Ask the Grumpies: How to handle maternity leave for a mid-semester baby?

anonymous in the midwest asks:

I am a faculty member at a small SLAC. I am newly (spontaneously!) pregnant with my second child, and likely due at the beginning of week 13 of the 16-week spring semester (it’s so early that I haven’t had my first prenatal appointment yet). My first child was an IVF baby and due the day after the end of my academic-year contract, so I didn’t take maternity leave. In that pregnancy, I developed a complication that, if it recurs (and it has a 50-90% recurrence rate) would mean I would deliver at 37 weeks. My fellow female faculty members have managed to have an astonishing number of May babies – since I’ve been here and in at least the two years previous, no female faculty member has given birth during any other month.

The college’s maternity leave policy for faculty offers 6 weeks at full pay or a full semester at half pay. How have mothers at your institutions handled babies due mid-to-most of the way through a semester? I would love to hear experiences and ideas from the grumpy nation!


My sister and were each born the first day of spring break. For me, my mother paid for her substitute out of pocket for the week after Spring break and then went back to work (she left that institution after it became clear that having a baby meant she would not get tenure).*  For my sister, the university where she was working paid for her substitute for that week. Your SLAC sounds much more humane!

I was lucky enough to have an end of winter break baby– actually this was only lucky because there was a freak snowstorm the first week of class so I got two weeks before going back to work (I had no maternity leave)– and an end of summer break baby which lead into “alternative work duties” (that is, not teaching) for the semester.  Most of my female colleagues have also had summer or sabbatical babies.  My colleague who was due in late April bought out her core course and front-loaded her elective and had a guest lecturer lined up, had them video tape their presentations for her to grade, and then cancelled her last couple of May classes.

I know a woman at a 1/1 school who team taught two courses the semester she was due (grad and undergrad versions of the same elective) and taught both the first half of that semester, then took the next semester off.  Come to think of it, that’s what one of my friends at a 0/1 medical school did as well– team taught the first half of the teaching semester, bought out the rest.

So, other than in situations in which there was no maternity leave, I don’t know how women with regular teaching loads generally handle mid-semester babies.  Men, of course, take a week or two off during the semester their wife (always a SAHM in my department) gives birth and then take the full maternity leave in the next semester.

Grumpy Nation, What have you seen academic women do when facing a mid-semester pregnancy due date? 

* For those not familiar, it takes about 2 weeks to stop bleeding and to be able to sit down in something other than a warm water bath after an easy natural childbirth.

8 Responses to “Ask the Grumpies: How to handle maternity leave for a mid-semester baby?”

  1. Shannon Says:

    I had my first mid fall semester. I wasn’t even on the tenure track, so it was nerve wracking. I had to hide my pregnancy until I had a signed contract for the next year. Our campus did have a maternity leave policy, so we found replacements to take over for me mid-semester – I couldn’t afford to take the entire semester off. I had to do much of the work finding my replacements, which meant that my husband, also a faculty member, had to take over one of the classes (do NOT recommend having your partner teach an overload with a new born).

    Per campus policy, I used my sick time to cover my leave with pay, but that would have had me come back with like one week and finals left. I got my doctor to recommend additional leave for me, but that complicated things as the leave was unpaid – and extended over winter break as a result. Once the details were worked out, it went fine for me, but it was hard on the students. Replacing me mid-semester was jarring, and the student evaluations were horrible. Given the ambiguity of who or what they were evaluating, my department didn’t count those against me, but if you are going to get a replacement, I’d recommend working this out in advance.

  2. CG Says:

    Congratulations on your pregnancy! I haven’t done this myself, but would it be possible to structure your class so that it ends (much) earlier in the semester? You might be able to add a little time to each class or schedule a Saturday session or two. I have known people to do this who had major conference travel that would have otherwise been really disruptive at the end of the semester. I was sort of amazed to learn about that practice, but if someone can do it so they can go to Switzerland for a conference, surely you should be able to do it so you can have a baby! Good luck to you!

  3. SP Says:

    I mean, I shouldn’t be surprised at the poor maternity leave policies, but I still am. These are the types of issues that come up ALL THE TIME, so there should be standard and thoughtful ways universities address this.

  4. anonymous in the midwest Says:

    Thanks for the response to my question! It is good to hear stories of how other families have made it work, and I know that mine will, too. We haven’t decided yet whether we feel comfortable taking the financial hit of a full semester at half pay (I am the primary breadwinner in my family), and it’s also not clear to me whether it would be easier for my colleagues in the department to cover for a shorter leave or the full semester. If I take the shorter leave, I think my colleagues will be expected to just cover for me without getting paid for the extra work. If I take the semester, they would still likely have to cover since we don’t have a supply of adjuncts who could take my courses, but at least they would get paid for the overload.

    I am so grateful that my college has a relatively generous maternity leave policy and even more grateful that I have incredibly supportive colleagues! They have told me in no uncertain terms that I need to do what is right for my family and they will figure out how to make it work for the department.

  5. Alison Says:

    My son was born in mid-April— so 3 weeks before the end of our semester. One of my classes was team-taught, so that was easy. For the other (2 sections of it) I arranged to have colleagues cover one week with guest lectures, and then the students did presentations— colleagues generously went and asked questions, and our library people helped video them and got me the files. We arranged a grading extension, so that I ignored it all until June, and then graded the presentations/finals/etc. I then got the following semester as my paid maternity leave. I was very lucky, in that my department chair told me in no uncertain terms that it made much more sense to take peer coverage for three weeks then to use up my maternity leave in the spring and teach in the fall. Also, our leave is officially 12 weeks, but many departments have made the case that it is cheaper and easier to get coverage for a semester than for most of a semester; officially we are assigned projects to make up for the rest of the time.

  6. Allyson Says:

    I had my second in October. We only got FMLA and had to use sick time (hadn’t accrued enough in my second year to cover all of my leave). I taught core courses with multiple faculty, so others covered everything with pay. I did most of the grading and came back for finals after a 7-week leave, which I would never recommend. I think you should decide what timing works best for you and trust your colleagues to cover.

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