Mothers Returning to Work: Maria and Ferdinand

Maria Funk is an Editor at Cornlesen Verlag, an academic book publishing house in Berlin. Her son, Ferdinand, will be two this summer. Click on "Read more" below to learn about maternity leave and life as a working mother in Germany.

What is your nationality or national identity?

Where do you live? 
We live in a beautiful old apartment building in Berlin.

What is your child's name? When was he or she born? Were you happy with your birth experience? 
Our son’s name is Ferdinand Elias Funk and he was born on July 5th 2011. We were planning on giving birth in the birthing house with the midwife that had already been with us for most of the pregnancy. Everything started out well. We got there at 7 in the morning and until about 12.30 when my water broke everything went very smoothly. I spent a few hours in that huge amazing birthing bath tub and could handle all the pain really well. However once my water broke, we went pretty much straight to the pushing part and I was in a lot of pain. :( Unfortunately that went on for about three hours with nothing really happening, since Ferdinand got stuck in the birthing canal. His face was facing upward (they call that Sternenkucker (stargazer) in German, which is kinda sweet) and he couldn’t get through the birthing canal. Also I got pretty exhausted while having really strong contractions the whole time. At around 3 the midwifes got a bit concerned, because the baby's heart rate was getting dangerously low, so they decided it’d be best to continue in a hospital. Once we got there the doctor decided to get him with the vacuum contractor, which was pure hell. It took them four tries with one doctor pulling with all her force on my babies head, one doctor pushing down on my belly and me pushing with what felt like 150% of my strength until he finally came out. Luckily I only found out the next day, that the doctors were actually really worried, if he would make it, or if he would have any permanent handicaps. The midwifes and Anna were amazing in keeping all this far from me. I wasn’t worried at any time and luckily enough Ferdinand was just fine and recovered from all the stress in a few hours. I also was thankful that he was actually 10 days late, so he had enough strength for this pretty exhausting birth. :) In retrospective I would do everything exactly as I did again. The 8 hours at the birthing house were really good and I enjoyed the quietness and sole attention of our midwife there. 
What type of parenting philosophy do you follow, if any? 
One that includes A LOT of loving and understanding. :) Ferdinand is a very happy little boy and a real explorer. He has so much fun learning and is really quick with everything. He was walking when he only turned 11 months and every day I feel so blessed to have him in our life. On the downside he’s a pretty bad sleeper, still wakes up at least 5 times every night.

Tell me about your maternity leave: How long? Paid or unpaid? Etc?
I stayed home with Ferdinand for 14 months and got about 60 % of my net income, which is standard in Germany (you get a maximum of 1800€ though, no matter how many millions you make a year ;). This allowed me to spend a lot of time with Ferdinand, even though it was quite a financial stretch, missing a man with a big income in the house. ;)

Did you have plans to return to work in place before giving birth?
That was my plan and I went through with it. I am back at work now (have been for a month) and it is pretty hard to adjust, but also fun to have some babyfree time.

How comfortable were you with your return to work plan
before the baby was born? Did your feelings change after birth? Did you stick to the same plan?
I was pretty comfortable with my plan, 14 months seem like a really long time and you sometimes underestimate how small they still are at 14 months. So the closer the date came the more I wanted to stay home in the end. Howevery financially that was not an option and even though it took both Ferdi and me quite some time to get used to the daycare, we are all pretty happy with that arrangement now (mostly at least).

Do you breastfeed? Did you? Did your return to work interfere? 
I breastfed exclusively for about ten months (Ferdi refused solids for that long) and I kept nursing for another 4 months – so we could slowly cut it back, in the end we were down to one nursing session, right before bedtime and that was pretty much just the cuddletime that we enjoyed most. We still cuddle now right before Ferdi goes to bed while reading him a story and that works just as well.

Do you feel protected as a mother/working mother by state and/or federal laws where you live?
I do for the most part, the situation in Germany is not bad. We don’t pay too much for childcare (it depends on your income) and I get to stay home with my sick kid for 20 days a year (10 per parent – receiving about 70% of your net income), however I wish there were better tax benefits for families ;) – kids are expensive!!!

What type of childcare will/do you use?
Ferdi goes to a state kindergarten. There are 10 kids in his group between one and two years (he is the youngest) and one kindergarten teacher. We drop him off at 8 in the morning and try to pick him up 3.30 pm. Seems to be working fine so far, however he has been sick quite a few times already and that is a little worrisome. Cause it is pretty hard without any family close to stay home with a child sick all the time.

Why are you going back to work? 
Mostly for financial reasons, but I am actually planning on finding a different career, cause if you spent so much time making money, you might just as well enjoy it a little bit more ;)

How do you feel in general about returning to work? 
I have been back for a month now and I must say it was pretty difficult; on the one hand I missed my boy and wasn’t very motivated. It is getting better though. But I still have very ambivalent feelings about it. I also made a special effort to always dress very nicely, put on some high heeled shoes, so my overall appearance is actually a bit more professional than it used to be, cause I really don’t want to be perceived as the weirdo übermom with baby saliva on her old knit sweater, undone hair just screaming: it is all too much (that is how I feel on the inside occionally though).

If anything were possible, what would your ideal motherhood/work situation look like?
I'd say 30 hours per week maximum, with the option to work from home when necessary. 

Thank you, Maria! It's fascinating to hear about maternity leave and life as a working mother in another country. xo