Plan ahead for maternity leaveThe author of the “Mom-to-Be Survival Kit” says mothers are a trinity of superhuman action heroes: Superwoman, Superman and Plastic Man rolled into one. Add a Working Woman to that equation, and a mom-to-be’s role becomes exponentially more complex.
When you’re working and pregnant for the first time, the number of questions can seem overwhelming: When do you tell your boss about your pregnancy? How much maternity leave is guaranteed by Korean law? Who will care for your baby when you return to work? And, a few years later, will your preschooler resent you for going to the office each morning?
Experts say there are no correct answers. The solutions are all about what works best for you.
The first concern for pregnant workers is talking to their supervisors. Most women tell their bosses at the end of their first trimester, when the riskiest period of their pregnancy has passed.
Jean Park, a marketer in Seoul, was six weeks pregnant when she got the good news. But she waited another two weeks before telling her boss, making sure everything was going smoothly.
Others take a different approach. Kim Mi-young, who works in the Seoul Hilton hotel’s business center, told her manager as soon as she knew she was pregnant because her co-workers were aware she was trying to get pregnant.
Career advisers suggest avoiding discussions of long-term plans when telling your boss that you’re pregnant. Specifics ― such as the exact dates of your leave, who will assume your responsibilities and whether you’ll want additional time off ― are usually discussed closer to your due date.
Korean citizens get three months full-paid maternity leave. Foreigners working here get two months paid leave.
During pregnancy, some women suffer from morning sickness and fatigue, so they have to set a flexible working schedules with their supervisors. “All the days seem to roll into one,” laments Noh Si-ok, 30, a Seoul computer programmer, now six months pregnant. She takes breaks at work when she’s tired.
But taking breathers can cause problems. Some women say they sense resentment among men who feel they’re getting special treatment.
Once the baby is born, many mothers feel they must choose between caring for their infant and the income that their careers provide. But there are other elements to consider.
“The value of my salary is nowhere near the value of rearing my child,” Ms. Noh says. “But I’ve chosen to work because I’m afraid of losing myself, of becoming an ajumma,” Korean for a middle-aged housewife.
Her colleague, Lee Mi-yeon, made a similar decision. While Ms. Lee notes that stay-at-home mothers develop strong bonds with other moms in their neighborhoods, she chose to return to work rather than sacrifice her career.
Ms. Park, who gave birth in December, returned to her marketing job this month, basing her decision on her experiences as a child. Ms. Park’s mother was a working mom.
And yet, as a child, Ms. Park admits she questioned her mother’s devotion to her. “My friends had mothers who stayed at home,” she explains. “There were times when I thought maybe my mom liked her job more than me.”
Now, Ms. Park respects her mom’s ability to balance her career and family, and says her mom is especially supportive as she fills a similar role.
“My mother never suggests that I quit,” Ms. Park says. “She says, ‘Suck it up and work hard.’ But most importantly, she asks, ‘How can I help you?’”
ADVICE FOR EXPECTANT MOTHERS
Take care of your body. Talk to your doctor about the amount of rest and the intensity of exercise that is best for you and your baby.
Once you start your maternity leave, keep in touch with your supervisor and your co-workers. Ms. Park phoned work once a week, just to say hello.
Plan your return to work. Ms. Park says some women return to work for one day, realize the stress is too much and resign. “Quitting on the spot harms the image of working mothers,” Ms. Park observes.
Start looking for a caretaker as soon as possible. Skilled, private nannies are usually booked well in advance. Other options include day-care centers and at-home services. Only a few companies offer on-site child-care programs.
And, remember, no matter how competent your sitter is, you’ll still worry about leaving your infant in someone else’s care.
Find a doctor you’re comfortable with. For suggestions, phone Focus, the nonprofit support group for expatriates, at (02) 798-7529. Also check with your embassy for a list of doctors who speak your native language.
Know the law. Don’t rely on your employer to give you a detailed listing of your legal rights. For information, call the Ministry of Labor at (02) 2110-2114.
by Joe Yong-hee
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