Maternity leave is a hotly debated topic the world over. I’m lucky that in Austria this translates to a pretty good deal. In fact, I was told when I first considered moving here that if I wanted to have kids one day, I should definitely stay in Austria.
I can’t go into all the details because to be honest, I don’t know them. Hubby thankfully took on all the research of the myriad of options, taking into account financial considerations, and then set it out for me in an easy to digest format.
One of the things I’m super impressed about, is that you get additional leave for the 8 weeks before and after birth, but this time is completely independent from your maternity leave (they call it Mutterschutz which loosely translates to Mother Protection). So regardless of which parent decides to undertake mat leave, the mother, who, let’s be honest, is the one doing all the work, is given 8 weeks to relax and prepare, and 8 weeks to recover (12 for a C-section). And then maternity leave kicks in.
In Australia, and many other countries around the world from what I can tell, it’s most common to work as long as possible leading up to the birth, to maximise the time you can spend at home afterwards.
In my last week of work I was at my gyno, getting a checkup, and multiple people remarked that they were surprised I was still working. Because while 8 weeks is the legally stated time, many mothers in Austria choose to finish earlier. This can be for any number of reasons, from the type of work undertaken, to pregnancy complications, to, in these times, simply the threat of Covid. I was happy to work up until the end – that was my choice – I work from home, I have a good office set up, and although my job can be high stress at times, I can flex it quite easily, so it’s not like I’m forced to stand at a machine for hours on end without a toilet break. During my pregnancy, I could take a rest if I needed it. And finish work later when I felt better.
Yet in the same week that people in Austria were aghast that I was still working, my colleagues in the UK who were suddenly realising it was my last week, were aghast that I was already going on mat leave. But it’s so early, they said. What are you going to do? Won’t you be bored?
Short answer: no. I get that some people might. But in the end I think that forcing people (who have perhaps more physically demanding jobs than I do) to work longer is a worse scenario.
I was feeling pretty great. For the first time in my pregnancy the chronic back pain was all but gone, I’d had a good break in Australia and the weather was warming up. I could easily have kept working a bit longer, but the point is I didn’t have to. So I took the time. To sleep in. To enjoy long breakfasts. To catch up on things. To finish my backlog of jigsaw puzzles. To stretch and do my physio exercises. To drop in on the in-laws and actually say yes to a cup of tea because I didn’t have to rush back to my computer. To take long, slow swims and walks. To enjoy the time to myself. Because let’s be honest, after this it’s not going to be about me for a good while.
Because after this 8 weeks I am going to be the busiest I’ve ever been (at least that’s what they tell me). And besides, it’s not like I’m doing nothing. I’m growing a friggin baby! Despite feeling good, it’s still exhausting. Everything has to be undertaken at a slower pace and at the end of the day I find myself rolling into bed wondering how on earth I handled a full work day as well!
Having been in pain for so much of my pregnancy, I am still thankful every day that I can drive, I can walk and I can do the kind of basic things I need to get through the day without help. Because it can all change in an instant, and as it gets closer to the due date that will only become truer.
How long do I plan to stay on maternity leave? Actually, it’s not set in stone yet, and it won’t even be 100% when I’m on it. I have to choose a plan… soon… but I also have the option to change that plan depending on how I feel. Part of me wants to stay home as long as possible. Having waited a long time to have a kid, and having done it consciously, I feel firstly that it’s my responsibility and secondly, that I want to give myself the option to enjoy it. On the other hand, I might hate being cooped up with a kid all day, and want to return to work earlier. Growing up with a stay-at-home-mum, I always wanted to be one myself. Now that I’m older, I’m not so sure.
So I’m just going to have to take it as it comes, and see how I feel, and in the end, I’m super lucky I have that option.