Everyone knows that having a baby will change your life.
Weary parents love to tell the childfree about how they should enjoy their sleep/movies/social life/solo bathroom time now, before kids gobble them all up. There's so much you can read, and even more unsolicited advice you will receive, about the impact of children on your personal life.
However, it's rarely discussed how you can proactively address the ways pregnancy and kids will affect your professional life.
As a career coach, I specialize in helping women through these transitions.
Before starting a family, here are a few key things to consider with respect to your career:
1. Timing: When is the best time to get pregnant?
There is no-one-size-fits-all answer.
There are those who say having a kid in your twenties and then focusing on your career is the answer, while others claim the exact opposite. The truth is that it depends on so many different factors, including what professions you and your partner are in or want to be in, as well as your finances and support network.
Even the most demanding career paths can withstand some time off with proper planning and organization.
The key is to determine whether your current company and position allow you the stability and/or flexibility you will need as a parent. If not, begin to examine how you can make a shift toward that goal.
One important caveat to remember is that you may get pregnant immediately upon trying or it may take years if you deal with unexpected infertility. While all aspects of this very personal decision are not within your control, take advantage of those that are and think through the timing.
2. Childcare: Will you stay home, hire a nanny or au pair, use a day care or family care, or some combination of the above?
Although you may change your mind during (or after) maternity leave, it's helpful to have some sense of how you want to handle childcare.
In fact, some urban day cares allow you to join a wait list before you're even pregnant!
As with timing, the best arrangement when it comes to childcare is unique to each woman and couple's circumstances. Ask around and find out what your friends, friends of friends, colleagues and mentors have done to see what might be the best fit for you.
If you plan to stay home for a while, or transition to part-time work, research both the short- and long-term impact that choice might on your career. Reconciling your professional goals with your childcare desires will likely be a process that evolves over time.
3. Health care + maternity leave: What are the policies at your company/in your state?
The United States remains the only industrialized nation not to mandate national paid leave, with only about 11% of workers covered under formal paid leave programs.
The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) guarantees 12 weeks of unpaid leave for people working at a company with more than 50 employees for at least 12 months.
But what about those who started a job less than a year ago or work at a small company? California, Washington, New Jersey and other states enacted paid leave programs for qualifying parents. Most people use some combination of federal/state programs, sick leave and vacation time to cobble together a leave. This has become a hot-button political issue recently, especially as more private companies are making their leave policies public. Make sure you know what kind of parental leave coverage both you and your partner have.
Additionally, evaluate all available health insurance plans to determine which will provide the most maternity coverage.
Pro tip: Try asking a mom friend in confidence at work about the parental leave policies if you're not ready to go straight to HR to find out.
4. Get inside info: How have women at your company + in your field handled motherhood?
Get to know other mothers and gain insight into the practicalities of motherhood at your company or in your line of work.
Try to find people at a range of levels to learn about the challenges along the professional spectrum.
One service I love is FairyGodboss. It allows you to research other organizations' benefits, flexibility and culture as they relate to women's issues.
If your company doesn't have programs or policies in place for new mothers, think about creating them yourself. Find a support system in your office or elsewhere to help you navigate the push and pull of being a working mother.
5. Self check-in: Are you taking care of yourself physically + emotionally for pregnancy + childcare?
A pregnancy can be hard on your body, your mind and your spirit. You want to prepare yourself for the changes to come so you and the baby are as healthy as possible.
Many health care providers will tell you to cut back on alcohol, caffeine, late-night partying and all that fun stuff before you even begin trying to conceive, as those habits can hurt your fertility. Begin taking prenatal vitamins before TTC to build up a store of folic acid in your body to support the pregnancy. Getting into good shape before getting pregnant will help you stay active while pregnant as well as bounce back after your baby's grand entrance.
All these efforts require some time and attention, but they are minimal compared to what lies ahead: the most incredible journey of your life.