By Averjill Rookwood

Doula & Employee Benefits Strategist

Balancing work and parenthood have never been an easy job. In recent years, the 24/7 accessibility expectations of the digital age present new challenges to parenthood.  The global pandemic that we are in the midst of has also has mercilessly exposed the short comings of employer programs, expectations and support for their employee populations in general, but especially those who are parents. 

To their credit, most employers made immediate adjustments this Spring, even if only temporary and are actively trying to embed the support needed in all offerings.  In my opinion, the strategic solution efforts should not be made in a silo. These efforts require that the voices of employees and their lived experiences be heard as employers reimagine their current offerings and build new ones.  Here are a few tips to keep you informed and help you advocate for yourself.

Q & A: What you need to know to prepare for parenthood during your pregnancy.

How can I negotiate parental leave with my employer? Are there questions I should ask to get more time off?

Answer: The focus should be more about being educated about your options rather than negotiation.

  • Research state and local mandates in your area that may already dictate minimums that your employer has to offer you
  • Your employer may have chosen to offer a richer parental leave than mandated.  Be sure to engage your local HR to walk you through what your options are in regards to leave.
  • Be clear on which of your options are paid or unpaid.
  • Don’t necessarily think of Parental Leave as a singular offering, it can also be a combination of a few different leaves.
  • Anything is possible when you are in the hiring or promotional phase.  If you are deemed a valuable enough edition to the company, they might be willing to grant you “additional” time off with some parameters.  If they agree to your requests, have them put it in writing!        

Typical reasonable accommodations can include but are not limited to:

  1. More frequent or longer breaks;
  2. Time off to recover from childbirth;
  3. Temporarily transferring the employee to a less strenuous or hazardous position;
  4. Purchasing or modifying work equipment, such as chairs;
  5. Temporarily restructuring the employee’s position to provide light duty or a modified work schedule;
  6. Permitting the employee to refrain from heavy lifting;
  7. Relocating the employee’s work area; or
  8. Providing private (non-bathroom) space for expressing breast milk.

How do I navigate an unexpected outcome (needing an induction, a cesarean, or a premature baby)? Are there considerations I should be making?

Answer: Preparation is the name of the game.  It is better to expect the unexpected when it comes to preparing for birth as a working parent.  Employees value the time and resources to deal with their birth outcome rather than worry about work.  If you are planning to have a baby in 2021, there are few benefits to look into.

  • Consider enrolling in the voluntary or higher levels of the short and long term disability insurance available to you
  • Discuss how leave options differ if additional time off is needed for care of yourself versus the newborn(s) or spouse
  • Look into family life insurance, including child life
  • Take childbirth classes and hire a birth and postpartum doula to help you navigate birth and have the best experience possible. This can potentially help you avoid unnecessary challenges.

When is the best time for me to be asking my employer about pregnancy/family benefits?

Answer: If you are planning to expand your family in 2021 now, during Annual Enrollment season is the best time to ask your HR team and applicable vendors about the options available for adoption, fertility, surrogacy support, childbirth, bonding, etc., just in case your enrollment is required for the intended benefit.  If you have a change of plans at any point during the year and decide to expand your family, I advise checking right before and within 30 days after the addition of the new child(ren) to make sure that you have not missed anything.

Should I be talking to my employer about how I transition back to work? What are some questions I should be asking? Should I ask about working remotely?

Answer: Most employees choose to wait to share news about expecting a new child until the early phase of the second trimester.  Regardless of when you share this information with your employer, the conversation on what you would like your transition plan onto leave and back to work to look like should be shared then.  This gives time for collaboration between you and your employer and time to make the arrangements.  This also shows both how serious you are about your plan as well as your intent to return, which resonates loudly with your employer. Remote work may not be feasible depending upon the work that you do but makes sense to bring it up during the transition discussion if that arrangement is a possibility for you.

How do I navigate my different physical needs (needing to pump, use the restroom more frequently) with my employer?

Answer: My rule of thumb is if your family forming timeline is no longer a secret, then neither are your needs.  Whether your needs are rooted in your fertility, adoptive, prenatal or postpartum journey, it’s better to state them as soon as possible.  It remains your responsibility to make sure that your work is done, either by flexible hours, job shares or something in-between, but it is possible.  I also challenge you to normalize having what are seemingly stressful conversations with your boss or HR about your needs to go to appointments, pump, etc.  Avoiding these conversations have proven more stressful in the end.

Each company has a unique employee population with equally unique needs to pull off what they do as parents and top performers.  Employees need to pull up their chair to the decision-making table by openly expressing their needs.  Employers are listening like never before.

About the author, Averjill Rookwood

Doula & Employee Benefits Strategist

Averjill is a passionate doula who is trained to serve in the holistic fertility, birth and postpartum arenas.  She also brings over fifteen years of employer benefits management experience to the table to assist her clients behind the scenes with the business of family forming.  Compassion, cultural awareness, education and advocacy are the pillars upon which she has built her business.  Her company The Corporate Doula offers traditional doula services and modalities such as childbirth education, comfort measures training, acupressure and evidence based alternative care integration.  The Corporate Doula signature service assists families with employer benefits in regards to decoding coverage options and maximizing the utilization of both employee and employer paid benefits. The Corporate Doula service is also available directly to employers to help build a strategic approach to their family benefit offerings in order to attract and retain their desired workforce. 

Making a difference for families in birthing spaces and workplaces is the work that Averjill is honored to do every day.