Yale moms balance babies, the checkbook

Deborah Ellinghaus, the senior associate director for development and alumni affairs at the Yale School of Drama, has been putting in extra hours at her job, sometimes even from home. She is preparing for the birth of her second child around early May.

“Is there a baby in mommy’s belly?” Ellinghaus asked her first-born daughter, Madeline, as she patted the six-month swell under her shirt. Madeline is too busy coloring in her mother’s office to pay attention.

When Ellinghaus had Madeline in the spring of 2007, after less than two years of working at the University Theatre, she took a three-month job leave. This time, she said, she hopes to get more time off — about five months. While she has accrued enough sick days and vacation time to have the University pay for the first three months of her leave, the rest, she said, will not be paid.

“You feel like, ‘I can’t take any vacation right now. I can’t afford to take a free day because I need to save,’ ” Ellinghaus said.

For expectant mothers on Yale’s staff, University policy provides leave benefits through two leave policies: “pregnancy and childbirth disability leave” (for mothers preparing to give birth) and “child-rearing leave” (for all biological or adopting parents after the baby is born). Through these policies, an expecting mother with a normal childbirth could potentially take up to 34 weeks off to take care of her newborn.

But since these leaves are all unpaid, four Yale-employed mothers interviewed by the News said they must use their personal, sick, holiday and vacation times — up to 52 days annually, plus rollover from previous years — to be paid during their time off. This often means these mothers must struggle to find the balance between child care and their full-time jobs, they said. Although Human Resources Compensations & Benefits Director Hugh Penney called the leave and accrued-days-off payment program for Yale staff expectant mothers “very competitive,” some Yale officials said they may consider improving leave policies.

“There isn’t enough of an emphasis here placed on valuing people’s babies,” Ellinghaus said.

UNPAID LEAVE

For female staff members, pregnancy and childbirth disability leave typically lasts eight to 10 weeks — two weeks before delivery and six to eight weeks after, depending on whether the mother undergoes a caesarean section — in which mothers are not required to work at all. Longer terms of disability leave due to medical complications require a doctor’s note.

While there is no “gold standard” for the length of maternity leave, six weeks is typically recommended, wrote Charles Lockwood, a professor at the Yale School of Medicine and the chief of obstetrics and gynecology at Yale-New Haven Hospital, in an e-mail message. Mothers who take too little time off, he explained, risk depression and difficulties in breast-feeding.

Official policies at the seven other Ivy League schools, as outlined in their respective human resources Web sites and handbooks, suggest that Yale’s unpaid leave policy falls short.

The University is the only Ivy League school that does not offer paid disability or child-rearing leave to employees. (All Ivy League schools allow their employees to utilize their paid vacation and sick days during child-rearing.)

“We continue to evaluate our programs against Ivy League schools and local employers as we study alternative means of addressing the needs of staff members in caring for newborns and adopted children,” Penney wrote in an e-mail message.

The other Ivies generally offer, at minimum, four to eight weeks of paid disability leave. If a doctor determines that a mother has incurred a major disability from childbirth, for instance, staff members at Princeton and Cornell can receive up to 26 weeks of leave with reduced pay.

TRAILING BEHIND THE IVIES

While the University offers mothers up to 34 weeks for normal childbirth and up to 78 weeks for extreme disability — more time off than most other Ivies — Yale mothers interviewed complained that without any other option to be paid, besides spending vacation time and sick days, the length of time offered is less significant.

A more immediate concern, Ellinghaus said, is personal finances. During the unpaid two months of her upcoming pregnancy leave, Ellinghaus said, her family of four-to-be will depend primarily on her husband’s salary. Her husband currently works in the sales department of a local advertising company, but due to the faltering economy, she said, his commission-based income may fluctuate. To help pay the bills, Ellinghaus said, she may have to go back to work a few months earlier than planned.

“It’s difficult to live off just one income,” Ellinghaus stressed.

Like policies at all but two other Ivy institutions, Yale’s policies surpass the minimum requirements set by the 1993 Family Medical Leave Act, among other regulations, which mandate at least 12 weeks of unpaid leave. (The other two Ivies, Dartmouth and University of Pennsylvania, have policies that provide leaves of 12 weeks, four of which are paid through disability benefits.)

Yale staff members get up to 26 continuous weeks of child-rearing leave. And according to the University policy, workers will not lose any of their salary or benefits upon their return.

Yet in order to receive payment for their absence, staff and faculty members have no other option but to use their allotted sick days and vacation time for this period.

“There’s a lot of times I felt horrible and I would have stayed home,” said one Yale staff manager, who gave birth to her son in May and spoke to the News on the condition of anonymity. “It’s not really fair to me, but I guess it is what it is.”

… “TO COME BACK AND FUNCTION”

Not all working mothers at Yale, however, are struggling to balance motherhood with work.

Janna Ellis, director of audience services at the Yale Repertory Theatre, was able to take three months of paid leave, using the sick days she accrued during her three years at the University.

Although Ellis’ husband received one week of paid paternity leave from his employer, and he also used up several weeks of his sick and vacation time, she said. Since Ellis spent “sufficient” time with her newborn, Alayna, she said she felt comfortable leaving her child in order to return to work in the fall of 2007.

“We were able to be home as a family with no distractions,” Ellis said. “I’m really fortunate. Without the time I had taken off, I wouldn’t have been able to come back and function.”

The Yale staff manager, in contrast, said she did not have adequate time to bond with her child after giving birth. She said she returned to work part-time when her child was just three weeks old. She began working full-time two weeks later, she said.

Her husband spent most of the time over the summer with her son, which led her to notice that the child often favored her husband.

“When he was upset, he wanted my husband, he didn’t want me — which kind of stinks,” she said. “I felt horrible about it, but there wasn’t a choice. My husband doesn’t work at the moment, so I have to work.”

Ellinghaus agreed that she hoped to share a large part in bringing up her baby.

“Your babies are only your babies once,” she said. “And we as parents only get one opportunity to spend time with them.”

Florence Dethy contributed reporting.

Comments

  • policy reporting was good, but what about dads?

    The authors of this piece did a good job with the policy bit -- it's shocking that Yale lacks paid pregnancy disability leave and paid parental leave. I'm not surprised that we lag way behind the rest of the Ivies there. Get with it, Yale! No serious large employer in the 21st century should offer ZERO days paid parental leave.

    I'm less impressed with these reporters' choice to focus exclusively on mothers. What about Yale employees who are fathers? This is not the 1950s. Dads (who want to be full/equal parents) need time off to care for newborn and adopted babies too. Would it have killed you to find _one_ Yale dad to interview for the story?

  • Whatever happened to gender equality

    I thought this was an interesting article, but seriously there are both mothers and fathers who want to take care of their newborns. Yale moms and dads have to balance their careers and their families.

    It just goes to show that people still think that only mothers are responsible for caring for their children. This is why people guilt mothers for having a career but think it's perfectly acceptable if a father spends all his time at work.

  • yes

    well said, @2.

  • Anonymous

    how could this article not examine the issue of paternity leave?

  • Grad

    Nice piece, but what about the Dads?

  • add one more to the pile!

    I didn't expect that when I clicked on "comments" ALL FIVE of the first comments would be saying what I wanted to say. I'm glad other people care about this issue too.

    So I'll just try to say it very slow & clear for you reporters: stop it with the sexist stereotypes. Men are parents too. We need benefits too if we're going to actually parent our young kids.

    Also, just to add one more related point: this article was written as though you people had never heard of pregnancy disability leave before, and how that's different from parental leave. Well, here's how. Pregnancy disability is a temporary, physical disability that keeps you from being able to work. Parental leave is for all parents to care for a newborn. It's not just for biological mothers, but for fathers, adoptive mothers, and anybody else who has to care for a new baby. It's for parents. So don't act like this is some weird distinction Yale made up, and don't try to call policies "maternity" leave that are really parental leave. (If you're ever reporting that a school's policy really does offer different "maternity" and "paternity" flavors of _parental_ leave, then that's pretty serious discrimination that your readers should know about!)

  • reporters?

    Do reporters actually read these comments?

  • Anonymous

    Agreed with all: of course, the article should have addressed paternity leave policies and rights.

    But it's still a huge problem that even pregnancy disability leave is unpaid. If THAT is unpaid (assuming that the medical stress on women's bodies after childbirth or Cesarean section is different from either parent's need for paternal leave) when can we expect Yale to become progressive enough to provide paid paternity leave?

  • Sarah

    I love that the article has brought this to light, but I wish they had also mentioned that at Yale we don't have ANY short term disability insurance at all.

    If you get injured in an accident driving in to work one day and need to take a few weeks off, you'd better have sick or vacation time saved up, otherwise you're out of luck with getting paid.

    I think it's horrible that there is no short term disability insurance in place for all employees - which would also cover a standard 6 week leave for maternity.

  • Alice

    Great article! Heads up to those who are interested--the Women's Center is hosting a talk on this topic this Wednesday at 9. There will be free food and great discussion, so come if you can!