits, Sara is also an avid fan of science fiction and fantasy literature, and a level one Kundalini yoga teacher.