Taking leave: How did you do it and how did it go? Sara Frykenberg


Image sourced from here.

Image sourced from here.

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[1] 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.

Internet research?

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.

Image sourced from here.

Image sourced from here.

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.

[1] 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.

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Categories: Feminism, Maternity leave, Pregnancy, Women's Rights

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8 replies

  1. Laura Nader once said that one of the impediments to women’s rights in the US is the myth that “we are the best country in the world and that we have more rights than anyone else.” She then continued to state that most countries in Europe offer maternity leave and usually paid. So, she continued, “women in the US do not have more rights than anyone else.”

    I am a-mazed at the hatred for women and women’s rights that continues on and on in the US. Why dont we give pregnancy and maternity leave? Because enough of our lawmakers still believe that women should not be working in the first place but rather should be married and in the home, with their husbands supporting their “maternity leave.” Siggghhhhhhhh

    Thanks for bringing this to our attention Again!!!! Wish it didn’t have to be Againnnnnnandagainnnnnnnn.

    In Sweden they have decided to make paternity leave mandatory because though women were taking maternity leave, the fact that men didn’t negatively affected women’s career progress.

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    • Wow, Carol! Sweden’s mandatory paternity leave is an incredible step forward for women’s rights! It acknowledges that not only is childbearing a family issue, but it’s also a work issue, i.e. it’s a social issue that can only be solved by the entire society. The Scandinavians have always been ahead of us when it comes to “maternity/paternity leave,” paying for up to 2 years off at close to the salary a parent was making prior to having a child. I think it’s not just lawmakers that still believe that women should not be working, but also our hyper-individualized culture, which assumes that we should each do “it” ourself, i.e. each person should work out for him/herself how to finance, coordinate, take care of whatever he/she plans to do. We shouldn’t need any help from anyone! (“Those lazy welfare mothers,” etc.)

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  2. Interesting, the U.S. has also seen an increase in discussion about what happens when child care is not presumed to be only the woman’s responsibility, but the father’s also.

    This is from THE HILL (06/17/15), regards NY Rep. Carolyn B, Maloney’s statement on the problem
    thehill.com/regulation/245252-dems-use-fathers-report-to-back-calls-for-paid-parental-leave

    “Too often we focus on leave and childcare as women’s issues, but these are family issues affecting both fathers and mothers,” Maloney said in a statement. “How fathers engage in parenting and caregiving has a profound impact on the lives of their children and on the lives of women, but unfortunately the United States lags far behind the rest of the world in implementing family friendly policies.”

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  3. Congratulations Sara! I do not have any advice on how to take leave as I made a very conscious choice to stay at home with all four of my children. No regrets. It goes by so fast and I have savored the ability to help shape their pivotal first years instilling love and trust. Every day I feel blessed to have been able to be a part of that. Perhaps another question should be further look at what in our cultures devalues the changing of a diaper and the providing of food and comfort over the status and financial reward in a career. Why is it that we have set up a demand for both partners to ‘work’ outside of the home? Why can’t our bills be satisfied on one income? And this is not sexist as I know several stay-at-home dad’s (although breastfeeding is difficult lol.) And I can tell you one other thing, nature has this built in means of keeping you happy at home with your little one – it’s called sleep deprivation. ;) You will save tons of money on restaurant bills, going out and wardrobe. :) ha ha. Good luck on your juggling. I do not mean to come down on working moms; merely raise the question of whether it is money or worthiness that draws women to a career during their early child bearing years. Many blessings.

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    • I always told my students that opting to stay at home puts them at a major disadvantage if divorce or death leaves them as single again. If you have been out of the workforce for many years, you will have a hard time reentering it at a level commensurate with your education. This is one of the reasons women often find that divorce means that no matter what their previous class status was, they will be struggling to make ends meet, and if they have children, they and their children may find themselves living at the poverty level. And as we all know, divorce is not uncommon, and many men leave their wives for a younger woman when they hit mid-life.

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      • Carol, you are most definitely right. But then the issue becomes one of ‘trust’ – why do we not trust that our partner, our extended families and our communities have our back while we are doing the important work of raising young children? All of those brain synapses are put in place those critical first five years, And I do get you as I am speaking from experience. My first husband, our 15 year relationship ended, and I let him walk away (sans lawyer involvement) leaving me with basically nothing. Silly me, I had that societal notion that none of it was ‘mine’ even though I followed him around the country during his military career and had two children with him. It has been and is a hard road back. But I still would not give up one day with my small children for the ‘security’ I lack(ed). Funny, but I believe that technology will balance the scales a bit as it now has become so much easier to keep up with your career, work from home and keep your mind going while being at home, etc.

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  4. I identify with your post as a feminist, mother of four, and a professor! I wasn’t a teacher when my first two babies were born, but with my third baby I was and with my fourth, not only was I still teaching, but I was the primary wage-earner for our family as my husband took the leap into self-employment with me in 2013. With the third baby, I took unpaid leave (and since I teach on a contract basis anyway, also risking, potentially, no new contract!) from in-seat teaching, but kept my online class. I gave birth to her in my living room on a sunny January morning and then posted new baby pictures in my online class six hours later! Online teaching is very compatible with newborn babies and I don’t regret keeping that class during my postpartum. I went back to teaching two classes in-seat when she was 8 weeks old, each class only once a week at night. My husband would bring her to me to breastfeed and I even kept her in class with me while the students were watching a movie (case study) for their midterm exam. My fourth baby was born last October, again, during a school session (I teach on an 8 week schedule, five sessions per year). I gave birth to him in a birth pool in my living room and shared a still-in-the-pool-triumphant-mother-baby picture with my students later that evening. I didn’t teach in-seat again with him until mid-January, but in hindsight I wish I would have asked for another full 8 weeks off. The fact that my teaching income is our family’s only income other than our home business, sent me back to it before I was fully ready–plus, I had that fear of someone else being brought in instead. My husband came with me and the baby to class until he started eating solid foods in May and then I started leaving him and going to class alone one night a week. I grade on my ipad in the morning with the baby nursing and still sleeping beside me and I grade papers and prepare lectures during naptimes. It usually feels like a pretty nice, synchronous arrangement. Sometimes I get a little panicky and overloaded, but that is part of the package, I find.

    I am passionate about healthy postpartum care for women and I’ve written a lot about that on my birth blog here: http://talkbirth.me/category/postpartum/ I completely agree with feminist, anthropologist, and birth activist Sheila Kitzinger’s observation: “In any society, the way a woman gives birth and the kind of care given to her and the baby points as sharply as an arrowhead to the key values of the culture.” Best wishes for a peaceful, nurturing “babymoon” as you delight in your fresh new baby!

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  5. Great post, Molly! Great supportive husband. Wonderful!

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