Nobody likes giving birth, but everyone loves the free pass of maternity leave.
After years of working in HR, I’ve seen hundreds of rule-benders fake a cold for a sick day. I would never have done the same thing, but I admired their rebellious spirit. Finally, after countless pay periods of bearing passive witness to the boldness of others, I had built up the courage to tell a little white lie of my own.
At 27, plenty of my work friends were having children and taking advantage of this total free pass called… maternity leave? Am I saying that right? “Maternity leave.” That sounds weird. Anyway, it was like a sick day, but so much longer. I had run out of my sick days for the year by February (my wisdom teeth were late bloomers, just like me!) and things were starting to get desperate.
I never get sick, so a cold or a flu wouldn’t be believable. I’m too shy to blame it on menstrual cramps, and my entire family’s already dead, so a funeral was out, too. Finally, it hit me: I was young, fertile, and clearly had no need to be on birth control. The most believable excuse was that I went a little wild and did sex with a busboy in a dive bar bathroom. Just like that – now I’m pregnant!
It seemed easy enough – I’d just eat a lot, cry a little, and pee on the office floor in front of everyone before rushing off to the “hospital,” and I’d be free for six whole months. But I had no idea that faking my own pregnancy for the maternity leave would be this hard.
Sure, faking a pregnancy and ultimately a child takes a bit more commitment than faking a stomach virus, but I work for a good company with a six-month paid maternity leave and a free gym membership. I could simply don a disguise and pop into the gym to lose all the fake baby weight just in time to return to work two seasons later.
The beginning was easier than I expected – I didn’t even need a doctor’s note! I just said “I’m pregnant” and the next thing I know, there’s cake and people are showering me with gifts. I called in pregnant – I didn’t even have to cough because pregnant people don’t do that. Maternity leave – done!
That’s when things got hard.
Just as I was getting used to the fake post-pregnancy bliss, people started asking me to produce photos of my newborn. I found one on the Internet and just started passing it around.
My coworkers responded negatively, asking, “Why is that baby already crawling with its eyes open?” and “Why is there an istockphoto watermark over it?” I didn’t have an answer. I never heard excuses like this when I worked in HR.
People began asking if they could come over and see the baby. I had to keep telling them I was sick. Months passed; waking up at 2pm and watching Maury was already starting to grow tired. I was so busy keeping up the façade that I didn’t even have time for the gym.
I started realizing how fun it would be to have a little living thing around to keep me busy during my time off. And that’s when I decided to get pregnant for real.
Getting pregnant was a lot easier than I thought – just a few OKCupid dates, and three weeks later, I was all set. A real, live pregnancy – so exciting! I emailed work to share the good news, but there was no cake or excitement. “That’s physically impossible,” said one reply. “Did you get pregnant while you were still pregnant with your first child?” another said. The jig was up. After I put in my request for real maternity this time, they told me I would not be eligible. Apparently my “great” company only allows for one maternity leave PER YEAR?? I said that it was never in writing in the company handbook, but they said it was “implied” because I was “lying.”
So many employees would use a so-called mental-health day to relax and recalibrate. I always let it slide. Didn’t they owe me a “mental health half-a-year?”
So there I was, two months’ pregnant, on my second month of maternity leave, with nowhere to go for help. I couldn’t even locate the father of my child, because his username was deleted. My gym membership was about to run out, and I realized I had nothing, nothing but the tiny baby growing in my belly.
The lesson: don’t fake your maternity leave too early in the year, because you might really need it later on.