So Sarah and I plan to have a baby soon. A couple of days ago was CD (cycle day) 1 for me. So when cycle day 1 rolls around next month (or perhaps the month after that, depending on our clinic), we will start the process of making us a baby via IVF. We have waited so long for this, it has felt for a long time that it has to be our turn now, surely? Today I'm feeling rather impatient with it all, and just want to get on with it.
But the fact that life has made us wait has brought us lots of benefits, and I am a huge believer of trying to see the good in a given situation. Had we have gone straight in to IVF when originally planned, straight after our wedding, we wouldn't have then gone to Reykjavik for the second time, or Marrakech, or had our really incredible, once in a lifetime 3 week trip around the USA for our 1st wedding anniversary. And had we have come back from California and gone straight in to IVF, I would have been rather pregnant just as our lives got tipped on their head and I wanted / needed to move jobs. We also, as it happens, wouldn't have been eligible for the new 'Shared Parental Leave" that kicks in this week.
Shared Parental Leave is a new Government Policy that came in to force officially just a few days ago. It means that under the new policy, both parents can choose to spend their allocated 50 weeks of leave and 37 weeks of pay between them, in any way that they choose. Aside from the compulsory two weeks that new mothers have to take off to recover, this means that in theory the other parent could become the stay at home parent from when the baby is two weeks old, and the mother who gave birth could return to work. A more likely scenario is that the mother will stay at home for four / five / six months perhaps, and then want to return to work, at which time the baby's other parent will take over the leave. You can also run your leave side by side, i.e. both have the first three months off together, or take it in blocks…mother off for four mothers, other parent off for a month, mother off again for a month etc, providing the employers agree to it.
There has been much written about this new policy, with a lot of people suggesting that this still does not provide equality, and that ultimately the child will be the one to suffer. On the equality issue, I can only see that this is a huge step in equality, in that it recognises that both parents should have the right to be at home full time looking after their baby, regardless of gender and whether or not they gave birth. A lot of arguments I have seen for it not being equal suggest that if a mother is offered an enhanced maternity package by her employers (for example the NHS do, with six months half pay on top of SMP), then she will lose that if she returns to work before then (as the other parent would only get the statutory amount of parental pay - £139 per week currently). This is true, but until employers decide to change their own individual policies and honour enhanced pay packages for either parent when taking leave, there is little that can be done and is beyond the Government's control. Furthermore, the vast majority of women who work outside of the public sector particularly would be looking at SMP from six weeks anyway. I would suggest, knowing what I do about childbirth, childcare and most importantly breastfeeding, that it would be fairly hard work for a mother to return to work before the age of six months anyway - she would need to be a pretty dab hand with the breast pump to ensure she didn't affect her supply and ensured she could still feed her baby on demand. But if she started back at work when the child began to wean (six months) that still leaves another full six months that the other parent would be eligible for parental leave, with three months of that being paid at the statutory parental pay rate. I think this sounds pretty…well… equitable really!
The other side of this argument is that employers will start to look at men differently if they start asking for chunks of leave when they have a new child. I think we should be celebrating that this may be about to happen! Imagine if the well established and documented gender / pay gap suddenly started reducing because men were not being promoted ahead of women solely on the assumption that the woman will be needing to take a year off for maternity leave if she happens to be going for a promotion and happens to be of child-bearing age. Imagine if men and women were finally seen…wait for it…EQUALLY in the workplace in terms of their dedication to their jobs and their families. Maybe if men and non-birthing women start taking six months off after the birth of their child and society began to see these creatures as family-orientated people, not career defined robots (unless of course they want to be a robot, and then that's their right to choose!).
The other argument is that the child will be the one to suffer. Well this for me is a non-starter of an argument. How could a child possible suffer by being cared for solely by one or both of it's parents for the first twelve months of it's life?!
So how does all of this fit in with our plans to have a baby? Well we are yet to work out the details, but we both agree that we will take advantage of David Cameron's new policy to some degree. I am the main wage earner, but will also be our baby's tummy mummy. I plan to exclusively breastfeed for the first six months, and then continue to nurse for as long as the child wants to / for a couple of years. Therefore it makes sense for me to stay at home with the baby for as much of the first six months as our finances allow, given that I will be on SPP (statutory parental pay) at that point, and will probably, knowing me and given that fact I do love my job, be wanting to return to work, at least in part. Sarah wants to be at home for the first 4 - 6 weeks of our baby's life. Not only to be here on a practical level but also to have that initial bonding time with our tiny new person (also known as 4am nappy changes, I've heard…). So it is possible and quite likely that she will have up to 6 weeks of the shared leave at the beginning, and I will have 24 weeks. That leaves us with 7 more paid weeks and an additional 13 unpaid weeks. We would like to think, therefore, that she will take a second chunk of time off as I return to work, so when the baby is about six months old or so. If she had another 8 weeks off, our baby would be about 8 months old before we even had to think about arranging some sort of childcare. It also means our baby would have 8 months solely with one or both of it's parents, which sounds pretty amazing to me.
So this is all well and good, but first we have the small matter of needing to conceive said child and then allow it to grow for 10 months or so, before either of us are able to swap Monday morning 6am alarm clocks for 3am parties with a baby who doesn't know night from day! I know you should never wish your life away, especially when we are so lucky to have the one we do, so I'd never want to, but come on, come on, come onnnnnnn, I can't wait!