Q&A: maternity leave question

I have no idea why this posted on the wrong site after appearing briefly in people's RSS feeds.... Grr, Typepad.

Thank you guys for the birthday wishes. I had an enjoyably fattening day!

Beth writes:

"My wife is six months pregnant with our first baby and we just moved for her to take a great new job. After a year and a half trying to get me pregnant, my wife got pregnant instantly (yay!) but now our new baby is due, at the absolute outside, two weeks before my wife hits the one year mark at her job.  It's a nice company so they aren't pitching a fit about her taking leave so soon after starting there but, because we won't have hit the magic one year date, it will only be 60% paid for five weeks at best (short-term disability) and most likely not paid at all though they are willing to let her be out of the office for 12 weeks. I am scraping together as much money as I can to cover us while my wife is home but we have no idea how much leave she ought to take and her company would like some kind of estimate. If you factor childcare issues out of the discussion, (we had long planned for me to stay home and, in fact, I am already there; she got pregnant so soon after our move that I hadn't found a new job yet and then it became clear I was no way going to get anything for only nine months in a new place with no contacts) how much leave have other people felt they wanted/needed? How much leave do you think we might need? What factors proved important? Can you tell we are flailing here?

If it is at all important to this estimate, my parents will be coming to stay for at least two weeks after the baby is born and our best friend will be living with us for the entire summer."

Wow. Congratulations on the quickly-achieved pregnancy for your wife!

My advice is that she should take as much leave as she possibly can without putting major financial strain on the family or derailing her career.

It is impossible to express how difficult and time-consuming it is to have a newborn, while also recovering from pregnancy and childbirth. It's just physically exhausting, to start, and then the whole first few weeks are pretty much a non-stop batch of worry about everything from feeding to diaper changes to whether the umbilical cord is healing well to what it means when the baby hiccups to pacifiers to basically everything. While I know there are women who have to do it, five weeks seems absolutely inhumane to me, and I would do whatever I had to to get to 12 weeks at a minimum. (And yes, I know there are some of you out there who did it on much less, but I'm betting you'd have had an easier first year or two if you'd had more time to catch your breath before having to do two jobs.)

Please note that I think you are going to be fabulous with the baby, and that I'm assuming your parents and best friend are going to be enormously helpful with the baby. My concern here isn't really for the baby, since it seems clear that s/he is going to be well cared-for by all of you. My concern is for your wife, who really needs time to recover physically and to get her confidence as a mom and have enough stability before she starts burning the candle at both ends. It will help her to have other adults around during her leave, as she'll actually be able to catch naps and have other people do everything so all she has to do is nurse and sleep and stay hydrated. But, again, there's no way to describe how exhausting (physically and mentally and emotionally) those first few months are. The more space you all together can figure out how to give her, the less chance she'll have of getting so exhausted that she falls into PPD.

Do you think her employer might be open to the possibility of giving her her 12 weeks of FMLA time in chunks, so that she could go back part-time starting at 9 or 10 weeks and not start again full-time until 14 or 15 weeks?

What do the rest of you say? How long did you get to take off? Was it enough to recover? How long would you take ideally? (And yes, everyone at home with a newborn secretly or not-so-secretly wishes they could just leave all day at a certain point. Taking care of babies is HARD, y'all.)