What have we DONE!?
All being well, by now you should have a stick with a little blue line or perhaps even a small black-and-white photo that looks a bit like a satellite weather picture of Cuba. Congratulations! There's no going back now.
Feel free to panic.
Or maybe you're simply in denial. Either way, take a deep breath, close your eyes, relax and repeat the calming mantra, 'It could be worse; it could be twins.' Of course, if you haven't got that small black-and-white photo yet, it could actually be twins, so you might want to think of triplets. Triplets are pretty rare. 1 in 5000 rare. And some of those are IVF. So almost vanishingly rare really. Almost... Er, maybe you should stay in denial 'til you're sure. Forget I said anything. Go surfing for gadgets on Amazon. Move along. Nothing to see here...
Anyway, it's easy for a while to believe that your life hasn't changed. Your partner may be tired, nauseous and unable to consume alcohol or caffeine but you can happily sit around drinking an Irish coffee as you tuck into a Stilton, peanut and mayo sandwich. (Don't try this by the way - she will kill you). Also, hardly anyone will know your secret identity as a prospective dad. Some people rush out and tell everyone straight away but the chance of something going wrong is highest in the first two or three months so it's worth holding off. (More information can be found here). If you wait until after the scan you'll even be able to pass round your screenshot of a Caribbean hurricane for friends and colleagues to feign interest in. There's no need to get all that decorating done yet.
One week to go
Nine months pass very quickly. Don't sit around drinking Irish coffees - get all that decorating done. You will also need to become an expert on maternity law, go shopping, attend some antenatal classes and reassure your partner that you still find her attractive. Oh, and get some sleep while you still can.
If you and your partner are both working, then there will be a temptation, for very sound financial reasons, for you to keep working until the end of her maternity leave. The problem is, do you really want to take over a job that your partner has become an expert at? Do you want baby entirely used to her and her routines? Do you want constant suggestions as to how to do things better, equipment in places that make no sense and a buggy with handles that are too low?
I'm guessing not.
Quit early and you and your partner can get to know baby together. Learning about nappies and vomit and sleep deprivation will be a shared experience leaving happy memories of a golden time bonding as a family. Also, she can get back to work sooner and you can put the changing unit where you want it.
The catch? Your finances will be placed entirely in the hands of government departments and whoever calculates your partner's payroll. I'll discuss tax credits and child benefit later; for now you need to become a master of maternity regulations. If your partner works in the public sector then you might be OK but a small firm is likely to be unaware of their obligations. A large firm with a crack team of HR professionals whose job it is to get these things right might not fair much better. Think about the number of times a crack team of professionals have messed you about in the past. My favourite example was when a well-known mortgage provider managed to not only lose my title deeds but also forget where I lived. With that level of incompetence about, there's a good chance of something going wrong, from only receiving four weeks of maternity pay a month, to having employer pension contributions cut.
I was going to go through the UK maternity regulations step-by-step but then I looked them up and discovered that they're very long and complicated and deadly dull. Still, that annoying bloke in HR is going to think the same thing and he doesn't have a vested interest in getting it right, so you need to know something. GO TO THE GOVERNMENT WEBSITE NOW. When you get back, here are a few details you might have missed:
- Paid holiday (including bank holidays) is accrued normally during ordinary maternity leave but it might not be possible to carry days across holiday years. (If this could be a problem, start your partner negotiating now. Make sure she gets everything in writing - the HR department may have been out-sourced to India in a year's time. No one will even remember that bloke Steve who said everything would be fine and that there's nothing to worry about). Accrued holiday may be limited during additional maternity leave.
- Your partner is entitled to all rights and benefits (apart from salary obviously) during ordinary maternity leave, and her old job back at the end. Some benefits (such as pension contributions) can be cut during additional maternity leave, and her employer can sometimes get away with giving her only a similar job.
- It is illegal to make someone redundant for being pregnant or to treat them less favourably for being pregnant and taking maternity leave. Of course no one is going to say, 'You're sacked 'cos you're on baby holiday', but employers can be pretty devious (or just daft). For instance, your partner's team might all get sent on a training course a week before she's due to go on leave, while she has to stay at the office to man the phones. Her manager might even be stupid enough to mention that she was picked to stay because she's not going to be around for awhile. If, three months later, the team's size is cut and she's made redundant on the basis that she's not as well trained as the other members, well, that's illegal. She has the same rights to training, pay rises and interesting work. She can't be excluded from projects on the basis that she's 'not going to be there to see them finished'. That's a mad argument anyway. Anyone else could give notice and be gone in a few weeks; a pregnant woman isn't going to change jobs.
Don't quote me on any of this. This stuff changes all the time and the tax man is in the detail. Hopefully it will get you thinking and planning, though. Find out more at: