How soon can I get back in the classroom after giving birth?
November 6, 2013 11:31 AM   Subscribe

How soon can I realistically expect to go back into the classroom after giving birth?

Salient points:
1. I teach a 2/2 load at university. My classes for the spring semester are scheduled for TR 9:30-10:45 and 12:45-1:30. Both are classes I have taught before and I have a great deal of autonomy in rescheduling classes missed/cancelling classes/bringing in a sub/etc.
2. Baby Mr. Fuga is due March 7. Our university scheduled spring break is March 22-31 (which is really only one class week).
3. My husband works at home and we have the ability to hire a baby nurse or a nanny if needed. We also have grandparents that can come during that time if necessary.
4. I am not required to stand, walk (except to the classroom buildings) or otherwise engage in any physical work.
5. I do plan to breastfeed and can do that in the privacy of my office, as well as take a nap in between classes if necessary.

My thoughts were to find subs for the two weeks in between the due date and spring break, allowing me to return on April 1 with a minimum of disruption to my students/classes. I was also planning on making sure assignments are not due around the first of March and getting class prep out of the way now (again, have taught these courses before). If Baby Mr. Fuga is early, then I could have a few people on call to handle the classes if necessary, or else I can cancel classes if baby arrives a day or so early. I have also thought of creating a virtual classroom on Blackboard (or somewhere more ... easy) to handle things if I am gone early.

Any thoughts? I'm definitely aware that I'm probably pushing things, but I also don't want to leave my students high and dry -- I've seen this happen with colleagues and the students are very upset when they are left for long periods of time, even though there's a good excuse (baby!).

Final caveat: no, there is no way to take the whole term as leave.
posted by mrfuga0 to Work & Money (42 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
How do you handle sleep deprivation?

Like, the first three weeks of baby girl okt's life were the worst I've ever experienced, having done the normal amount of cramming in college and working overnight IT shifts in the past. At one point I fell asleep with our daughter screaming in my arms, she literally couldn't yell loud enough to wake me up. I fell asleep at the wheel, luckily i was at a stoplight 4 blocks from my house. When they're really little they need to eat every hour and a half, and it can take half an hour to get them back to sleep, so you're really getting 3, maybe 4 hours of sleep in 45 minute to an hour chunks.
posted by Oktober at 11:35 AM on November 6, 2013 [16 favorites]

You should take as much leave as you can get.

You don't know how things will go with the birth. Could be, there are some issues you'll need to recover from. And even if things are totally fine, you and the baby need a little time to figure things out with each other, if possible.

So, 4 weeks is ok; 8 weeks is better. But I wouldn't assume you should go back right after break. Your students will be ok.
posted by leahwrenn at 11:40 AM on November 6, 2013 [4 favorites]

I have had one incredibly easy baby and one hard baby, and you don't know what you're going to get until the baby is here. With the easy baby, I probably could have (though I wouldn't have wanted to, but I probably could have) gone back to work at 6 weeks post-partum. With the hard baby? I don't even know. I had already quit my job but I wasn't even ready to go back at 6 months because he never slept (and so I never slept). I was out of my mind with tiredness for almost all of 2012 and there is no way I could have worked ANY kind of job that required me to use my brain for more than changing diapers and entertaining my then-3-year-old.

It's really going to depend. I think you should take as much leave as you can and if you feel like you can go back earlier than you planned, you can.
posted by sutel at 11:48 AM on November 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

I agree with leahwrenn that you should try to take as much time as possible. Going back 3 weeks after birth puts you in a huge rush to figure out how to use the pump (how often to pump, etc) and how to get baby to take a lot of bottles, which can be stressful. I would try to get a few more weeks so you can settle into breastfeeding and get a feel for how often baby eats so you'll know when to pump.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 11:49 AM on November 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

If this is your first child, give yourself a few months to get acclimated. My coworkers just had their first kid and they insisted on coming back to work nearly immediately and their lives (and the quality of their work) are suffering because of it.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 11:50 AM on November 6, 2013

Response by poster: Not to threadsit, but it is important to note that if I take off four weeks, I think my university will be fine with that. If I take off six or eight weeks, then I'm not working for half of the semester. And I doubt that will be as welcomed. As much as I would love to take all the time I need, that's not really an option in academia, where we have 15 weeks to teach a course. As I'm only going back for six hours a week, I was hoping it might be a bit easier to come in, teach, and leave (as opposed to those who go back to work for 40 hours a week).
posted by mrfuga0 at 11:52 AM on November 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: You can do this, especially with a healthy baby, but it will take a lot of coordination and help. In your shoes, I'd want to think through a number of possible extenuating circumstances:
1) What happens if the baby comes late, or will you induce to ensure that doesn't happen?
2) Just think a little bit about how your work might manage you being gone with a sick baby - my son was in the NICU for ten days for something really minor, but I wouldn't have wanted to have work responsibilities during that time.
3) Make sure you know what the available resources are for postpartum depression, so that if you need them, they're right at your fingertips.
4) Think about the fact that you and your husband may have some intense adjustment after the baby arrives. It's hard when you're both sleep deprived and struggling with new identities. Lining up serious help is a great idea and will help with this part. You want to maximize sleep, and get people to help with food and household chores. If you can, hire a cleaning service. Consider an occasional overnight postpartum doula or baby nurse. Get other people to feed you, whether that's friends, takeout, family, or meal delivery. Line up as much of this as possible beforehand.

Otherwise, assuming all goes well, I'd say this is fairly doable, especially if you are only focused on work and baby care. In my experience with relatively healthy, easy children, and newborn period is mostly work. It's not strenuous work, but it is unrelenting. Be willing to be flexible and to be gentle with yourself.

Is this ideal? It's not what I would recommend to someone who's expressed interest in other options, and I think most people do better with a lengthy maternity leave, but this seems like what you really want to do. Congratulations on your impending baby!
posted by linettasky at 11:56 AM on November 6, 2013 [3 favorites]

Make sure you have plans for if the baby decides to take his or her own sweet time, too. My kids were both born closer to 42 weeks.
posted by The corpse in the library at 11:58 AM on November 6, 2013

Another thing to consider is that if you end up with a c-section, you might still be on painkillers/unable to drive at 4 weeks out. I had complications with my first birth & was not able to drive for more than 6 weeks. There is no way I would have been able to teach at 4 weeks out, thanks to sleep deprivation & painkillers.
posted by belladonna at 12:02 PM on November 6, 2013 [8 favorites]

This is really so dependent on so many things that it's going to be tough for you to get a solid satisfying answer. I think the best thing (my baby is 6months old so I have fairly recent experience) is to plan for the worst and hope for the best. That is: plan to be off as much time as you can get from work. Plan everything as though you are actually taking off all of that time. THEN after baby comes, see how it goes/what you feel/etc. and just go back early if you want to and can.
posted by rio at 12:04 PM on November 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


I don't think you can reasonably do it and get back in the classroom, especially if something goes wrong, and you're also kind wrong about it not being an option in academia. Assuming you are a regularly employed faculty member and not a lecturer or some such thing (and you reside in the US), you are entitled to FMLA upon the birth of your child.

At the institution I work for, your schedule would have been off-loaded for the Spring. We wouldn't have you teach at all. You'd be given other duties, and maybe for the year after you'd up your teaching by a section or two. Or you'd make up your sections over the summer term. I'm really shocked your institution is having you teach when they know you'll be giving birth halfway through.

I took 12 weeks off with my first child and 14 with my second (those extra two weeks coinciding with a week the university was already closed and an extra week I took off with my boss's permission), and I still didn't feel ready to go back. In reality, it took me close to a year to recover from my son's birth due to significant complications. My daughter I was pretty much back to normal by the time I went to work, but exhausted as all heck.

Also, breastfeeding is going to be really challenging that early that I really wouldn't recommend being away from the baby if you don't have to be.
posted by zizzle at 12:05 PM on November 6, 2013 [5 favorites]

Response by poster: Yes, I'm adjuncting, which means I need to keep the teaching for the income, but mostly for the insurance. That's how I'm scheduled to teach in spite of impending babyness.
posted by mrfuga0 at 12:10 PM on November 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

Breastfeeding is going to be a challenge. When my baby was that young, neither he nor my boobs would have been able to handle a couple hours without nursing, so you're looking at having to pump or nurse directly before and after class.

This sounds really, really terrible to me. The first couple months were manageable for me specifically because I didn't have to do anything but take care of my baby. Teaching a college class isn't just showing up and teaching, is it? It's responding to students' questions via email, grading, preparing (even if it's just minimal prep to re-familiarize yourself with material)... you can do it, assuming no complications with the birth and minimal need for recovery, but it's not going to be easy.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 12:17 PM on November 6, 2013

Can you flip a few weeks of class and carry on discussions from home via whatever video conferencing technology is available in the classroom?
posted by mareli at 12:23 PM on November 6, 2013

Best answer: It really depends on you. You might have PPD, you might float on babylove hormones the whole time, you might have complications, you might feel like going hiking that weekend, your baby might have colic, she may be a night sleeper from day one. This is a part-time job that doesn't stress you out and that you want to stay connected with (and need to given your followup). Unless there's an issue with you or your baby, I don't see any reason why you can't do what you're planning to do. But if there's an issue, be sure and take care of yourself. The early weeks/months/years are important, but human-rearing is a marathon, not a sprint.
posted by headnsouth at 12:24 PM on November 6, 2013 [11 favorites]

It really, really, really depends on the baby. My first child nursed every 2 hours around the clock for the first year of her life, and it took 30 minutes to get down for a 45 minute nap. Even when she was 8 months old, there were whole days that I couldn't even take a shower. Teaching a class would have been an impossibility. My second kid was a comparative breeze; I could have done something like what you're proposing at 4-6 weeks. But even with an easy baby, I think four or six weeks is a likely minimum unless you are a superhuman person when functioning on no sleep.
posted by KathrynT at 12:26 PM on November 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

Off the cuff, this sounds like a terrible plan. That out of the way, you gotta do what you gotta do and insurance is important. How long does the semester extend for? Will you be working during the summer?

As others have mentioned, it is very difficult to plan out how the last few weeks of pregnancy and the first weeks(-to-months) of the child's life will go. I'd be concerned that you are setting yourself up for a very bad situation.
posted by stowaway at 12:26 PM on November 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

Listen to headnsouth.
posted by incessant at 12:26 PM on November 6, 2013

Best answer: I am the work at home father in a very similar situation -- academic wife on 2/2 schedule, although tenure track so she did get release from her courses the semesters our children were born. With both of our children, months two and three were relatively easy (compared to months one and four, I mean). So I think it's probably doable if you happen into an easy to middling hard baby/recovery. That's not an impossibly long period of time outside of the house, especially if you live relatively close to campus.

I would absolutely plan on hiring someone to come in on Tuesdays and Thursdays arriving around 9 and staying until 3 or so, with either that person or your husband coming to campus with the baby ~11:30 to feed. It's stressful to cobble together child care, and you're going to have no idea week to week how you're going to feel. Better to have too much lined up and cancel as needed.

Good luck with everything!
posted by MarkAnd at 12:27 PM on November 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

I completely get why you want to go back to work on April 1 (no April foolin'). I've had 2 babies and each time I would have been ready to go back to work within a few days if I absolutely HAD to (Did I want to? Hell no.).

The sleep deprivation didn't kick in for me until the baby was 6 weeks old but YMMV. I had 4 months off each time though, and a husband who pulls his own weight around the house and then some, so this is all conjecture really. Support is key. Hire all the help you need with childcare and lactation.

With a March 7 due date, statistically, you will have the baby between February 21 and March 21. First pregnancies tend to last a bit later than subsequent ones, and women with cycles longer than 28 days tend to go later. In any event, you will almost certainly have the baby or be induced by Saturday, March 22.

I take it this is your first pregnancy, so you could check out this risk calculator to see what your odds of having a c-section might be, based on where you live etc.

If you have a c-section in March, going back to work by April 1 seems like it would be extremely difficult (but not impossible if you are ferociously organized and superhumanly motivated). If you have a c-section in February, this might be doable (but still hard).

Good luck - you absolutely can do this if it is what you truly want.
posted by hush at 12:29 PM on November 6, 2013

It took my body a while to recover, for reasons I won't go into because they are gross. But I was in pain for a while, and even after the pain faded, I was still affected by the memory of the pain for some time after. I also had to get used to my breasts constantly threatening to explode as they figured out the whole food production process. And if you have to have a C-section, you won't be able to work that soon.

So even if you get an easy baby, your body very well might not be physically ready to lecture, or worse, conference and grade, a few weeks after you give birth. I took a semester off, and it wasn't financially easy, but I honestly don't think I could have taught otherwise. I know there are millions of women who don't have that option, but if you can choose to stay home for a few months, I would argue for it. Can you teach in the summer to make up the pay?

Finally, as a former department chair, I found it much easier to staff a class at the start of the semester instead of in the middle. Likewise the students often don't do well with an instructor switch either. So if things don't go smoothly, it will affect more than just you. You are the most important factor, of course.
posted by bibliowench at 12:30 PM on November 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

This plan sounds kinda crazy, but I understand sometimes you have to do what you have to do. My baby was on the very easy end of the newborn spectrum, so I think it is possible that this could work. Your best bet will be to have someone (grandparent or nanny) come with you to work on the days that you are teaching and wait with the baby nearby (in your office?) during class. That way you can try to breastfeed and rest between classes as much as possible. Note that when they are very young, babies aren't very good at eating and it might take an hour or so to get one feed in. Or they might be sleepy and not in the mood to eat when you need them to. If this became a problem you could try pumping during your break instead, and having the caretaker give the baby a bottle later.

If the job is as easy as you make it sound, AND you luck out with an easy delivery and easy newborn, I think you'll be okay. Any complications and this goes out the window, but you already knew that. Maternity care in this country sucks, there is no arguing that =(
posted by Jemstar at 12:33 PM on November 6, 2013

L&D RN here. This will only work if you have the best possible birth scenario (a quick, spontaneous labor; an uncomplicated vaginal birth; not too much blood loss at delivery; no big laceration; no postpartum complications; etc. etc. etc.), and if you have a baby that will take both a bottle and the breast, and if you plan to hire a night nurse to provide 100% of the baby's care overnight so you can sleep (though you'd still need to get up at least once overnight to pump). That's a whole lot of "if."

There's no way to predict what will actually happen, but in my experience watching many hundreds of women become mothers, at least one of the childbirth, postpartum, and breastfeeding periods will not fit the 'easiest possible' description. You are likely to have at least one unpredictable challenge; it seems wise to plan accordingly.
posted by jesourie at 12:34 PM on November 6, 2013 [7 favorites]

You got some great advice here - particularly in terms of planning for possible complications.

The reality is that this isn't just a personal problem - it's a political problem. The maternity leave situation in this country is abysmal. That said, people with much, much harder situations than yours go back to work. I don't mean to minimize how hard it will be. But I work with high school teachers, and there are teachers who come back to school 4 weeks after having a baby because they have to, economically. And they teach 7 hours a day, 5 days a week. Your situation may be challenging - but it's a lot less challenging than that of many American mothers.
posted by leitmotif at 12:34 PM on November 6, 2013 [9 favorites]

Best answer: I think it's doable, although less than ideal, what I would do is:

1. Plan to do mixed feeding - I mean have a thing of formula on hand and bottles/supplies, be fully emotionally prepared for not exclusively breastfeeding. If you can EBF, then great, but plan not to and you won't be disappointed.
2. Plan way more childcare than you need so that if you need to nap before driving or going to class, you would be able to do so. So what I would do is schedule the childcare from 8am to 3pm or so on TR, and have the babysitter and baby be located in a place where you could access the baby before/between/after class.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 12:43 PM on November 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

Sometime you have to do what you gotta do.

My sister retuned to work 50 hours a week the day after giving birth (her eldest was a toddler) and continued to do work insane hours with an hour and a half commute each way. She was only able to do so with a *lot* of family support (cough, cough, me... at seven months pregnant and working FT in a white collar job I could have her children with me daily, then when I took maternity leave I had her children with me pretty much FT). I took one week off after my second (and returned to not only my FT job but also my 20 hour a week PT job), then took off six weeks after my third and fourth but I would have been able to go back earlier as my children have all been very easy babies (and frankly, I enjoyed the lack of responsibility that being at a job entailed). I am/was the primary caregiver and breadwinner for my children so, like you, there just wasn't a choice.

It isn't ideal but I think in the scenario you are presenting you would be fine.
posted by saucysault at 1:00 PM on November 6, 2013

If insurance is a concern, you will qualify for your state's Medicaid as a pregnant woman, and your child will automatically qualify.

You could also look into the exchanges.

You have options on that, if it turns out you are not able to teach. And as far as I'm aware, Medicaid can work retroactively to the point you lost insurance, too.
posted by zizzle at 1:02 PM on November 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

I did basically exactly this, but my teaching schedule was easier -- two early-evening graduate seminars that met once a week each, so there wasn't the gap in between classes to drag things out. If you can follow treehorn+bunny's advice and have the baby + baby carer nearby, I think that will make your schedule work. I was very tired but it worked, and the semester ended not long after, then we had the summer to recover and chill out and have that maternity leave time.
posted by redfoxtail at 1:17 PM on November 6, 2013

I'm in academia, in Scandinavia, but for very different reasons, I fell out of our excellent welfare system both times I gave birth (though not out of health insurance). So I was on the job two weeks after delivery both times. Both times, I brought the baby with me to work, the second time my dad had been pensioned and helped me out by walking around with the pram during my lectures. Several of my friends did the same, for different reasons (ambition, exams, responsibilities, etc.)
I'd wouldn't advise anyone to do this ever. This is a big part of why I divorced twice and never had the four children I'd always dreamt of. BUT, basically, this is what women have been doing for ever. It's terrible, but it can be done, and it has an end. It's good for losing the weight, and bad for aging more rapidly. Remember to eat healthy food and get some exercise and fresh air (vitamin D).
posted by mumimor at 1:29 PM on November 6, 2013 [5 favorites]

I started working 6-10 hours per week at about this point. I'm a single mom and I worked from home. It was not my finest work, but it was ok. Ask your friends to come take the baby for a walk and get some extra naps in when you can.
posted by judith at 1:35 PM on November 6, 2013

Best answer: Assuming the birth is not complicated and the baby is relatively easy (big assumptions, but) - you can do this. My sister did exactly this. She is an academic who was not tenured when she had her first (she was applying for/being reviewed for tenure while expecting/after the birth) and who needed to work. She was attending work meetings (bringing the baby) 2 weeks after having the baby and was able to handle her regular class load - and she did not have a partner working from home.

I do like all the advice you've gotten about being flexible about bottle vs breastfeeding, and arranging care the day of and/or the day before so you can get a bit of extra sleep before the days you have to go teach, and so you don't have to worry about childcare logistics while you're teaching.

And have a back up plan, or some ideas for one, in case things aren't straightforward (which I devoutly hope they will be.)
posted by data hound at 1:57 PM on November 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

At some universities, you can choose between taking the entire semester off, or if the date falls close to the end of one semester, you can take 4 weeks off, and the entire following semester.

So yes, I've known quite a few folks to go back to teaching a 2 courses one month after giving birth. It's not great but it's doable, with help, easy classes, and a problem-free delivery.
posted by barnone at 2:16 PM on November 6, 2013

Are you really sure your university won't give you FMLA for the 8 weeks letting you keep insurance? Often, you get 6 weeks with full pay and then a couple more with half pay, but keep your insurance. If you are reluctant to ask your dept. chair, look at the University Human Resources website for your school and either find the policy for whatever category of worker adjuncts fall into, OR just call someone there in the UHR office to inquire about your FMLA rights -- you won't even have to tell your name, just say you're an adjunct and you want to know their sick and family leave policies for you.
Seriously, you might have more rights than you think you do.
And if you DO have the right to take that time off, letting your chair know NOW will be good for you vis a vis your future relationship to the department. That way, for example, they can get a grad student to take over the class while you're out, which can be good for the grad student's CV.
Seriously, universities underpay adjuncts but often have decent FMLA policies, so make sure you know exactly what you're entitled to.
posted by third rail at 2:59 PM on November 6, 2013 [2 favorites]

I'll admit my first instinct is 'hell no,' but I think you've been given good advice about planning for problems and mentally preparing yourself for that possibility, and adjusting accordingly if necessary. Less than 6 weeks (12? 20?) of maternity leave sounds barbaric to me, but this is a light work schedule and you'll have lots of help. And it sounds like you are set on this, but I do encourage you to question that a bit, and see if you think you might want more time, work with your family and university to see if there is a viable alternative plan. If all does not go as planned with the birth and recovery, isn't that worse for your students than if you planned to be absent for the rest of the semester and arranged for that in advance?

I have a demanding and rewarding job and I thought the sky would fall if I was out of the office for six months, but you know, everything was fine when I came back. And those first six months' of my child's life are absolutely precious to me. I planned and sacrificed and got creative with schedules, and I'm so glad I was able to be home for the first six months, that I got that time to recover my own health and get accustomed to being a mom, and to ease my child into life. Nothing else really matters as much to me, looking back. (And no, nothing was particularly as planned for, so going back to work at 2-6 weeks post partum would have been very challenging.) This reprioritizing and creative solution-finding is all good practice for the baby's first few years anyway - expect lots of unexpected absences to deal with all the bugs these kiddos bring home.
posted by semacd at 3:39 PM on November 6, 2013

One datapoint:
When I was a student in a small private high school, a science teacher was pregnant. She took Friday off to give birth, and was back teaching that Monday. The kid joined her a few days later. A little nursery was set up in the closet in the back of the classroom, and in the library. Occasionally the quiet of a test or in-class work would be punctuated by slurping sounds as she would sit at her desk simultaneously breastfeeding and grading papers.
posted by Sophont at 3:45 PM on November 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: It's do-able, provided you don't have anything major go wrong, baby doesn't have anything major go wrong, and you and your husband are somewhat flexible and not high-strung. If either or both of you have experience caring for a newborn, you're a step ahead of the game.

While those in the upper end of the income spectrum frequently have months of leave available - and the resources to take them - those at the low-income end generally don't. Quite a few people I know have been back to work within a couple of weeks following a natural delivery, and in under a month after a C-section. And that's to jobs that are on-your-feet, on-concrete, running around all day (or night), service jobs.

Some of these are single parents with no help in the household, and often other young children to care for. With a partner doing his fair share and no other children to care for, you've got the best possible scenario for success, barring health disasters.

Just plan for contingencies - pretty much the only time you can be fairly certain you *won't* have your baby is your due date - so if you have a plan of action for as many circumstances as possible, you'll be much more prepared - and feel 100% more in control - if something does go wrong.

As for medical release? For some moms, the reality of being off work for 6 weeks, let alone 12, is "simply not possible"... and most doctors know that.

Granted, it's not ideal - for any of the three of you - but that doesn't mean it's impossible for you and your husband to make it work.
posted by stormyteal at 4:13 PM on November 6, 2013

Anecdote: A friend took maybe one week off after her second child was born, because she was adjuncting and needed the job. Her mother-in-law brought the baby to work for nursing.

So yes, it's possible. It was easier because it was her second child and she knew more about what to expect, but yes, it's possible. It's even been done before.

I would try to get everything done at least a month before your due date except for your actual grading and class presence. That gives you a cushion for an early arrival.

Good luck!
posted by orange (sherbet) rabbit at 4:45 PM on November 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

I had a crappy labor (not a c-section but otherwise pretty bad), but I managed to pull it together enough to prepare and deliver a talk that was essentially a lecture 5 weeks postpartum. I think that if I HAD to lecture at that point, I could've done it. I would not have enjoyed it, but I don't think I would've been horribly overwhelmed. So, I disagree with those stating that you can only do this under the best possible birth ever. It will not be fun, and you will not be an amazing teacher, but hopefully this is a class you've taught before and you can robot through it without too much prep.

Your husband should realize that he is going to have a tough time of it trying to "work from home" while the baby is there, with or without you there as well. It will be nice to have both of you around to trade off baby time though, especially if you *do* have a rough labor, you want someone there to let you do nothing but lie on the couch and nurse the baby, if that's what you need. I know that I spent my first 4 weeks almost entirely on the couch or in bed.

Good luck!
posted by ch1x0r at 6:19 PM on November 6, 2013

It is entirely possible (and in my view, likely) that your plans are highly unrealistic. Sure, it _might_ be possible, but I can tell you from my experience (and what I have seen from almost all the academic women I know), your plan seems very unrealistic.

It is literally impossible for you to know with _any_ degree of certainty what your situation will be. Your question implies that you know there is some uncertainty, but what I think you're missing is just how wildly this can vary from person to person and from pregnancy to pregnancy. I have known women who returned to teach several days after giving birth and I have known women who were still unable to walk 8 weeks later.

One other thing I didn't understand, and I've since learned is a very common misperception many women have, is that it's not just a problem of figuring out how to handle certain fixed times when the baby will need you -- the main problem is that, if you are anything like 99% of the women I have known who've given birth, you will be utterly, crushingly, mind-blowingly exhausted, such that you will probably be sleeping a majority of the day (on and off, in dribs and drabs). If you are breastfeeding, then doubly so. You will certainly be "dropping the ball" in terms of the quality of your teaching. Having childcare so that you can catch an hour or two of sleep before class will do very little to compensate for the many months you will go with little (and sometimes no) REM sleep. Working from home with an infant is at best very difficult, and often extremely difficult.

If you literally will be homeless, or won't have money for food, and can't get access to welfare/food stamps/WIC, then yes, plan to go back to work as soon as you can (although it's highly likely that you still will not have a choice about when you are physically able to do so). But if it is at all possible that you or your partner could take on extra work now, move to a cheaper place, sell a car and buy a cheaper used one, etc., and cut every conceivable luxury (cable, internet, cell phone, eating out, new clothes, anything), it would be much wiser to assume you will not be able to complete the semester. Only you know what is financially possible for your family, but the fact that you are asking, "Can I do this?" suggests you have options. If I am misinterpreting, based on what you've written here, I apologize. But regardless of your financial situation, to protect yourselves, you need to work from the assumption that you will not be earning money for the rest of the semester.

From your follow-ups, I get the feeling that you want to be told what you're planning is fine. I'm not trying to make you afraid or rain on your parade, but it's important that you understand how huge of a gamble you will be making, and how likely it is that you are setting yourself up for a miserable situation by planning to take little time off, instead of planning to take more off and then going back earlier if things go well.

Giving birth is just one of those things that no one can understand until they go through it. Trust the women who have been through it who are telling you that your plan to go back as soon as possible is a risky idea.

This is not something you can plan ahead, and it is not something you can control.

And P.S. -- It's the responsibility of the department you're teaching for to plan ahead and find a substitute. Much better to assume this rather than assuming you can come back ASAP, and then when it turns out you can't your students are left hanging and they are left scrambling for a solution. If the department takes your word for it that you could have any idea whatsoever when you will be able to return, they are being extremely foolish.
posted by ravioli at 6:38 PM on November 6, 2013 [4 favorites]

Given the importance of your insurance status, can you do an informal swap with other teachers? I know an adjunct who sometimes does this with a colleague who teaches the same course - when one of them is sick or has a schedule conflict, they swap hours without formally filing the paperwork. Their department head is aware of the arrangement. One of them wanted to go on an overseas trip, so the other took over three weeks of classes and then they returned the favour over the next three months at one class a week sort of.

Source a hospital-grade pump and be prepared to pump or use formula. A hospital-grade pump at home or work (they are bulky, but portable) will help enormously. Get your baby used to taking a bottle early on with expressed milk as well as nursing.

Trial co-sleeping then trial you sleeping with white noise in another room while your partner does the night feeding, whatever works so that you are not a sleep deprived mess. The sleep deprivation is brutal but one solid 8 hour stretch every 2-3 days makes a HUGE difference.

Arrange now for your grandparents to provide whatever care they can. Schedule it in so they have time to adapt to coming over to cook dinner or do laundry or watch the baby on a regular basis.

Interview several nannies now. You may only need a part-time nanny so your husband can get work done during the day, or a night nanny, but do all the interviewing and scheduling now. Consider getting a housekeeper at the very least now.

Automate ruthlessly. Look through everything in your life and automate it. Pre-pay bills, set up diaper and grocery delivery orders, collect healthy take-out menus, set up housekeeping, find a carpool service - whatever can save you 10 minutes a day now and be arranged will be so so helpful later on when 24 hours is barely enough for you to brush your teeth.

Buy a really good c-section belly band now. Those things often are quite nice for late in pregnancy support too, and if you have a c-section, you will gaze adoringly on its vast beige elasticity and long for its sweet sweet embrace.

If you have a major medical event, this plan will be shot to hell, but the vast majority of women have fairly normal pregnancies and deliveries. Most newborns are fine. If something worse unexpectedly happens, you can't really prepare for it and most importantly:

You will not care about your job if your kid is sick and needs you. The students, your university, your job - it will be a lower priority if you need it to be, and you will not feel bad at all about dumping your course halfway through because your kid needs you more. The only people who will be mad at you about you choosing your sad or sick baby over your job are horrible people, and you can ignore them.

Prepare for the most likely: a healthy baby, a reasonable delivery and that the first few weeks will be sleep-deprived and hard, but do-able with lots and lots of support.

BTW, also brace yourself for the possibility of not caring about your job at all. I know a very career-driven woman who has become a parent recently and is considering quitting her much loved job because she misses her kid so so much during the day. She has been super surprised by how much of a switch this has been for her priorities. It doesn't happen to most women I know, but it can.
posted by viggorlijah at 9:14 PM on November 6, 2013 [2 favorites]

I went back to adjuncting when my baby was three months old and taught two double lecture classes on one day: 1.5 hour commute, 3 hours of teaching, 1 hour lunch break, 3 hours of teaching, 1.5 hour commute home. I did it for the exact same reason you have to do it. It REALLY sucks and it is very very difficult but it's not impossible, even if your baby is that young. Ideally, have someone bring the baby to campus, you can nurse in between classes. Otherwise you will have to get the baby used to a bottle really early on and you can pump between classes.

My most important tip: have your classes totally, completely planned ahead of time so you can go in and teach with zero additional prep or even zero thought. Not ideal, I know, but count on being sleep deprived, and sleep deprivation makes you stupid.

I would also strongly suggest reconsidering this plan and looking into free health insurance that your state might offer for pregnant women/women with very small children. But if you have absolutely no other choice, you can do this. Good luck!
posted by agent99 at 3:21 AM on November 7, 2013

I'd also like to add that as the admin for an academic department who does the adjunct scheduling, I'd be having words with my chairperson about someone having a baby planning to come back to work mid-semester like that. I'd express my doubts for the person and the students.

And I'd worry about your student evaluations at the end of the semester. For various reasons, dh ended up being the third teacher his high school students had within an 8 week period (he was the permanent one at the time he was hired), and it wasn't fair to the students. He did the best he could to repair the damage from the students having had two previous teachers, but it was a hard year.

Semesters are shorter, and in our department, bad student evals go a long way to inform our decision to keep an adjunct on. If you're sleep deprived and "roboting" through a class, the students will know and your evals could be pretty bad. And that could put your rehire for future semesters in jeopardy. So long term, it might be better to manage to take the Spring off and if your institution offers summer sessions, offer to teach in a later summer session or ask if there's a one credit you can pick up in addition to your two regular courses for the fall.

Coming from my point of view, it's unwise career-wise as well (and if you're a good adjunct, my motivation to not want to schedule you for Spring would also be so we don't lose you overall for bad evals....)
posted by zizzle at 4:01 AM on November 7, 2013 [2 favorites]

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