Take Care of Business

This week, you can

• Inform your boss that you are pregnant, then check with the HR department to find out if and to what extent you are covered during your maternity leave
• Research your state’s disability coverage in the event that you do not have private insurance or coverage at work
• Be sure your work flow is systematized to help your coworkers and clients in your absence
• If you’re planning to be an at-home mom for a while or a long period of time, look beyond your weekly budget to the long-term effects of leaving the workforce

MY CLIENT SANDY is a people person. Turn her loose in a store and within minutes she’ll know all the sales staff and most of the other customers. When Sandy found out she was pregnant, she couldn’t share the news fast enough. And because she is gregarious and open by nature, she never looked back or regretted one shared moment. At the opposite end of the spectrum is my client Dale. She’s a career corporate attorney determined to make partner before she turns forty. When she found out she was pregnant, she carefully planned when and how the people in her life, from her parents and family members to her colleagues at work and her postman, would find out. Do you hold things close to the vest? Or do you follow the old saying “If it’s on her lung, it’s on her tongue!” Wherever you fall in the personality spectrum, there is no right or wrong.
Just as people are different, so are corporate cultures. The bottom line is twofold: you want to follow company-mandated protocol to telegraph to your superiors that you are a team player. You also want to control the news so that you are always in charge of who knows what and when. If any of the advice here doesn’t sit well with you, chat with some trusted colleagues who have been down this road before you. Tailor a program that’s just right for you. That’s the goal.


Unless your boss is the character on whom Michael in the TV show The Office was patterned, you should have no problem letting him or her know that you are having a baby. As happy as your boss may be for you, the reality of your position being vacated for any period of time is likely to cause some concern. Before you go in to share the good news, take some time to outline a plan. For example, your boss will want to know:

• Who will cover for you during your leave? Does that person need training or do they now work so closely with you that you are already an effective team?
• Is there someone you’d like to nominate to cover for you? What makes this person qualified? When and how will you train her?
• What are your projects, listed from highest priority to low? Let your boss know how each will be handled in your absence.
• What are your thoughts on informing clients, vendors, and colleagues about this blip on their business radar?
I am not suggesting that you have a detailed plan worked out at this moment in time. I am suggesting you let your boss know that you are on top of the transition and will cover all the bases in a timely fashion. Change, whether positive or negative, makes most people a little nervous. Even if you don’t intend to return to this job after the birth, it would behoove you to take the same precautions for a smooth transition. You never know when a few good words from this boss about your performance will be important in the future. As you take your leave, tell him your next step is to visit HR. Be sure he knows that you would like to be the one to share the news with your coworkers.


One of your big tasks this week is to speak to HR. Something as important as a pregnancy needs to be discussed in person, not via phone or impersonal communication forms like e-mail or voice mail. Your leave has ramifications for the company, whether it’s the local fast food joint or a big corporation. There is a lot to be discussed. Some HR offices have an open-door policy, while others require an advance appointment. Very large corporations will often assign a specific HR rep to a division. With any luck, you already have a relationship with this person.
Investigate Your Maternity Benefits Chances are that when you were hired at your company, you received a packet full of information delineating your medical and other benefits. Few of us take the time to study the details. If a baby was not anywhere in your consciousness at the time, I’m sure you didn’t race to read the section on maternity benefits! Did you file those booklets and updates? Take them out now and read the sections that apply to you. Don’t panic if you tossed them. Your HR rep will most likely hand you an updated maternity packet that outlines current company protocol and benefits policies, including your eligibility for maternity leave and, if you are entitled to maternity leave, whether all or a portion of your leave will be paid. In certain circumstances, the Family and Medical Leave Act will protect your job for an unpaid twelveweek leave after the birth or adoption of a child. For specific details, see the Web site, http://www.dol.gov/whd/fmla/index.htm. Be sure you understand exactly what your benefit package and applicable law guarantee for your position. With the recent financial upheaval in the world, benefit packages are changing all the time. You don’t want to make assumptions based on old information.

Here are some items to check:

• Am I entitled to maternity leave? If so, how long is the period and will I receive my full or partial salary?
• If the company provides medical insurance, are maternity benefits covered ? If so, are these for a certain number of checkups and the delivery ?
• What about tests? And more to the point, what about tests recommended by your doctor that are outside the norm? Will there be full, partial, or no coverage?
• When will your leave begin?
• When will you be expected back?• What if you intend to return to work but there is a medical complication with the birth or the baby that delays your return? What happens to your benefits?

Your spouse should take a variation on these questions to his HR department to see if there is any coverage available to supplement what you are to receive from your medical policy through your place of employment. You will need to find out from your doctor’s office exactly what her charges are for care and delivery. What will the hospital charge? How much for the anesthesiologist? Are these projected fees in keeping with your policy’s coverage? How much do you need to have for out-ofpocket expenses for everyone on the medical team? Remember that if you have your baby via cesarean section—which about one in three women do—the costs will be much higher and your hospital stay will be longer. Once you have ironed out all these details, it’s time to make some adjustments to your budget. By the way, doctors and midwives are usually pretty good about giving a ballpark assessment of their specific fees, but hospital estimates are often wildly inaccurate. Tack on an extra 20 to 30 percent just to be on the safe side!

Some employers and states offer shortterm disability coverage to pregnant women for a period of time after they give birth. Every state has its own rules regarding disability payments. To further complicate matters, every disability program has its own definitions regarding how a pregnancy might qualify. Whether or not you have medical insurance, you need to check out the disability benefits available to you from your state or employer.

Armed with the information from your medical providers and HR, you’ll be able to ascertain how much extra cash you’ll need out of pocket for the delivery. Ask about payment plans if that will help you. This is an area where you want to minimize the chances of any surprises. You want to enjoy your child from the moment she enters the world without having to worry about unexpected medical expenses.


You need to decide exactly how you want to do this. If you have any close friends among your coworkers, you’ll want to tell them in person. After that, in today’s world, a clever e-mail announcement would be acceptable. However, before you hit Send, there is another group who should be notified at the same time: your vendors, your suppliers, and, most important of all, your clients. You don’t want anyone in this group to hear from another source that you are pregnant. If your contribution to a particular project is vital, for example, a client may panic if he finds out you are going to be gone for a few weeks or months. Share the good news and assure everyone that not only will your projects be up to speed when you leave but talented people in the office will be covering the projects in your absence.


For even the most financially responsible couples, having a baby may mean tightening your financial belts. If you have been a free-spending, credit-card-dependent duo, now is the time to create your first budget. For some reason, people hear the word “budget” and recoil in horror, thinking it will rob them of all the fun in their lives. This is far from the truth. I want to be sure you can afford your lifestyle and safely incorporate the good times and splurges that make life worth living.

Creating a budget takes a little time and effort. People tend to stumble in their quest to manage their money by not paying attention to their everyday cash expenses. Track them for a week and you may be surprised how fast they add up. Those fancy coffee drinks consumed multiple times a day can ding your budget. What about the casual cash you take from the ATM or the grocery store? Do you sometimes forget to note it in your checkbook? It can add up to a loud ding! And speaking of the grocery store, do you pick up several magazines every week? How many do you actually read? Could you check them out online, get a subscription to enjoy a lower rate, or perhaps share a subscription with a good friend? These impulse buys give a temporary high but like the crash that comes with a sugar rush, it’s not worth it in the long run.

To create your budget, you can work in Excel or use grid paper. (There are also Web sites and software that provide you with budget templates.) Make two columns: Income on the left side and Expenses on the right. You won’t forget your mortgage or your cell phone bill. You might overlook those expenses that occur only once or twice a year, like dues to a professional organization or payment on your safety deposit box. List everything.

Then, look at your discretionary income, what is left over, and give yourself a weekly allowance. Have that cash in your pocket to get as many lattes and magazines as you can afford. When your allowance runs out, you’ll have to wait till next week to start over.

If you find that you have been spending more than you make or cutting it close, it’s time to have new financial goals. Look around for ways to save money. Here are five tips to get you started:

• Check your phone plans (land line, dedicated fax, cell, etc.). Call the companies and see if you can eliminate some perks that you aren’t taking advantage of in order to save every month. Consider eliminating a phone.
• Check your cable package. Do you really need the entire premium package ? Do you need cable at all?
• What about meals out? That really adds up. Check out your local Farmer’s Market. Brown bag your lunch and get a Crock-Pot so you have a hot dinner ready when you get home. You’ll have fresh produce, support the local economy, and save money over the chain store prices. Start planning meals a week in advance. And never go to the grocery store hungry.
• Do you have too many credit cards? Take some of the money you’re saving each month and pay off the highest interest-bearing card first. If you always pay on time and have a high FICO score and your debt ratio is in line, call your credit card companies and ask if you can negotiate a lower interest rate. If they refuse and you have no big-ticket items on the horizon, consider transferring your balance. Read the fine print to be sure it’s a good deal. Your score may be lowered, but only for a few months. Contrast that with the amount of money you are saving each month. (When you’re out from under this debt, start saving to have three to six months’ worth of living expenses set aside for emergencies.)
• Were you left any antiques by Uncle Henry? Did Aunt Gladys leave you jewelry you will never wear in this lifetime? It may be time to sell these items and use the money to finance your future. I’d also be willing to bet your family would be happy to help your baby start out life in a secure financial setting.


It’s scary being without medical insurance. I am a cancer survivor with no health coverage, and I know from firsthand experience that there are indeed ways to “work the system” and get the care you need. If you lack insurance, here are some avenues for you to investigate:

• Check with your state about Medicaid coverage specifically for pregnant women and babies. Even if you wouldn’t usually qualify for Medicaid, many states have special programs for pregnant women with more lenient guidelines. They will also cover your baby for a period of time.
• Ask at the county health department about prenatal care for women without insurance.
• If you are losing your job, you need to check out the possibility of unemployment benefits. And losing your job because of a pregnancy is illegal. If this happens to you, consult with an attorney right after you file for unemployment.
• Your physician and your hospital should be willing to negotiate a lower cash price than the ones quoted to patients who have medical coverage. If these entities will not consider a reduction in fees, find a physician or hospital that will.
• Consider a midwife. Certified nursemidwives, or CNMs, often work in the same medical practices as doctors but tend to have lower fees. That’s quite a bargain considering a nursemidwife will generally stay with you throughout your labor and birth, not just show up for the delivery like most obstetricians.
• If you have a freestanding birth center in your region, that may be another option. These centers are generally run independently from hospitals and are a much less expensive option than a hospital birth.
• If you and baby are healthy and you want a natural birth, consider having your baby at home. Midwife’s fees for home birth are generally between $3,000.00 and $4,000.00 and are allinclusive. That’s a huge savings over hospital delivery and you’ll get very personalized care.
• Teaching hospitals very often have clinics where patients without insurance can be treated for less money. You’ll have to check with them to see exactly how you can qualify. It usually involves an in-person interview, the completion of a long form, and the presentation of two years’ worth of income tax returns and pay stubs.
• Finally, if you live in a large city, see how many county hospitals there are. These vary in quality depending on where they are located. After a phone call to see if you could indeed go there for care, you’ll want to make an in-person visit to see how comfortable you are at the hospital. Your physician must have privileges at the facility or you will be required to see a different doctor. Ask whether your regular doctor has any contacts.

Financial planner Russell Wild has these tips for new parents:

• Write up a will that stipulates not only what happens to your money but, more importantly, who becomes guardian of the children if both parents should die. If you don’t name your guardian, the court will and it will likely be your next of kin.
• Start a college savings account, also known as a 529 college plan. It allows you to sock away money that can grow tax-free. But don’t invest in a 529 plan until after you’ve accumulated six months of living expenses as an emergency reserve and after you’ve maxed out your 401 (k) contributions at work (making sure to get the full employer match). When you’re ready, start your shopping at www.savingforcollege.com. Invest directly in a good, lowcost plan. You do not need to go through an investment adviser or brokerage house.
• You should have home insurance and health insurance before you become a parent, but life insurance becomes a good idea only after you’ve become a parent. Look for a twenty-year term policy on each parent’s life. As a general rule of thumb, the death benefit might be in the ballpark of eight to ten times your annual expenses.

If all of the research required is starting to overwhelm you, why not consider hiring a “Virtual Assistant” for a few hours to help out and do the legwork for you? These are men and women whom you will never meet. They are found through friends and agencies. (Check the Resources section.) It’s worth remembering, especially if research of any kind isn’t your forte or if you’re simply too overwhelmed with nausea to sit at a computer or be on the phone for hours.
If you prefer to hire someone in person, check out the job referral department at your local college or university. It’s a great way to help a student and secure inexpensive assistance. You can probably find someone who loves research and is practically a professional at it. You know what they say: Where there’s a will, there’s a way.


Even though it may seem like you have plenty of time before you’ll be going on maternity leave, now is a good time to start preparing your space and thinking about how your workflow will be handled in the coming months and during your absence. Leaving an organized space with projects up to date is another sign you are a team player. When your colleagues can easily locate data, they are less likely to be calling you at home during your maternity leave. When you’re sleep-deprived and sore, this silence will be an appreciated blessing. If your vendors and clients are up to speed, they won’t have to rattle your colleagues’ cages during your absence. But don’t think for a minute you’re doing this work solely for the benefit of others. You are doing it for you! No one wants to return to a chaotic nightmare. You want a seamless transition to the team that will be covering for you and back to you upon your return.

Let’s face it: Some people subconsciously love to create complicated “systems” so that no one else at work can figure out what they do, much less how. Their file systems (I use the term loosely) appear to have been created by someone at the CIA. And their physical spaces are a maze of stuff. Today’s projects are buried under a sea of coffee mugs, family photos, plants that leak water, and stale gum. But of course this doesn’t describe you! Or does it?

This week, start preparing your physical space for your absence. You don’t have to spend hours and completely overhaul your files. Make that a goal when you return and get caught up. For now, try my “fresh eyes” exercise: Set aside some time to work on your office or cubicle. Enter and pretend you have never been here before. How do you feel? What do you know about this person? The space will speak volumes without ever uttering a literal word. Trust me. If you open yourself to this exercise rather than dismiss it as silly, you will be surprised by what you discover.

Next, if you realize you have a lot of clutter, do a speed elimination. Be sure you have bags for trash, a way to recycle, a way to shred, and a box on hand to hold items you need to take home. Most companies have a procedure for handling large amounts of material that must be shredded.

Set a timer for twenty minutes. The guidelines will be familiar to you from last month.

• Toss or recycle paper that no longer needs to be saved. This includes newsletters, memos, receipts, outdated HR materials, old health care benefit booklets, newspapers, and magazines. If you’re on the fence about something your company produces, like a newsletter, find out whether a copy is always available online, in the company library, or with another employee.
• Toss old candy, gum, food, condiment packages, and plastic silverware.
• Take real plants home if they are small enough to carry. Have large plants moved to a plant-friendly coworker’s space or ask a coworker to water your plants in your absence.
• Personal photos should be kept to a minimum. Take the overflow home now. Why not instead have personal photos rotate as your screensaver? You’ll have a friendly face in the office without your workspace looking like your family room at home.
• If you live in a four-season climate or an office with a wayward thermostat, you may have collected a number of sweaters, shoes, and boots over time. Take the excess home long before you go on maternity leave.
• Return items to the company kitchen or supply room.
• Do you have enough pens to last a lifetime? Remember, they dry out. Toss those that are no longer useful, return excess to the supply room, and bag the overflow. If you pass a school, see if it could use any supplies. Too much of any item is what I call “fake prosperity.” It looks like you have a lot when in fact all you are doing is losing valuable space to debris.
• Pull aside old projects that need to be archived. If your company has offsite storage, take advantage.
Now it’s time to get your projects streamlined. Make a list (Excel would be the easiest format) of every project on which you are working. In the next column, please note the due date for its completion. Along the way there will be interim due dates for various phases of your projects.

Which projects will be completed before you leave?
Which are due long after your return?
Which have critical dates during your leave?

This timeline will give you a bit of mental control over the amount of work to be done. Are there any projects due during your absence that are not critical? Perhaps you could negotiate a change in due dates with your clients. If necessary, clear this with your supervisor. Once you have these due dates set in stone, be sure you note them on your calendar. These are important markers and you can’t afford to lose sight of them.

A pregnant woman’s due date is calculated for week forty, but it’s considered within the realm of normal to have the baby anywhere from week thirty-seven through week forty-two. That’s more than a month during which you could possibly have the baby, which might throw off even the best-laid plans. The moral of the story: Make and execute your exit plan early. You don’t want to be in the labor room holding a stopwatch in one hand and a Blackberry in the other trying to help your colleagues find important papers!

Spend some time setting up these files. It’s really helpful if you copy the list onto an Excel sheet and send it to your coworkers, noting the location of the files in your office. Should they need to access this information, they won’t have to rifle through your drawers or stacks of wayward papers on your desk.

If you don’t wish to create a list in Excel, make an appointment with your coworkers to show them the lay of the land well in advance of your departure. You won’t be able to take any frantic calls about due dates and the location of key papers while you’re in labor!

Finally, be sure your clients know well in advance not only of your pregnancy but who will replace you during your leave. You need to reassure clients that you have systems in place that safeguard their projects and that the transition will be seamless. And it will be if you take some time now to organize everything. You may of course have paper waiting for you upon your return. However, with this experience under your belt you’ll be able to quickly eliminate what you don’t need and file away what you do want to keep. If it doesn’t have a waiting file folder, add one to your system. If you continue to streamline in the future, you will never again be faced with the task of decluttering your space. I think that’s motivation to start eliminating now!


The good news is that all of the above instructions apply to your workspace at home. Now is a great time to clean it out and streamline your procedures, practices, and projects. If you have someone who works with you, it’s going to be easier for her if this work is done now. Just as an organized home cuts down on the barrage of questions like “Where are my shoes?” an organized office means your assistant can leave you in peace except for emergencies. If you work alone, be sure your clients are up to speed on your plans and that all project due dates have been shifted to adjust to your schedule. I think you’ll find that every relationship you have will thrive with open communication. We all learn this over time, very often the hard way.

Even with several file cabinets full of information, most of us deal primarily with a few key folders every day. There are file totes that give you complete portability. You can find them in inexpensive plastic at the local big box office supply store and in elegant leather at a site like www.seejanework.com. You’ll be able to set up your laptop, file case, and portable phone just about anywhere in the first weeks after the birth.

You have other options as well. Should you wish to stay in your home office, you can use a baby monitor. Test it to be sure its range connects you to Baby’s room before the birth. If your office is large, you can set up a sleep/play area for your newborn. There is no right or wrong solution. See which works best for your personality as well as for the needs of your business.


You may opt to become a full-time mom, putting your career on hold for a few months, a few years, or indefinitely. While this can be a beautiful choice, it’s a good idea to give it careful consideration to avoid common pitfalls and to ensure you’re making a financially sustainable choice. My mother, the queen of sayings and proverbs, said this to me every single morning as I left for school: “Regina, think with your head, not with your heart.” Let’s take a look at some of the issues you need to consider:

• If you are not going to return to work, how will you transition out of your current job? A replacement needs to be hired and trained. Will they want you to be a part of that process? After all, it’s good karma to leave your place of employment in the best shape possible. You never know what the future holds for you. Someday you may need to petition them for a return position or a recommendation, and you want them to remember you fondly.
• Can your family survive on your spouse’s income alone? Run those numbers!
• Consider that you will not be paying into Social Security. That may not seem like a tragedy if you are twenty-five or thirty, but one day if you are lucky, you will be older and wish to (need to?) draw on that account. Do you have other sources of retirement funding set up?
• Are you working in corporate America ? Have you been on the fast track as a professional woman (doctor, attorney, financial planner, etc.)? Keep in mind that by leaving you will miss out on automatic raises.
• You may have a problem jumping back into the workforce later if you don’t do anything to keep your résumé fresh and stay in touch with the working world while you’re at home. You have no idea what the future holds. How can you keep as many options open to you as possible?
• How will you protect yourself and your child against the chance that you will be left a single mother via death or divorce?
You and your spouse need to have an open discussion about how you’ll handle the budget and discretionary income now that you’ll be doing the important work of staying home with your child. If you’ve each been treating your own income as “your” money, drastic changes will need to be made. Being an at-home mom can be a wonderful thing, but you need to be brutally honest with yourself about the challenges that may lie ahead should you decide to re-enter the work force.


My former client Autumn welcomed her son Josh to the family via international adoption. While most new moms are tired because of labor and birth, at the beginning of Autumn’s motherhood journey she was exhausted by a trip halfway across the world to bring her child home!

Though Autumn wished at first that she could stay at home with Josh, by the end of her maternity leave she was quite ready to get back to the office. Other women I know have had the opposite experience: They assume they’ll be chomping at the bit to get back to work, but as the maternity leave comes to an end, they find they’re willing to give up the office, the title, and even the paycheck in order to stay home for as long as possible.

Like these women, you may be surprised later at how differently you feel about being a working mom when it’s time to drop your baby off at day care . . . or you may rethink your plan to stay at home after a few weeks of 24-7 baby duty. There are plusses and minuses to both situations, but neither is more right. Follow your gut, and feel free to change your plan if it seems to be a better fit for you and your family.

Also consider that there is a lot of middle ground between full-time working mom and full-time at-home mom. If neither arrangement seems right for you, with some planning and creativity you may be able to create a hybrid situation that gives you and Baby the best of both worlds.


You must be exhausted from all I’ve asked you to consider. Don’t worry if you have to spread some of this work out over the month. Just be sure to stay on track. When you are in your last trimester, growing large and feeling uncomfortable in your own skin, you’ll feel relieved that you took the time to address these issues well beforehand.
Finally, why not try delegating tasks this month? It’s a surefire way to reclaim some energy. Here are some guidelines to help you learn how to delegate well:

• Give tasks to someone who is capable of doing the assignment. If he hasn’t had a chance to prove himself, start out with inconsequential items. Is this an idea person or someone who likes detail? Is this a big-picture thinker or someone who loves to be a part of the literal process?
• What is this person’s work ethic? Does she dive in and work on everything as if this were her own business? Or does she just do enough to get by?
• Set false deadlines for your helper. Build time into the project for you to check over material and do triage if it’s needed.
• Learn how to explain exactly what you want. Very often people do not deliver what we asked for because our instructions (not their abilities) are at fault.

These are the same guidelines you can use when you are at home directing your spouse, family members, a doula, a housekeeper, or anyone else present to help you. Over the years I’ve learned that work ethic is perhaps the most important ingredient in the mix. Which is the most important for you? Be sure your helpers are equipped to meet your needs.

Next week you’ll be on your feet working on your bedroom. Physical activity will be a nice contrast to this week of intense planning. If you need to sneak in a reward as the week draws to a close, I think that’s a wonderful idea. Just be sure it’s within your new budget!
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