What I learned from taking my maternity leave as part of a small distributed company
Learning that you’re pregnant can be the most exhilarating news you’ve ever heard in your life; until you remember you’ve also got to take care of your career.
On one side you’ve got the joy of growing your family and experiencing this exciting new adventure with your partner. On the other, you’re faced with the paralyzing idea of having to put your career on hold which may hinder further professional development. At least that is how I felt when, a few months after finding the perfect job, I learned I was pregnant for the first time.
An avalanche of questions and worries came to my mind. What will the company think? Will I be able to keep my job while going through this? Will I be able to continue my career climb after taking time off to nurture my new baby? Will I be forced to make more difficult choices between my kids and work?
As the first 1 Second Everyday (1SE) employee to have a baby while working, I was forced to find the answers to all of these questions on the go.
I’ve learned a lot from this experience, and as a mom to a 5-month-old baby girl, I’d love to share some thoughts and observations of what worked and what could have gone better.
Sharing the News
Being part of a small but constantly growing team made everything a little bit more nerve-racking.
There was no Parental Leave Policy and I wasn’t sure what to expect when I shared the news. Especially because my expected due date was so close to the end of the year — a time when everything gets hectic for the company. It gets so busy that a Support Retreat takes place during New Year’s so several of us can focus on assisting users as fast as we can while enjoying each other’s company. I was the only member in Support.
Not only that, but my husband is also part of the company. Obviously, we would both need to take some time off simultaneously. I felt anxious just thinking about how this would affect our twelve person team.
We waited to share the news with our families and close friends. Right after that, we decided it was time to share it with our teammates.
The news was greeted with honest smiles and demonstrations of joy. They were happy for us and no one seemed worried about what would happen next.
On our next 1-on-1 meeting, my boss (who is also one of the company’s founders) kindly brought up the fact that there was no Maternity Leave policy in 1SE yet, but that they would love to work with me to create one.
The first trimester of my pregnancy had gone by smoothly, the news had been received cheerfully, and the company was ready to implement an initial Parental Leave policy.
Creating our Initial Parental Leave Policy
One of the greatest reasons for me to choose to be part of 1SE was its culture.
Our mission statement is:
To help you create, remember, and live your best life, by using your precious time in a meaningful way.
And that’s what we live by.
The entire team is very supportive of each other and we all want to see the rest achieve wholeness—whatever that means for every individual.
This is why I felt the responsibility to make sure that the initial policy we came up with would be the best starting point for what was to come for all other employees that needed to use it in the future.
I began by searching the internet trying to find other companies’ policies, but I didn’t find much when it came to distributed companies.
I learned that in Mexico (my home-country), all companies must provide 84 days of paid leave, while the United States only requires a 3-month unpaid leave in some cases.
The bigger tech companies have been innovating in this area by offering a generous amount of paid time off and some other additional perks for their employees, so I used them as a guide.
1SE is obviously a smaller tech company, but considering all the benefits (unlimited paid vacation, book stipend, travel stipend, etc.) we already have access to as employees I felt like asking for 3 months off would be a good place to start.
Our First Maternity Leave Policy
I had been feeling great throughout the whole pregnancy and it seemed like keeping up with the job after my baby was born would also be very easy.
I tried not to underestimate the effort of taking care of a newborn, but after talking to all of my friends who had recently become moms too, I felt like my remote position would make the entire experience a piece of cake.
Three months started sounding like an eternity. What would I do with so much free time? Would the company feel like I was overstepping by asking for so much time? Would they realize they actually didn’t need me while I was away? How would I ever get back on track after so long?
I didn’t want to feel like I was taking advantage of 1SE’s kindness, but at the same time, I knew that whatever I asked for would be setting the tone for maternity leave within the company.
A 3-month paid leave didn’t work financially for the company at the time, so we settled on 2-weeks paid and two-and-a-half-months unpaid with the flexibility to come back earlier part-time or to work part-time for a few months after my leave.
How We Prepared
Given that the 1SE team is still small, we needed to hire someone in order to do my job while I was away. This aligned perfectly with the company’s plans to expand the team during the last quarter of 2018.
We began looking for someone about two months prior to my leave. This gave us enough time to find Marilyn, who would help on the Support end of things, and get her on board before my due date arrived.
In the span of a month, we were able to get her familiarized with the company and the job. Everything was ready for me to recede as soon as my baby decided to arrive.
Taking My Leave
The day came and my husband shared the news with the team. I was ready for this; ready to finally meet my baby and to step out of the job for a while. I knew I had done everything possible to ease my way out and that nothing was left unattended.
I decided I would stay off Slack and email, but did let Marilyn know that she could reach me through WhatsApp if I had forgotten to share any important piece of information with her before I left. I think this also helped me feel rested while I was away.
Once we got out of the hospital, the responsibility of this brand new life was in our hands. We were very tired, but by the end of the second week, it was feeling more like a routine. It seemed like we had everything under control at last. So much so, that both my husband and I thought it was time to go back to work.
Oh, was I underestimating maternity…
By the third week, I was back on Slack and Intercom for a few hours every day. I was already spending a lot of time on my phone while I fed or watched Amy sleep, so why not use that time to help out in Support?
On the one side, it made me feel useful and allowed me to escape the change diaper, feed, burp, lull, and repeat routine, but on the other, it opened the door to getting sucked into the work rabbit hole.
Being back on Support right at the beginning of the busiest period made me feel like I couldn’t just vanish from one day to the other. The team knew I still wasn’t available all the time and didn’t expect me to be, but I couldn’t stop putting the pressure on myself.
Additionally, working part-time meant I would receive a paycheck by the end of the month which made it a lot more tempting. I just couldn’t help myself.
Everything got a lot more complicated by the fourth week. Amy started with colics and we started sleeping a lot less each day, but I still couldn’t pull myself out of the job. The team was in Portland for the Support retreat and I wasn’t there! How could I not keep an eye out during those tough times?!
I knew this wasn’t right, so I forced myself to stay away (but available) for a week. Nobody asked for my help during this time. Once everything calmed down again I continued my return.
Things at home weren’t getting any easier, but focussing on Amy’s cries and nothing more didn’t help me feel better. That’s why I’m greatly thankful for having the flexibility to appear and disappear from the job during this period.
Returning to 1SE
Three months after Amy was born I was ready to go back full-time. Colics were over, her sleep cycle was a lot more regular, and she wasn’t a newborn anymore.
By working part-time during the previous months, I didn’t really have to do much to ease back in. I just started working more and more hours as the three-month mark approached and noticed that I was capable of doing so.
Obviously, things aren’t the way they were before, they will never be, and I don’t expect them to be. The important thing is that I feel like everyone at 1SE understands that too.
A teammate, who is also a parent, has always shared the best advice with me and has helped me realize that there are no unreal expectations from the company towards us. They know parenting takes time and a lot of effort and they don’t presume it to be any other way as long as we are doing our job correctly.
Last March we had our semi-annual company retreat in Lima, Peru and the fact that we could take Amy and my mom with us meant EVERYTHING. It took our worries away and allowed us to focus on the job without having to leave our precious new family member behind. This kind of support reflects how the company’s actions align with its values.
The Perfect Paternal Leave Policy
This wouldn’t have been possible without my mom’s help. Babies grow fast and they go through new phases every so often, so once you feel like you’ve got the hang of it, everything changes again.
Knowing that my mom’s watching over Amy while both Fernando and I are in a meeting means a lot. Working remotely for a distributed company has surely made things easier for us, but without her assistance returning to work so soon would have just been a dream.
Everything turned out great for me, but there were many external factors involved that should be taken into consideration:
- Not all pregnancies are easy. Not every woman will feel fine throughout the pregnancy and not all will be able to work until the very last minute.
- Not all babies are created equal. Some babies have colics, some others suffer from reflux, some don’t have a sleeping cycle until they’re 6 months old, and some have all of these at once.
- The baby blues are real. Getting back from the hospital and adapting to this new lifestyle takes a lot of effort. Your body hurts, your baby cries, and you don’t know what’s going on with your life most of the time.
- Time doesn’t make it easier. One would think that after a while everything falls into place and you can quickly find a routine that works, but this hasn’t happened for me yet.
- It takes a village to raise a child. Two hands aren’t that much to take care of a baby. The more you’ve got, the easier it gets.
1 Second Everyday continues to grow and improve day by day and I’m constantly enjoying these enhancements. That’s why, to make our current policy better, I would love to see it extended to 12-weeks paid leave for maternity, paternity, or adoption. Plus an additional 4-weeks paid pregnancy leave for moms-to-be. With the opportunity for employees to split up or reduce as needed. Moreover, I would like to see the company enforce at least 4 weeks of that time off to make sure the employee has time to truly disconnect and focus on their family.
I’m absolutely grateful for the paid time off in which I was able to devote myself to my newborn. As well as for the reduced-pay time while I eased back into the job.
I’m thankful for the fact that I have continued growing within the company and that I am now leading the Customer Support team while taking care of a baby.
Most of all, I appreciate my 1SE friends for their constant support and understanding. For celebrating this new chapter of our lives and standing next to us while we find our way around it.
If you’re part of a distributed team and have experience with parental leave policies, I’d love to hear from you!
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