When colleagues at academic conferences marvel at the latest of my seven pregnancies, my immediate reaction—so they don’t think I am the world’s worst professor and colleague—is to tell them that I have never, ever taken standard maternity leave. With my last two pregnancies, I modified maternity leave, opting instead for a reduced course schedule. At my university, that means coming back from the hospital to teaching two courses instead of four, days after giving birth.

This information usually elicits the reaction that I must be a “super-woman,” but the real reason is that taking maternity leave in academia is very difficult. Unlike other employers, universities are necessarily tied to an academic calendar, and taking off the six weeks granted under federal law means that the other two professors in my department would have to take over my classes.

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