It’s time to talk about “maternity leave paranoia”.
There’s no denying it: women often find themselves under a harsh spotlight when it comes to their reproductive choices. If they make it clear that they’re not on board the baby train, they’re often dubbed selfish, or told that they will “regret it when they’re older”. And those women that do decide to start a family don’t have it any better, as almost everyone around them will have their own opinion about what they should be doing during their pregnancies – particularly when it comes to how their careers should fit into that.
As such, maternity leave can be something of a mixed bag. On the plus side, it gives women time to recover from the physical strain of pregnancy and childbirth, not to mention bond with the newest, tiniest person in their life. At the same time, though, being transplanted from the world of deadlines and after-work drinks into an uncharted landscape of breast vs bottle debates and mother-and-baby groups can sometimes be isolating and intimidating. Then there’s all those ignorant people who still view maternity leave as an extended “holiday” – because, yes, sleepless nights, breast pumps and a smarting undercarriage are basically the same as that luxury Barbados trip (be sure to check out Kelly Brook’s comments about working mothers if you don’t know what this looks like).
So, when you throw in the thought that someone else is merrily doing their job while they’re struggling to get to grips with motherhood, it’s unsurprising that so many women find maternity leave to be downright unsettling.
It’s a predicament that Alex Jones knows all too well. Sitting down to chat about her experiences on TV’s Loose Women, The One Show presenter admitted that she rushed back to work after welcoming her son, Ted, because she worried that her job would be at risk if she didn’t.
Coining the phrase “maternity leave paranoia”, Jones stressed that she was not at all pressurised by her bosses at the BBC while taking time away from The One Show.
“It wasn’t any pressure at all put on me by the BBC,” she said. “They couldn’t have been more supportive. They were brilliant. The head of BBC One, my own boss on The One Show, they were fantastic.
“They said, ‘Alex, take your time, really go through it. Just, come back when you’re ready. Don’t rush. Make the most of it.’ It was all coming from me.”
However, while Jones has insisted that all of her insecurities stemmed from within herself (“I worried that somebody would come in and be better,” she said), it’s worth noting that her fears were well and truly backed up by statistics.
Indeed, a recent survey of more than 3,200 women by Britain’s Equality and Human Rights Commission suggests that 54,000 new mothers may be forced out of their jobs each year.
It’s unsurprising, then, that so many women feel as if they shouldn’t use the full 39 weeks of statutory maternity pay they’re entitled to. That they fear being forgotten during their absence from the office. That they worry they will have to work harder and longer than ever upon their return, to prove their worth to their employers. And that they fear those two pink-lines on their pregnancy test could spell the end of their career.
With all this in mind, it’s unsurprising that the subject of “maternity leave paranoia” powered BBC One’s critically-acclaimed psychological thriller, The Replacement, last year. However, one innovative campaign in the USA hopes to change negative connotations of maternity leave by encouraging women to rebrand the ‘time off’ as a job – pointing out that looking after a small human rarely involves putting your feet up.
LinkedIn users can list the job title of ‘Mom’ working at The Pregnancy Pause for the duration of their career break – “whether 12 weeks or 12 years” – and any prospective employers clicking on the company will be taken to a page explaining that maternity leave “isn’t a vacation”.
A clever idea, yet one which has yet to catch on in the UK. Hopefully, with more women like Alex Jones addressing “maternity leave paranoia” in the public eye, we can only hope that it will encourage more support for Brits on maternity leave.
Know your rights:
1. How long?
Eligible employees can take up to 52 weeks’ maternity leave. The first 26 weeks is known as ‘Ordinary Maternity Leave’, the last 26 weeks as ‘Additional Maternity Leave’. You don’t have to take 52 weeks, but you must take two weeks’ leave after your baby is born (or four weeks if you work in a factory).
2. Money matters
Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) is paid for up to 39 weeks. For the first six weeks, you get 90% of your average weekly earnings (before tax). For the next 33 weeks, it becomes £139.58 a week or 90% of your average weekly earnings (whichever is lower).
3. Terms & conditions
Employees are entitled to any pay rises given during the leave. They also continue to build up holiday entitlement and can take any holiday they’ve accrued before or after the leave.
4. Extra leave
You could get 18 weeks’ unpaid parental leave for each child up to their 18th birthday.
5. Flexible working
On returning, you are entitled to request flexible working hours. Your employer must consider your request and respond to you in writing.
For more information on your maternity leave rights, visit: maternityaction.org.uk.