Labor of Love

These women worked while they were pregnant. Here are their stories.

October, 2002

Three-month-old Khyler’s short, plump legs bounce up and down in a staccato symphony of movements, as his mother, Renee Kaawaloa, balances a stroller, a baby bag and her 4-year-old daughter, Khelsi. The mother of two patiently smiles and adores the bright eyes and soft round cheeks of the newest addition to the family.

Kaawaloa, an administrative assistant at First Hawaiian Bank, is one of 26 million working mothers in the United States. Last May, Kaawaloa worked up to the very last week of her pregnancy, to ensure that her co-workers at the bank were prepared for her three-month absence. While on maternity leave, Kaawaloa also used three weeks of her vacation time, plus one week without pay.

“I wanted to leave several vacation days in case one of the kids was sick,” says Kaawaloa. At the time of this writing in early August, she was scheduled to return to work the second week of September.

First Hawaiian Bank follows federal guidelines, which requires companies to give their working mothers time off. In a program called ShareCare, First Hawaiian Bank allows employees to defer up to $2,600 of their pay on a pre-tax basis for childcare (under 13 years old), or elderly care. The company then matches up to $2,400 of the employee’s contribution. “Our company match helps attract and retain employees,” says Iris Matsumoto, vice president of human resources for First Hawaiian Bank.

The Family Medical Leave Act of 1996 allows employees to be away from the office for up to 12 weeks for childbearing or family care within a one-year period. The Act applies to employers with 50 or more employees. Workers may use a combination of sick leave, vacation and unpaid time off.

Roughly 40 percent of working mothers in the U.S. have children under age 18, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Three-fourths of married mothers are in the workforce, and 38 percent work full-time or year-round.

Some workplaces with seasonal schedules also have more leeway in accommodating maternity leave. Hawaii Pacific University’s busy period, for example, is from August to May. “We give the 12 weeks of leave time for employees who have worked for over a year. And employees can take more than the 12 weeks of leave time,” says Linda Kawamura, Hawaii Pacific University’s associate vice president of human resources.

For women businessowners, taking time off is possible. But work may always be on their minds. While her first baby was on the way, Kimi Takazawa, owner of public-relations firm Daisy Dog Inc., worked until two weeks before her due date. She says her son, Meo, was a little late, so she was able to work longer than she had planned.

“After the baby was born, I still checked in daily,” she says, adding that she gratefully acknowledges her supportive husband, Hale, who also took off two weeks. “It’s going to be hard balancing the night feedings,” says Takazawa, about returning to work officially.

Kim Gennaula, KGMB 9 weekday anchor, and her husband, Guy Hagi, the weather anchor at KGMB 9, welcomed their son, Luke Ichiro, not too long after one of Gennaula’s Friday night 10 p.m newscasts. The next day, she was in labor.

Being pregnant on television has had its advantages. “It’s been awesome, people made blankets, and booties. I got so many gifts from viewers,” she says. Gennaula was back at work after only 11 weeks off – just in time to cover the Sept. 21 elections.

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Linda Dela Cruz