I am so thankful for my longterm maternity leave. As a nurse working on an intensive care unit, we're sent on maternity leave as soon as we're 12 weeks pregnant. It actually depends on the head nurse and hospital management to make that decision (in our hospital on regular units, you're sent home immediately. I think that's weird since on an ICU you're much more at risk for contacting X-rays, arterial blood and other human fluids - and in one of the most prominent universitary hospitals of our country you have to work until 24 weeks, even on intensive care units). So there's no federal law that states when a nurse can be put on maternity leave exactly. There are laws about pregnancy leave and maternity leave for employees though, not working in healthcare and I'm sure there are other exceptions too, because, well it's Belgium :-D we live from exceptions in laws and only get on the frontpage of world newpapers when it's about pedophilia or creating the perfect circumstances for terrorists to make their plans to attack the world. ;-)
Back to maternity leave: I do enjoy it and think this advantage is very welcome, since through the year, for the last 11 years, I've been working one out of two weekends, one out of two holidays (yes, even Christmas and New Years, Easter, evenings, nights,...) and do a lot of irregular shifts. So while I'll be almost home for a year until I go to work again - if I plan to breastfeed - it might be that I won't even celebrate my baby's first Christmas, because maybe I'll have to work on Christmas Eve this year. So despite all the overload of free time I've been given - and really, physically I could have worked much longer, but maybe not in the circumstances of hospital care - I really think I deserve it :-)
I spent my time being creative, like knitting - duh - drawing, preparing birth announcements, doing the household chores - cooking - drinking tea and coffee with fellow pregnant colleagues and other friends who come and visit me, and basically planning almost everything for the baby. Within a few weeks, our lives' rhythm and organisation will change so much! But I'm looking forward to that. We've been together for 13 years now and have had enough time to do all the things we love together.