And you ask me what I want this yearLyrics to Better Days by Goo Goo Dolls. This is my prayer for 2021 as 2020 is already a nightmare and we need a do-over.
And I try to make this kind and clear
Just a chance that maybe we’ll find better days
Well, it’s been over two months since I last wrote here. In the last post, I wrote about my Lasik surgery back in June. I am happy to report that the dryness I was experiencing is gone. My eyes are fully healed, and I have even forgotten that I had Lasik. I am enjoying perfect eyesight without the contact lens struggle or the smudgy glasses.
In July, I took a social media break for a couple of months to concentrate on a certain project that I shall blog about later – it is not related to the special announcement. I didn’t delete my facebook, Instagram or twitter accounts. I merely deleted the apps on my phone and stopped logging into the websites on my laptop. While I’m now back on twitter, I haven’t checked Instagram or facebook for a couple of months now and I don’t think I will. I had also given up on Netflix but that only lasted a month.
In mid-July, my housemate and I stole away from Tokyo to enjoy a few days of sun and sand in Okinawa. This was after Abe had lifted the state of emergency in Japan and coronavirus cases had dipped slightly, and hope was in the air. We had a great time chasing the sunset during a rainy summer in Okinawa. I will blog about that later. Apart from the automated infrared gates checking our temperature, there was little else at Narita Airport to indicate that a pandemic was going on. Of course, everyone on the Peach Airlines flight was wearing a mask, but check-in was by the automated machines and nobody asked questions. The flights to and from were nearly full. Okinawa wasn’t crowded but there was a sizeable number of domestic tourists. This was before the Go-To travel campaign had been launched, but after the state of emergency had been lifted.
Since coming back from Okinawa, all of August was spent indoors. I definitely had a case of “working-from-home” fatigue. The tweet that “2020 is the year of zoom and gloom” hit home. I missed my family and pre-covid19, I had planned on going back to Kenya in July to visit them during the summer holidays. However, with airspaces mostly closed, there wasn’t anything I could do. All this time, I was off social media.
I know you are wondering what happened to the plan to reunite with Jeremy, after he was bullied out of school in Japan. Earlier this year, it had been my aim to relocate from Japan. I had even consulted my bosses;they were very understanding and supportive. However, the coronavirus pandemic started and everything was put on pause. The US even stopped issuing new H1-B visas (or is having issues issuing skilled visas) and nobody knows when they will resume. Companies froze hiring, much less international hiring. There was really nothing to do but stay put and stay safe for the moment. It really, really breaks my heart to be apart from my little one for this long. I hope to see him soon and I really hope we can live together again soon.
After a slow start, work picked up well as we got used to working from home. I’m now in my second year of work. This, coupled with my previous corporate experience at Ernst & Young, and my PhD, puts me on the cusp of seniority in my career (I hope). I realize that in the next couple of years, my responsibilities at work are going to increase. Even if I changed jobs, I would probably be interviewing for senior/managerial roles. I know this because recruiters lurking on LinkedIn send me “senior researcher” roles. I’m excited about the future of my career.
On the other hand, I have been thinking a lot about having another baby. I would see cute, fat babies on the trains and long for one of my own. I’m 32 now and my career is about to pick up, and I may not be able to take a long break from work in the future. At the moment, I’m still relatively “junior” at work. When I had Jeremy 7 years ago, I was only able to take 3 months of paid maternity leave. Only 3 months! That’s what is mandated by the Kenyan constitution. Your employer pays you your full monthly salary during the three months of maternity leave. However, I’m grateful I was able to take paid maternity leave, however short. I joined Ernst & Young when I was 5 months pregnant and they had no problem with me taking maternity leave 4 months later.
How about Japan? Well, you are guaranteed leave 6 weeks before your due date (or until the day of the actual birth) and one year after the baby is born. However, whether it is paid maternity leave or not depends on whether you had been contributing to employment insurance for at least a year. For the 6 weeks prior to birth and for about 6 months after birth, you get paid 67% of your average monthly salary based on your earnings from the previous year. But there is a maximum cap: ¥287,000. For the remaining 6 months, you will get 50% of your average salary, again with the same maximum cap. For some reasons such as inability to find a daycare center for your child after their 1st birthday, you can extend the leave for another 6 months, again at 50% of your salary.
The timing of the maternity leave is certainly generous. The pay comes from employment/labour insurance. To be entitled to this pay, you must have paid monthly premiums for at least a year, unlike in Kenya where your employer is obligated to pay you even if you joined during your 9th month of pregnancy. That means you can’t join a company immediately and get pregnant soon after, or join a company already pregnant, and expect to get paid childcare* leave. You are entitled to the time off, but it is not necessarily paid. Furthermore, it puzzles me that it’s your employer who has to file for these payments, and they need to confirm every two months that you will still have your job at the end of the leave. If for some reason your employer terminates your contract, you will lose your childcare leave payments. Worry not though, it is illegal for your employer to fire you while you’re on maternity leave, so unless something drastic like your company going bankrupt happens, you should be okay.
Why is there a maximum cap though? Although you get 67% of your salary for 6 months and 50% thereafter, it is capped at ¥287,000 Yen, as I mentioned earlier. It means the more you earn, the more income you will lose during your maternity leave. If I take one year of maternity leave right now, I am going to lose up to ¥2.5 million in annual income, which is about half of what I make right now. Right when my expenses are going to be increasing as I bring forth into the world a brand-new human being. However, if I do take maternity leave in the future, that means losing even more income (remember the maximum cap). In fact, if your title is executive director or CEO, no matter your actual income, you will not get any pay during your leave! (Read more here).
But still, the prospect of taking a year-long break (haven’t had any since the PhD), and spending time with Jeremy in Kenya (or in Japan) in the coming year was tempting. The coronavirus pandemic means the world is on a bit of a go-slow at the moment. I’m early enough in my career that it’s possible to take a break and bounce back, and I can afford to lose half of my income for a year, painful as it may be. I also know that after 35, my body may have a harder time with pregnancy.
One July evening, I was meeting my partner at the station. As usual, he was early, and I found him waiting for me by the escalator to the station entrance. He’s always well dressed in fitting suits but without the coat in the summer. It’s not so much his looks as his confidence that gets me. While waiting for me, had had been looking up restaurants and asked if I would like pizza. Of course, any time.
Now, don’t be surprised to know I have a partner. I know I blog and complain a lot about dating in Japan, but don’t take everything I write too seriously.
We ended up at this pizza restaurant on the 5th floor of an old building neatly tucked between a newly built pachinko parlour on one side and a karaoke bar on the other side. We chose to sit outside. It felt safer to sit outside in these corona times. It turned out to be a Chicago pizza restaurant, the pizza with a deep crust. It tasted Japanese. It was delicious. We had a couple of mojitos to accompany the meal.
“Listen,” I said to him. “You know… I’m 32 now… I want to spend some time next year in Kenya… Japan has generous maternity leave… I’m not yet a manager at work… I love you blah blah blah… “
“unhh,” He said patiently in that nasal way that Japanese men do.
“I was thinking, could we make a baby?”
“Sure.” He answered.
“Really?” I asked. I hadn’t thought it would be this easy.
And so, we made the baby.
Thus, the special announcement. I am now about 14 weeks pregnant. The due date is early April 2021.
I shall be blogging a lot about my experience being pregnant and working in Japan, pregnancy and childcare expenses, and the paperwork, especially if you are not married (yet). I’ve already informed my employer. And my parents. And some close friends. Apologies to those I should have informed personally who are learning about it from the blog. This should explain the tweet below:
*There is a difference between maternity leave and childcare leave in Japan. Read more here.