You actually have a lot of control over when you begin your maternity leave, so planning when to start it can be just as tricky as deciding how long you want to take off (see legal information, below).
In my case, people assumed it would be easy. My baby was due mid-September, so everyone assumed that once the final class of July was over, I would be “off” – enjoying an elongated maternity leave.
Quite frankly, that thought terrified me. I was incredibly nervous about handing over classes (even though I knew that every member of my department was an incredible teacher) and relinquishing the running of whole-school initiatives that I had helped to oversee. I also had a niggling fear of simply being forgotten in the maelstrom of a new academic year.
This all led to a decision to start my maternity leave after the first week back in September: nine days before my due date.
Few people seemed to understand the logic behind my thinking. Thankfully, my head of department and I have a similar outlook and mindset. She “got me” – I didn’t have to explain myself.
A phased exit from work
So rather than use the summer break to put my swollen feet up, I worked three out of the five weeks pretty much full-time. I then went back to school in September feeling more confident in the handover process and looking forward to maternity leave as an opportunity for growth – both literally and professionally.
Some might think that going back for only the first week of term is an odd choice; you hit the ground running and before pupils are out of the starting blocks, you’re off again.
However, it gave me an opportunity to deliver Year 11 lessons on Macbeth, sit in on reading lessons with key stage 3 and conduct interviews with Year 10 pupils about using drama in their English lessons.
Although it was physically tiring, working up until nine days before my due date – baby made me wait another 10! – this phased exit from work was what I felt I needed to do for my wellbeing.
I should stress that this is what worked for me: it is not a template for others, nor is it a recommendation. When to start parental leave is a very personal decision. It is dependent on a range of factors. There is no right time and don’t let anyone judge you for the decisions you make.
Work out what will make you most comfortable, and what is in the best interests of all involved. That might not align with the school calendar, but remember, your own sense of readiness doesn’t necessarily always align with the school calendar. And why should it?
Charlotte Bell is leader of GCSE English literature and media at Balaam Wood School, Birmingham. She is social secretary and West Midlands representative of The Maternity Teacher/Paternity Teacher Project