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I promise this is not going to be a long rant about US politics, but we have to be honest; Maternity leave in the US is a joke. It’s actually not a joke because it’s not funny. In fact it’s downright scary. The idea that parents aren’t guaranteed time off after they welcome a little one home is an embarrassment and completely defies our self-imposed label of “The Greatest Country On Earth.”
However, since there’s little to no chance of our elected officials pulling their heads out of their collective asses, we’re left to figure out our own maternity leaves.
With Mr. O and I both being teachers, we make a decent living, but there certainly isn’t a lot of extra left over to put away for an extended leave of absence. But with careful planning, we were able to comfortably manage for me to stay home for 7 months with our daughter.
For a typical worker, an extended maternity leave is much easier to swing if you’re knowingly trying to get pregnant. Being able to save longer was probably the only up side to taking a full year to conceive. As soon as we thought we were ready (actually before that) we started planning for pregnancy and maternity leave. Our goal was to have 6 months of savings by the time the baby came. And though Mr. O would still be working, we saved as though we’d have no income.
If you are fortunate enough for both you and your spouse to have health care through your work, it’s time to sit down and evaluate your options. If both policies offer roughly the same coverage for roughly the same cost, you probably want to make sure everyone is covered by the parent who won’t be giving birth. If mom’s coverage is far superior, or far cheaper (and make sure you specifically look into birth coverage), you may want to hold on to that until the maternity leave begins, then switch under the “change of circumstances” option.
If you, especially the mom-to-be, are uninsured, get insurance. Like, right now. Giving birth is expensive and you never know what unexpected things will pop up to make it more-so.
I am not an insurance specialist. Please talk to your insurance rep or your HR department to find out about your options.
My rule of thumb is budget more than you need because a little cushion never hurt anyone. In our case, it turned out to be necessary because our daughter was born 8 weeks premature, extending my maternity leave from 5 months to 7 (there’s no school in the summer, so I couldn’t have gone back, even if I’d wanted to).
When one or more parents aren’t working during maternity (or paternity) leave, it only makes sense to tighten up your budget. We had to take a hard look at where our money was going and what was necessary, and what was not. For me, home all day by myself, cable was necessary, but eating out 2-3 times a week was not. It’s a very personal choice, and only you know what you can and can’t live without.
So, until the US catches up with the rest of the world, there are things you can do to have a decent maternity leave. It’s not easy, and you’ll likely have to make sacrifices, but from someone who’s been there, done that, it’s totally worth it.