About a year ago I saw the TED talk of Sheryl Sandberg's "Why we have too few women leaders". I then thought that she makes a lot of good points in her talk about actively taking job opportunities and promoting oneself. I had some long discussion with friends about this talk and the whole "leaning in" concept, about the level of responsibility the government or the society has to improve the chances for women to succeed in the work force and how much women have to contribute by themselves if they want to be successful (which can mean very different things for each individual).
Shortly after I saw this talk I got pregnant. I started thinking a lot about how to combine my work with my pregnancy and how my career could "survive" maternity leave. The sentence out of the above talk that really stuck in my head back then was "don't leave before you leave" and I found it very helpful at that time. Especially during this awkward period where only my partner and I knew that I was pregnant. I got quite a few request for hosting students and starting collaborations during this time, which not only fell in the "being pregnant" time but as well in the "having a newborn" phase. At that time I did not know if I would have any maternity leave at all, because Australia's laws don't support paid maternity leave for temporary residents. And I could not ask anybody about it yet, because my supervisor did not know that I was pregnant and the risk that he would hear it through the grapevine was too high. Additionally, I thought about what would happen if I'd loose the baby. Then there would be no maternity leave period anyways and every project I would have declined until then would really be a setback. So I decided to not leave before I leave and took on every project and every student and every other chance that came along the way as I would have done without being pregnant.
In most cases this has served me very well. I had two great exchange students during the last eight months, who have been very productive, I've been promoted and I got my pretty massive review paper accepted - all of which I am very proud.
Now my maternity leave starts and even though I have left the office I have not totally left work. This is certainly one of the disputable advantages one has in academia. I don't have to be in the office to do my work. I can equally well work from home. And so far I really like that! I can't even imagine how it must be for someone in a job that you can't take home with you, where you are truly forced to stop working. I'm able to keep up to date with all my projects, comment on paper drafts, do a bit of writing myself and at the same time enjoy the "being on leave" mood I'm in. This is certainly an advantage of my current position and funding situation and it would be very different if I would be in less secure position.
However, I could not keep up all the projects that I agreed upon six months ago. Some exchange students for this year have their stay scheduled at the end of my leave period and it would be unfair to them if their supervisor was not officially in the office during their stay. So the organizers had to find new supervisors for them and I'm not sure how many minus points I got for my decision on their mental scale. Some paper with collaborator will get delayed significantly - again I'm not sure how much lower I will ranked by them in the future. (as a side note: I recognized that my American collaborators did not congratulate when I told them about my pregnancy whereas the European ones did - I'm not having enough statistics on that to state this as a cultural difference, but I thought it was noteworthy).
Overall, "Don't leave before you leave" has done a great service to me and I think I'm in a pretty good position now to take some time off and get the family business in order to then hopefully return back to office and lab in few months without a massive productivity setback on my CV. Fingers crossed!