Wednesday, May 04, 2005

paternity leave

I'm on sick call for the next two weeks playing Substitute Teacher of the Year Peggy Hill, which means I have to wear my pager at all times, even when I'm home. I don't like this at all.

So today I decided that I was going to sit down and do some good old fashioned studying. You know, to learn things and get smart. The only thing is, I couldn't find the book I was looking for. Yes, I know I have many, many more books from which to study, but I wanted to study that book, dammit. And I just can't imagine where it went. What, like someone would come into our house and steal it? Worst cat burglar ever. Even the chances that I misplaced it are low, since aside from it's brief shelf life at Barnes and Noble and the fun trip home in a plastic bag, I don't think this book has ever left the computer room. So where could it be? I must find this book. All other books are dead to me.

Then I noticed that my desk was kind of messy. On first pass, it didn't look like the book could be nestled in the pile of papers and assorted waste, but I suppose it could be hiding in there. So now I have to clean my desk. Ah, cleaning as an excuse for not studying. Some old med school habits die hard.





(It really is quite messy, though.)


* * *


So Joe and I had sort of a...conversation last night about his plans for taking time off from work for paternity leave. Our original plan from day one had been this: I would take off four weeks of medical leave and use one week of vacation time after the baby was born to total five weeks total of maternity leave. Joe would plan to take off two weeks of his vacation time immediately abutting my leave to total seven weeks total of having a parent at home 24/7 with the kid, even if it wasn't the same parent clear throughout. We would phase in our nanny during this time, maybe have her come in a couple a days a week to start, and then transition her over to full time as we both returned to work. Seemed like a reasonable plan.

Yesterday, Joe told me that he didn't think that he would be able to take two consecutive vacation weeks off after all. He said it would be "too much strain on the clinic." I didn't understand why him taking two weeks off consecutively would be different than having two separate residents each taking one week of vacation back to back (something that happens fairly often), but I was like OK, whatever. So there would be six weeks total of a parent home with the kid. Six is better than five at any rate, and I would still have the peace of mind of knowing that Joe was home with the kid for that first week that I returned to work.

But today I started thinking some more about what it would be like immediately after the kid came home. That first week, for instance, when we were still figuring things out. And I wasn't quite sure that our original plan--to just have me at home alone with the kid for the first five weeks--was the best use of our time off. Joe seemed reluctant to even consider asking for an extra day or two off immediately after the kid was born, and given how new we would be to all of this baby stuff, I thought I would feel more backed up if we actually overlapped some of our vacation time--namely, if he took a week of vacation at the beginning of my leave as opposed to after my leave ended. Hell, after five weeks, when I returned to work, we'd have things figured out, right? (She said optimistically.) It's that first week that it's really important that we both be there to get things all set up.

So therein began our conversation.



MICHELLE
So I was thinking that if you only get one week off for this kid, maybe it makes more sense to take it off at the beginning of my leave, you know, immediately after the kid is born, rather than at the end.

JOE
Mmm-hmmm.

MICHELLE
I know that we had originally conceived of your vacation time with the kid as sort of a bridging measure for me getting back to work without stressing out too much about leaving the kid at home, but honestly, I'm thinking about spending that first week home alone with this kid and it's freaking me out. I think it might be nicer if we did it together.

JOE
Is that what you want?

MICHELLE
Well, I think it might be nice for us to have that first week with the kid off together, but it's your vacation time. Tell me what you want to do.

JOE
I don't know. I hadn't really thought about it that concretely.

MICHELLE
OK, so let's say that you don't take that first week as your vacation time. Will they at least give you a day off? Just one day after the kid is born? To at least, you know, drive us home from the hospital?

JOE
I don't know. I have to ask.

MICHELLE
(Getting a little mad)
Because I think that's pretty reasonable, to get one day off after the birth of your child.

JOE
I'll have to run it by my Chief.

MICHELLE
What "run it by?" Just tell him. Tell him that the day your kid comes home from the hospital, you're going to need a day off.

JOE
But if we can't plan in advance what day that's going to be, then they can't know to downbook my clinic patients.

MICHELLE
Well, what if you were sick one day, unexpectedly? Then what would happen? The clinic would just have to cope, wouldn't it? Trust me, people ask for a lot more for a lot stupider reasons.

JOE
I have to run it by my Chief.

MICHELLE
Well, listen. My maternity leave starts August 1st. And that's the latest that this pregnancy is going to go, because I already talked with [my OB/Gyn] about this whole short maternity leave issue, and if this kid isn't emerging from the womb by August 1st, we're inducing. So why not just ask for the first week of August as your vacation time?

JOE
I'm not supposed to.

MICHELLE
What?

JOE
Residents aren't supposed to ask for vacations during July or August.

MICHELLE
Well why the hell not?

JOE
Because it's the beginning of the academic year.

MICHELLE
Well, listen, that might have been the case this year, since you were a first-year resident and had to get oriented and all that, but next year you'll be a second year, and that just doesn't make any sense at all, especially given the circumstances.

JOE
I don't make the rules.

MICHELLE
Well, don't tell me that the stupid rules can't be bent for big life events like THE BIRTH OF YOUR FIRST CHILD. I mean, what would they do if someone got sick in July? If someone's parent died in August? Would they say, "Too bad, the rules say you can't take off in July or August. Guess you'll have to miss the funeral."

JOE
I have to run it by my Chief.

MICHELLE
Well, what if he says no?

JOE
He won't say no.

MICHELLE
So why do you have to run it by him? Why don't you just tell him that you want to take your vacation the first week of August?

JOE
Because it's not allowed.

MICHELLE
Well, do you even want to do this? It's your vacation time, you decide when you want to take it. Do you want to take it at the beginning or the end of my leave?

JOE
Honestly, I hadn't thought that concretely about it.

MICHELLE
Well, start thinking concretely! We don't have a whole lot of time left to work with here!

JOE
Well, what if I request that vacation time, and they don't schedule me for any patients then, and the kid is born early? And then my whole clinic schedule is screwed up, because I'll have no patients that week and 30 patients a day the next week?

MICHELLE
Look, you're not the only one with scheduling concerns here. I requested my maternity leave starting August 1st, and because of the orientation schedule I have with the Anesthesia program, I actually cannot miss work before July 29th. I mean, if the kid comes earlier, there's nothing I can do about it, but I have just as much invested in the timing of this birth as you. And at least don't have to be physically absent from work immediately after the kid is born. If you need to go see patients while Cal and I are still in the hospital, be my guest. If the he comes early and your vacation time isn't scheduled for another two weeks, then I guess you'll be working those first two weeks after the kid is born. But I don't have the luxury of doing that. So I'm hoping just as much as you, if not more, that this kid comes right on time.

JOE
I just think this is a stressful conversation.

MICHELLE
Stressful for you? All this boils down to is you scheduling your vacation time! I'm the one who is actually switching residencies and giving birth all in the same month!

JOE
I just have to see if it's OK for me to take my vacation time in August.

MICHELLE
(Dawning realization)
Wait, did you ask your Chief if it was OK for you to take two consecutive weeks off and your Chief said "no," or did you decide by yourself that it would be "too much of a burden on the clinic"?

JOE
(Small pause)
I decided myself.

MICHELLE
(Acidly)
You know, other people work there too. You're not the only person that sees patients around there.

JOE
I know.

MICHELLE
Look, whatever. It's your vacation time, it's your choice. Take two weeks off, take one week, don't take any time off at all. If you're not the one that wants to take off time to be with your baby after he's born, then I don't care. Go to work, do whatever then hell you want.
(Soap opera-ish flourish of dramatic music)


So, blah blah blah, domestic squabbles blah. But honestly, the part that gets to me the most about that whole conversation was the "I hadn't thought that concretely about it." And the response that I was barely able to hold back was to that was, well that must be nice. Must be nice to not have to think concretely about this kid being born, to not have to worry daily and incessantly about timing, to not worry about being scheduled to work right up until and beyond the very day that the baby is due to be born, worry about switching residency programs and then having to take time off just a month after starting, to worry about how I would be viewed professionally or by my peers for taking that time off, to not have to stress about having only five weeks off from work with the possibility of needing six weeks to recover from a C-section, the logisitics of pumping on breaks from the OR, getting to work on time every morning and getting home before the nanny quits and still having a semblance of focus and dedication to my patients at the hospital. Yes, it must be nice not to have thought concretely about those things.

I know I'm making a bigger deal out of this than needs be made, and I know that part of it stems from worry that Joe would enter some kind of daddy-fear fugue state and just start going into denial mode shortly before Cal joins us in gaseous oxygen world. But still, it bugs me. Because I just feel like he should be thinking concretely about these things. And it shouldn't be just about what I want, but what he wants too.

Currently reading: Well, not "Lange's Clinical Anesthesiology," that's for sure. At least not until I can find it.

Addendum: Found it! Though it had nothing to do with cleaning my desk. Apparently it was on the bookshelf, but the spine was facing in. Sneaky.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Post a Comment