How You Think It’ll Be...
...How it actually is
The time has come to discuss a topic that will forever change your life...BABIES!
***DISCLAIMER: Although this article focuses on starting a family, the concepts can be applied broadly to anyone pursuing a greater work-life balance***
Welcome to one of the most rewarding professions both professionally and personally. Because you are capable, friendly and negotiated a great contract, you landed an awesome job in the location you want to live. Life is good. All of a sudden, you notice something strange going on around you. Your friends and classmates’ Instagram posts are pictures of little white sticks with captions like, “Ahhh! Is that a second pink line!?!” Meanwhile, your mother keeps making more and more obvious comments about your age. Before you know it, spreading more quickly than pseudomembranes in an EKC patient, BABY FEVER hits! Instead of sleeping, you routinely curse the heavens at 2 AM on a nightly basis as you stare at the incoherent instructions to the Pack-N-Play that is strewn across the nursery floor. But then you stop, breathe and remember, “Oh yeah, I’m an optometrist! I chose a rockin’ profession that allows me to actually have a family life.\" And not just any old family life, but one you can pursue with the same dedication and thoughtfulness that you put towards achieving your doctorate.
Before you embark on your journey to Babyland
1) Prepare professionally
Take these baby-free years of your career to increase your “career capital”, as discussed in the book “So Good They Can’t Ignore You” by Cal Newport. With an average optometry school graduation age of 27, according to Opted.org, focus your energy on professional goals. Put in the effort, invest in your practice and make yourself an incredible asset.
Keep family life in mind during contract negotiations. Your interviewer has considered the likelihood that a woman of child-bearing age may start a family at some point during employment yet they are still very interested in you! Embrace this.
Consider asking for additional compensated time off in lieu of (or, better yet, in addition to) a pay increase for the year.
- After powering through my first year of employment, I daringly re-negotiated my contract citing specific examples of my actions that were growing the success of the practice. I was rewarded with a significant raise PLUS two weeks of additional compensated time off.
- I also requested to work in clinic locations that were closer to home, reducing my total time away.
- Be bold and ask for what you need from your employer. They may say no, but you may also be pleasantly surprised at their flexibility, especially when you’ve got the career capital to back it up.
2) Prepare financially
Gather up a “baby stash of cash” for expenses to supplement the loss of income while on leave.
- Plan to fund your own paternal leave. While President Obama initiated a conversation regarding paid family leave, so far no legislation has been passed. Therefore, unless you have an amazingly generous employer (or live in almost any other developed country), your time off will be unpaid after you exhaust your vacation days!
How much you save will depend on your plan of attack.
- How long do you plan to be off work? Some parents can’t wait to get back into the daily swing of things after a baby is born but others will choose to stay home longer than traditional, as I did after the birth of our second child. This is a deeply personal choice that only you and your family can decide upon. However, keep in mind that \"typical maternity leave” ranges from 6 - 8 weeks.
The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) protects you.
- The FMLA of 1993 offers unpaid, job-protected leave for up to 12 work-weeks for the birth and care of a newborn (including adoption) IF you qualify. Unfortunately there’s some fine print. You must be an eligible employee to a company of 50+ employees for at least 12 months (1,250 hours of service preceding the leave) or public agency like the federal government. However, this leave does NOT have to be taken all at once!
Do you have other sources of income while you’re off?
- I had short-term disability supplemental insurance through AFLAC. It provided a no-strings-attached check totaling a percentage of my income for 8 weeks. You must be on the plan for a year before you use the benefit and must return to the same employer afterwards. With this in mind, you’ll want to run the numbers to see if it's a cost-effective option for your situation.
Are you willing to live on less?
- When I became pregnant with my second child, I knew I personally needed a longer than traditional amount of time off. My awesomely supportive husband didn’t bat an eye. He crunched the numbers, we trimmed the “fat” off our budget and found we could live off of our baby stash plus his income if we were much more conscientious about spending. But this has taken guts, hard-work and a significant decrease in our eating out budget!
How much do you plan to work when you return?
- Full-time? Part-time? Fill-in? This will vary from person to person but you can suggest a gradual re-introduction into the work place through half days or part-time with a promise to add days over a specific timeline.
- Consider evening shifts and weekends! The nice part, your significant other or grandparents may be available to help with childcare. Daycare expenses can be exorbitant especially with multiple chit-lins. To the shock of my pre-baby self, I requested Saturdays so my husband could be with the kids!
On a personal note, I negotiated a decrease to three days a week after my first child was born then down to a fill-in type of arrangement after my second child. I plan to gradually add availability as my babies get older.
Once you're living In Babyland
Enjoy every minute because it will be gone so fast! Prioritize bonding with that amazing child and rest whenever you can. Sleep deprivation can put a major cramp in your style.
Take advantage of this “professional pause”. Do some soul searching. Be prepared for a major paradigm shift in your priorities. It can feel intimidating to charge ahead into uncharted waters but be brave.
I also spruced up my resume and visited with a local optometrist that has been a wonderful mentor to me.
You may never again have another pause like this in your career so use it well!
Dr. mom’s experience in a nutshell
Overall, being Dr. Mom is a crazy, exhausting experience that I wouldn’t trade for the world. It is truly a gift and miracle to have young children. The nights are long but the years fly by as they grow up so fast! Remember to dig deep and do not be intimidated to ask for what you need from your employer, or from yourself if you’re the boss.
And if the answer is no, don’t be discouraged.
This can be done and has been done by many generations before you. You will make it through in style because you are creative, smart and resilient. So hide those bags under your eyes, peel off any Paw Patrol stickers from your clinic pants, wipe the unspecified slime from your shoulder and go relish the opportunity to practice in such an amazing profession!
FMLA. United States Department of Labor. http://www.dol.gov/whd/fmla/
Newport, Cal. “So Good They Can’t Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love”. 18 September 2012. Hatchett Book Group. http://calnewport.com/books/so-good/
“The State of the Optometric Profession”. American Optometric Association. 2013. Page 8. https://www.aoa.org/Documents/news/state_of_optometry.pdf.