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Thursday, April 09, 2009

Ask The Matriarch: rockin' with baby edition

Dear Matriarchs,

After almost a year of waiting for both, my husband and I are expecting our first baby and I am close to landing a first pastorate. The congregation I’ve been talking with is a great fit for me and I’m really excited (albeit a little terrified) about the possibility of becoming their pastor. Here’s my dilemma: because of my husband’s work commitments, the soonest we could transition to our new city and I could transition to this pastorate is in my seventh month of pregnancy. The other option is to transition shortly after I give birth (although I would then likely lose the possibility of taking any paid maternity leave). Am I crazy to be considering making both of these major life transitions at once? Does anyone have advice on whether it would be better to be a new pastor in the last trimester of pregnancy or with a newborn?

Newbie pastor and mom to be

Exciting times ahead for you and the church!! Our matriarchs have some thoughts about your questions and some ideas about how to make the transition. Prayers and blessings surround you and your family and the congregation as you journey through this year.

Kay Yaks writes:
I think two major transitions at once is not that much worse than one major transition at a time - there will be stress either way. If you move before the birth, you'll be exhausted, and if you move after the birth, you'll really be exhausted. If you move before, you'll have help from the congregation. You'll have a chance to settle at least a little before the baby arrives, and you can scope out potential babysitters. I am leaning towards moving before the birth.

Long time rector and mother of young child offers her experience based wisdom:
Check maternity policies. In the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts you weren’t able to take advantage of the family and medical leave act until you had been in the diocese for a year.

Regardless – speaking as a rector-mother, it is much easier to do the job very pregnant than to do so with sleep deprivation of infancy. I would highly recommend if you can afford it to have a doula or grandmother around for a while to help you get some sleep!

earthchick also notes those first sleep deprived months but says share the joy with your new congregation:
First of all, congratulations to you and your husband on both counts!

Making two transitions at once will certainly be difficult and stressful, but it sounds like it might be worth it. Only you can ultimately decide what is best for you and your family, but if I were in your position my inclination would be to start in the last trimester of pregnancy. Those first few weeks after giving birth are so intense, so life-changing, that I would find it difficult to contemplate making any other major change, especially that of starting a brand-new job. I would also want to have the option of paid maternity leave, so that would be a consideration as well. It won't be easy to take the time off for maternity leave so soon after arriving, and I would make sure before making this decision that you will be guaranteed your full leave, even though you will only have been there a short time.

If you start in the last trimester, you will also be giving the congregation the gift of being your partner in your transition into motherhood. I gave birth to my twin sons while pastoring the church I am serving now, and it meant a lot to me (and, I think, to them) to be a part of the congregation at that time. Congregations go through so many challenges and transitions, and few of them are as joyful as the birth of a child. I think it could be a nice start to your ministry with them, to allow them to share in this joy with you.

Share your advice and ideas in the comments for Newbie pastor and mom to be.


P.S. The font color is Dodger Blue - in honor of the opening of baseball season!


  1. I had two children in the parish. One of the churches I went to I got pregnant like the minute I got there. I have to echo how much mileage you can get out of bonding with your congregation by going through pregnancy and birth while you are there. And it is easier to work pregnant than with a newborn.

    But don't be surprised to find some people a little disconcerted with the idea of a pregnant pastor. It brings up all kinds of things they don't want to equate with "holiness".

  2. I too got pregnant immediately I started in my first pastorate - and yes people have some funny attitudes. I was asked "will you still be leading communion services?" - I was too young then to dare to ask what part of being oregnant should disquailfy me! - and just said "as long as i can still get behind the table!".

    But after that I can confirm how great it is to be part of the church fellowship already when the baby is born - they loved my baby & me so much - we still have a special bond after 14 years & me moving on to 2 other churches.

    And incidentally you never know how you'll be in late pregnancy - I was still full of beans apart from needing a little lie down after lunch to stop my ankles swelling. I paid for it after my baby was born, when I was quite ill -but again my church was so kind & understanding: Ellie had so many grandparents & was so loved she suffered no ill-effects at all from my illness.

    God be with you whatever you decide to do: such an exciting time of life!

  3. I believe you might be better off doing both major changes at once. I can't see where doing them back to back has any advantages- it just prolongs the recovery time.

    But being with your new congregation during this life changing and exciting event would I think create an atmosphere of togetherness that would continue for a long time.

    I've seen how churches react to babies born during a pastor's term with them, and I have never seen negativity.

    Good luck and God Bless you in the decisions you make!

  4. One of the early objections to women pastors was what if she is ordained and pregnant - is the baby ordained too? We have come a long way from the days when I taught school and one had to resign if pregnant. Oh my kids might see a pregnant woman -- so don't be surprised if some of that old baggage is still there. Have fun - most will love it - and the baby will have aunties and uncles galore.

  5. Shortly after signing the various call documents with my previous congregation, my hubby and I joked that we must have done a bit too much celebrating because I ended up pregnant sooner than we had planned! When I started with them, I was 4 months pregnant, and I definitely found the getting to know you time while I was pregnant and before I went on maternity leave to be a blessing.
    Most were supportive, and thrilled when our daughter was born. A few still keep in touch even though I have recently been called to another congregation.
    I had occasional inappropriate comments while I was pregnant, and incorrect assumptions. The minister who covered my maternity leave 'hoped' I wouldn't return. There were a few who had issues with my occasionally working from home (one of the many reasons I left). I still occasionally get rude comments about being a younger woman in ministry (I'm 36 but look to be late 20's) and that I'm going to turn around and have another baby. My retort is usually something like "You haven't spent much time with my daughter, have you?" (She's very busy, to the point that I have little desire to have another child any time soon)
    I would echo what has already been said - definitely easier to work pregnant than with a newborn. And that congregations, for the most part, love any opportunity to grandparent young children.

  6. Don't ever apologize (or act as if you are apologizing) for being pregnant. You don't have to be rude--just confident that this pregnancy or maternity time or caretaking time is NOT a "problem." This sets a tone of respect. I had two kids also in my context and I would say also that it's easier to move when the baby is more portable (ie in utero). The bonding stuff is totally true--take advantage, be gracious, but also draw lines firmly between home and church when necessary. You may not know exactly where those lines are and may err on the side of giving in to expectations or steamroller types; ask your spouse for help.

  7. church near cowsApril 9, 2009 at 3:18 PM

    You have to do what you have to do. Anyway you cut it transitions are hard, sometimes wonderful, but hard none the less.
    I was 34 weeks pregnant when I could finally begin the call process. I was assigned to a synod several states away and so in my very first "welcome to the synod" conversation with my bishop I had to tell him I was pregnant and could not fly for interviews until after the baby was born. So my maternity leave was a time of unemployment, no income but also no complicated work related expectations either.
    Knowing that our cross continental moving with a new baby and a 4 year old would be difficult we made sure to have plenty of transition time (3 weeks) before I added starting back to work full time as a pastor. If we had not done that I don't how we could have functioned. So as you consider everything else on your plate in regards to timing make sure you factor in how unpacking and getting settled will work.
    If the congregation is unwilling or unable to give you a reasonable maternity leave then perhaps it would be possible to accept the call and move to the new area and let your husband begin work immediately but delay your start date until after a comfortable maternity leave.
    I think the whole juggling family planning with the call process is a big question for a lot of us.

  8. I got pregnant not long after arriving in my first solo job; as others have said, it was a wonderful bonding experience with the congregation (as was the birth of my second child a few years later, in the same parish).

    That said, I had some experiences that could best be described as "sibling rivalry" during my 8 week maternity leave, in which some folks in the congregation basically seemed jealous that I wasn't paying attention to them. I couldn't figure out what was going on (especially since I was on leave) until a clergy friend put it in those terms and I could see she was spot on. Just something to keep in mind...

  9. I would say - GO - be pregnant and pastor. You'll have your great "sermon illustration" for Christmas, they'll know you want to be with them since you are investing in their children's program... and what a great way to let people show you a welcome but to care for you.

    Absolutely have a grandma, a college roomie, or a spouse with flexible work arrangements to help you through the adjustments. It is not impossible, but realizing you are in for an adjustment does help.

    OH - and babies don't read calendars. My girls were 10 days late and 14 days late respectively. Just sayin.



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