Planning for a baby during your internship year might seem like a daunting task. For me, however, this had been my plan throughout graduate school, as I wanted to take advantage of my health insurance coverage on internship, and then also spend some time as a stay-at-home parent while studying for the EPPP (and recovering from grad school burn out) before starting postdoc. My son was born on June 26, 2018—less than two months shy of my original internship end date and three months shy of my graduation requirements. This is how I planned for my paid maternity leave during internship, finished my dissertation (with mastitis!), and graduated on time.

Know What Your Health Insurance Covers so you can be Financially Prepared

Know your premiums and your deductibles! Call and ask what your insurance will cover. I signed up for health insurance through my internship. I read the details about what my insurance would cover for prenatal care (even down to the circumcision!). I had zero premiums, copays, and never received a bill for the countless appointments, bloodwork, delivery, and pediatrician appointments for my son. They also offered me free prenatal massages and delivered a breast pump for free!

Get Familiar with Both Your Internship’s and State’s Paid Maternity Leave Options and/or Family Medical Leave

During my internship, I moved to Pennsylvania, which does not have publicly funded paid maternity leave. Therefore, I had to rely on my internship’s policy. If you’re curious about your state’s family leave options, check out this table, which has current family medical leave laws by state.

At my internship, in a public hospital setting, I was offered 12 weeks of family medical leave, at 66% pay. I was also aware that my husband would not be offered any leave so I would be caring for the newborn alone.

Know Your Timeline to Complete Requirements for Graduation

When is your original end date for internship? When does your university require you to complete your internship for graduation?

For me, I was determined to walk in my graduation ceremony with my original cohort. Therefore, I needed to complete all graduation requirements by September 14. My internship was supposed to conclude on August 17, so I had to plan my return to work around a strict timeline. For instance, I decided to save all of my paid time off (PTO) – for me, 12 days or 2.5 weeks – combined with 3.5 weeks of family medical leave, totaling six weeks of leave. This way I could make up those 3.5 weeks when I returned to internship because you do not have to make up for PTO days. I completed my internship just in time to graduate with my cohort (I finished internship on September 13 – only one day to spare!).

At first, I planned on returning to work three weeks after childbirth so I could finish internship with my intern cohort, but my doctors informed me they would not approve of me returning to work any sooner than six weeks. However, this was a blessing in disguise while breastfeeding and recovering from childbirth.

Discuss Your Pregnancy with Your Clinical Supervisor at Internship AND Clinical Supervisor at Your University     

Before I spoke to human resources at my internship site, I made sure I spoke with my internship program director in person about my maternity leave plan. I scheduled a meeting with her when I was eight weeks pregnant, even before I told my own family.

I am glad I spoke with her early because I was planning on working longer weeks during my pregnancy to “bank” hours so I could complete internship before I had the baby. However, this was not an option according to HR and her previous experiences with past interns. Instead, we came up with the 2.5 weeks of PTO followed by 3.5 weeks of paid family leave plan. Additionally, I decided to call into didactic seminars every Thursday during maternity leave so I could count 2 hours per week in Time2Track, thus completing internship requirements as soon as feasible to graduate.

My internship program director and I drafted this plan together, and she sent a letter to my university’s training director. Therefore, everyone knew what to expect and there would be no surprises come graduation time. I also used this opportunity to negotiate my hours upon my return. For me, this was working three 12-hour days per week.

This meeting lifted a huge weight off my shoulders, as my supervisor was entirely supportive and genuinely excited for me. By having a plan, the pregnancy felt more manageable. It also afforded me a solid timeline for when family members and classmates asked how I planned to graduate on time.

Additionally, it was during this time that postdoc applications were almost due, and I was being pressured by other supervisors to apply at my current site. I was silently feeling very guilty because I could not tell them why I was not applying. The training director agreed that I should wait until I became a mom to make any postdoc decisions, as I did not know how I would feel once I became a mom. She also kept my pregnancy confidential, as I wanted to wait until the second trimester for the psychology staff to be aware of my pregnancy. My internship director even discussed other informal options for a postdoc, such as working part-time for two years at any mental health position within the hospital, and she would provide supervision for licensure. It was extremely comforting knowing that I had options.

Making Friends with Human Resources, and Paperwork

Once I entered the second trimester, I spoke with human resources about my plan to use all my PTO first and then family medical leave for the remainder of my maternity leave. For my specific site, I had to fill out paperwork, then have my doctor sign it, and my doctor had to fax the paperwork directly to HR. I had 30 days to complete this after informing HR of my pregnancy, or else I ran the risk of not being offered any leave (scary, I know!). Additionally, HR needed my doctor to write a letter stating that I would be fit to call into didactics 2 hours per week while on maternity leave.

HR informed me that once I had the baby, I would have to call them the day I delivered to inform them I was starting my PTO, so they knew when to start my paid family leave. This was a quick voicemail—make sure you save their numbers into your phone!

Lastly, before returning to work, I had to have a doctor approve of my return date. I scheduled my postnatal appointment five weeks after delivery so that I had ample time to mail the signed paperwork to HR. Once I returned to work, I had to send HR a copy of my son’s birth certificate.

Planning Childcare and Exploring Options      

Personally, this was the most anxiety-provoking part. Both my and my husband’s families live in upstate New York, so we did not know anyone in Pennsylvania to help watch our son. We discussed several options but ultimately settled on alternating work schedules. My husband worked four days a week with 10-hour shifts (Wednesdays, Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays), and I worked three days a week with 12-hour shifts (Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays). I was very fortunate that my internship was accommodating and able to support three 12-hour shifts at full-time but, again, I had to have this approved by HR, as I was now working 36 hours per week, and not the 40 hours per week which I had worked before maternity leave.

Planning Leave Around Clinical Responsibilities

As previously mentioned, I condensed all my clinical duties into three days and emailed my plan to every supervisor before my leave. I was at a generalist internship; my clinical responsibilities during my last rotation involved outpatient therapy, psychological testing on the inpatient unit, and triage. When I was 36 weeks along, I started planning for what would happen once it was time to have my baby, especially if this happened at night. I made arrangements with every supervisor so that there was a plan for each client and clinical responsibility while I was on leave.

For my psych testing rotation, I kept my testing supervisor informed of my timeline at the end of every shift with a quick email. I also left all raw test data locked at my desk so my supervisor would have access to completing the report in my absence. For outpatient clients, I made sure every client was matched with another temporary therapist. I also had the phone numbers for the support staff at each office in my phone contacts so I could call them and inform them the day I had my son. The support staff then rescheduled my clients with a temporary therapist in my absence.       

For my return, I shifted my entire outpatient caseload to Tuesdays. I managed to maintain about 80% of my caseload by changing their appointment times to a new timeslot on Tuesdays. My due date was in June, so the summer break worked in my favor for my school-aged therapy clients.                    

Self-Care                                                 

Last but certainly not least—take care of yourself as this is the most important time to do so! This was HUGE for me. As I stated earlier, I did not take any time off while pregnant in order to use my PTO during my leave and graduate on time. Therefore, I went to work during snowstorms when my colleagues stayed home. I also went to work when I could barely move the last few weeks of pregnancy. Here are some examples of what I did to increase my self-care while pregnant on internship:

  • Prenatal massages (my insurance covered this, so it does not hurt to ask!)
  • Temporary parking pass at work so I could park directly in front of the hospital once the winter ice hit
  • Practicing mindfulness and hypnobirthing techniques before bed to help with sleep hygiene and prepare for childbirth
  • Attending childbirth and lactation classes with my partner. This helps lower your anxiety and is a really fun way to get prepared for the baby’s arrival. My husband and I turned this into a weekly date night as we’d explore a new restaurant before class every week
  • Let your partner/family/friends take care of you! My husband cooked me healthy meals, made some not-so-healthy food runs, gave me pedicures when I could not reach my toes, took care of household chores during the last few weeks, and donated some of his precious bed space for my giant pregnancy pillows.
  • Be patient with yourself when you return to work. “Pregnancy brain” will quickly turn into “mom brain,” so you may not be able to keep up with the same workload as you were once used to.

References

[1] Brainerd, J. (2016, July 19). State Family and Medical Leave Laws. Retrieved from:
http://www.ncsl.org/research/labor-and-employment/state-family-and-medical-leave-laws.aspx

Chelsea R. Tessier-Greenwood, PsyD

Chelsea R. Tessier-Greenwood, PsyD, is a graduate of the American School of Professional Psychology in Northern Virginia and is currently completing her “stay at home mom/studying for the EPPP” professional purgatory before applying to postdocs. She will be presenting her research at the 40th Annual Meeting and Scientific Sessions of the Society of Behavioral Medicine in Washington, DC this March on "The Association of Ethnic Identity with Weight Loss Goals in Black Women Prior to Bariatric Surgery.” She has worked in community mental health facilities, private practices, inpatient psychiatric units, hospitals, and at a residence for the Plain Communities. She also volunteered as both a group therapist and intake coordinator at the Rock Recovery Center for Eating Disorders in Arlington, VA for three years. She hopes to pursue a career that includes psychological testing in either a correctional/forensic setting or private practice.

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