Women in higher ed are bound to raise the question: When is the most “convenient” time to have a child?

Is graduate school best? In the first few years of teaching? After tenure? For many of us the primary concern is not at what point in our careers, but at what time in the year. Will our bodies cooperate to allow us to give birth in the magical months of May, June, July, or August, when we have no teaching responsibilities? Will it be possible to maximize our time at home with our new infant without losing part of our salary?

Both of my children were born while I was in graduate school at Duke University. My first was born in May. I stayed home with her over the summer, returning to my graduate work in the fall. The timing seemed perfect. My second child came in March, during a dissertation fellowship, a year when I happened to have no teaching responsibilities. Even when I took time off to care for my newborn son, I didn’t lose any fellowship funding. At the time, I didn’t realize how unusual this was. Away from the privilege of Duke, even in the white-collar realm of Christian higher education, we see a surprising lack of paid maternity leave.

As President Obama mentioned in his State of the Union this week, the United States lags behind the rest of the world in paid parental leave. Even the 12 weeks unpaid leave mandated by the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) has only been guaranteed since 1993. Despite evidence of its myriad benefits, Americans have been unwilling to mandate paid leave for new parents.

The policies at Christian colleges reflect the inconsistencies of the culture. In informal conversations with faculty colleagues across the country, I found maternity leave policies ...

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