The Maternity Leave Sabbatical
Eight weeks ago, I had a baby girl, Hope.
My pregnancy was wrought with all kinds of trouble and fear.
As a female youth worker, one of my early fears was how my church would react to the news.
I hoped it would be unashamedly excited for me, especially knowing we'd journeyed through miscarriage. I feared, based on the experience of some of my female friends in ministry, they'd be far more concerned about what it meant for them. Knowing this, I was genuinely afraid of having to talk to my boss about maternity leave.
When I finally worked up the courage to do so, I was pleasantly surprised by our conversation.
He asked me what I was thinking. I hemmed and hawed, saying how unsure I was, especially regarding my involvement in our summer trip, a trip that was scheduled to occur a mere 7 weeks after my due date.
He immediately said he hadn't planned on my being on that trip.
I, in turn, breathed a deep sigh of relief.
Before long, we settled on eight weeks of paid maternity leave. My boss explicitly said that during that time, he expected me to “really be gone.”
Hope was born on May 22 and for the first month after her birth, I rarely thought about work. Oh sure, I was vaguely aware of the mission trip that left without me – the first mission trip I've NOT gone on in 13 years of youth ministry. But still, I was so overwhelmed by my new role as a mom that during those early weeks, as much as I love my work, there was simply no extra space to be thinking about it.
About that time, I had a conversation with a friend who asked how much maternity leave I'd been given. When I told him eight weeks, he expressed his surprise over that, stating that in his experience, churches were far more likely to give female youth workers four or six weeks.
As he said this, I thought about my current state and realized that had I only been given four weeks, as much as I love my job, I wouldn't have been ABLE to go back at that point. I was still recovering from a C-section and we were barely beginning to figure out how to function as a family of three.
My friend then said this: “Those extra weeks of maternity leave would cost a church almost nothing. But think about how much they give you.”
Having had those additional four weeks of maternity leave, I definitely understand what my friend meant. Those extra weeks allowed me to figure some things out, including important things like breastfeeding. They allowed me to recover more physically from my C-section. Beyond that, though, they also enabled me to feel like my feet were back on the ground before returning to work.
Because of that, something really important happened for me: The time away from ministry – the longest I've ever spent away from ministry – actually refreshed and replenished me.
Don't get me wrong: As a new parent, I'm perpetually exhausted. But for the first time in YEARS, I'm not starting another programming year near burnout, exhausted by a summer of events and mission trips.
Instead, when my alarm went off on Monday morning, I woke up excited to return to work.
During my last two weeks of maternity leave, my brain began churning... I began thinking, praying, and dreaming about my ministry in a way that I haven't done in a long time. I'm returning with a fresh perspective, renewed energy, and new ideas for ministry in the year ahead. Rather than feel stuck, I feel ready to begin anew, excited for what awaits me and the families I have the privilege of serving.
In this season, I'm grateful for my newborn daughter and for a church family who cared enough about mine to give me time away to adjust to parenthood.
My family reaped the benefits of that. But as it turns out, I think my church family will too.