When I left to start my maternity leave, I knew I wouldn't be returning. I was a teacher and my school was closing down, a decision announced around the time I realized I was pregnant. Sure, it wasn't the best planning on behalf of my bump, but, hey, life happens! Even though I knew I was essentially saying goodbye to my familiar desk, there were some things I made sure to do before I left. Turns out, they included things every mom should do before going on maternity leave.
I was very lucky that I qualified for maternity benefits (I live in Canada, so yay) and I had at least a year at home with my baby before I needed to even thinking about becoming part of the working world again. In Canada, this amount is made up of maternity and parental benefits which represents 55 percent of the mother’s wage up to a maximum payout. The United States remains the only industrialized country not to provide paid leave to new mothers; a travesty I can't personally speak to.
Because my school closed down, I had to contend with the fact that I didn't have a secure job to return to after my leave ended. Job hunting while looking after an infant is not much fun, trust me. However, due to a little forward planning and a few of the following steps that I took before I went on maternity leave, the transition was made a little smoother.
Organize And Update Your Resume
If you have been at a company for a while, I'm going to assume you haven't looked at your resume since your interview. Even if you plan on returning to the same position, it's wise to take this time to update and finesse your resume. I made sure that mine reflected courses I had taken or new skills I had learned during my time in the company.
Unfortunately some companies treat mothers on maternity leave like aliens who can no longer understand office politics and industry conversations. It's, honestly, the worst. I suggest trying to offset this isolation by making connections with colleagues (old and new), so they don't forget all about you during your leave.
Also, be sure to reach out to contacts in other companies to build your network and make sure you aren't the last to learn about changes in your industry or company.
Have Coffee With Colleagues
Enjoying a coffee and a chat with work friends will probably be a thing of the past once your baby arrives, so relish these opportunities now (and especially while you're most-likely to be the center of attention, because pregnant bellies tend to do that).
Arrange regular contact with a trusted colleague who can keep you up-to-date on office politics and procedures, so your return is as seamless as possible.
Read The Fine Print
Make sure you are completely aware of your company's maternal policies, and that you explicitly understand exactly how much (if any) time you can take off, whether you will be paid, and when you have to return.
Sometimes moms have to pay back maternity payments to companies if they don't abide by the terms of their contracts. Sadly, this happened to a friend of mine and the result almost bankrupted her.
Save Some Money
If at all possible, try to save some money before your maternity leave begins. You'll probably end up living on a smaller paycheck (even if you plan on going back to work because, again, paid maternity leave isn't necessarily a thing if you live in the United States) so it's wise to get used to a reduced salary by moving any surplus into a savings account.
My husband and I set up an automatic monthly transfer from our main account to our savings account. If the money is moved before you have a chance to spend it, saving becomes so much easier.
Know All Your Rights
Make sure you are aware of state and federal rules governing the rights of mothers on maternity leave, and that you understand how they apply to your unique and individual situation.
Depersonalize Your Desk
Most likely another employee will be utilizing your work space while you're away, so it's only nice (and probably necessary) to remove your presence from the area. This means taking all your personal belongings home, your plants and coffee mugs, photos, and any personalized stationary you may or may not have.
It also means you might need to uninstall programs from your computer and deleting any personal files. Try to leave your office space as you would like to find it.
Get Friendly With HR
Familiarize yourself with the human resources department, and inform them of your situation and your wishes to return to work (or not).
This department can often be your ally in negotiations concerning your pay and time off, so I think it's safe to say they should be your first point of contact.
Relish An Uninterrupted Lunch Break
One of the most difficult things about transitioning from working in an office with adults, to being home with a new baby, is the undeniable fact that you no longer have free time to eat your lunch and enjoy a coffee uninterrupted. Your leisurely lunches at the office will be a luxurious thing of the past, so enjoy them while you can!
Enjoy Your At-Work Baby Shower
Work baby showers are like an added bonus. As many people keep their “real” friends and their work colleagues separate, you can enjoy two baby showers and more gifts. #Winning. This is also a really nice way to say goodbye to colleagues before you leave for a new and extended chapter of your life.
Maternity leave is an exciting time of change and, with a little preparation, you can ensure your job is where you left it when (and if) you want to return.