Sorry, But Maternity Leave Is Far From ‘Me Time’
In 2016, from the files of women-who-make-me-want-to-disavow-my-entire-gender comes Meghann Foye, whose write-up on her novel, Meternity, in the NY Post exploded the mommy-sphere into weeping shards of shattered glass for its beyond delusional take on maternity leave.
While the hyper-speed world of bloggers and online publications is busy rightly and effectively taking the perspectives shared in that article to task for the obvious ways in which it misses the real point of maternity AND paternity leave, I’d like to add another perspective to the mix based on my own (unpaid) not-at-all-“sabbatical-like-break.”
Because the biggest “perk” of my own first maternity leave — other than my fantastic son, of course — was that I made it out alive.
My leave began 6 weeks earlier than planned when my OB/GYN informed me that if I didn’t go in for a c-section immediately, my son, who suffered from a condition known as Intrauterine Growth Restriction (IUGR), would be stillborn. Kind of a no-brainer.
The first day of my maternity leave was spent not in self-reflection, but in an operating room, where my son was surgically removed from my body, weighing only 3lbs 1oz.
After the nurse allowed me a 2-second glance at him, he was whisked away to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), and I was wheeled into a room about the size of a closet, handed a plastic cup of ice chips to suck on, and left alone in a haze of morphine until a room became available for me several hours later.That sounds like a great way to start a sabbatical — right?!
One week later, while holding my son in the NICU and feeding him breastmilk I had pumped for him through a nose tube, I began shivering violently. After several blankets and nurses’ best attempts to raise the thermostat didn’t help, I reluctantly placed my baby back into his incubator, figuring a walk in the scorching sun of Florida in late May would surely warm me right up.
Long story short, I was re-hospitalized that evening with a raging infection in my uterus.
One week into that stay-cation known as maternity leave and I was on a roll!!
Somehow both my baby boy and I survived this little detour through hell, and by week 3 of my (unpaid) vacation from work, we were back home.
Now is when I’d get to learn “to live on my own terms and advocate for what works for me” — right?!
Except that, shockingly, my adorable, now almost 4 lbs bundle of joy didn’t give a shit about MY terms or what worked for ME. Well, he gave lots of shits, but they were still small and un-smelly, no biggie.
My next several weeks were a shadowy haze of pumping milk, managing recurrent mastitis (which hurts like a mo-fo, in case you were wondering or aching from the FOMO), crying while trying unsuccessfully to get my son to sleep more than a 90-minute stretch at a time, crying while trying unsuccessfully to get my son to nurse so I could stop pumping and getting re-infected, cleaning breast pumps and bottles, changing diapers, taking my son to doctors’ appointments and lactation consultants, and so on.
Oh yeah, and healing from major surgery and a life-threatening infection. I almost forgot that part. So much for self-reflecting.
At the end of each day, if my son was still alive, I considered myself successful.
I began my leave intending to return to work after, even if only part-time.
At the end of those 12 (unpaid) weeks, I opted to stay home.
Not because the lure of the self-indulgence was so strong, or because I had become more self-assured and “learned how to self-advocate to put the needs of [my] family first,” but because that parenting shit was rough, and it was the only way I personally could imagine making it through the next several years.
The NY Post article, which may or may not have misquoted Foye, romanticizes maternity leave as “a sabbatical-like break that allows women and, to a lesser degree, men to shift their focus to the part of their lives that doesn’t revolve around their jobs,” and continues on to say, “But for those who end up on the ‘other’ [non-parenting] path, that socially mandated time and space for self-reflection may never come.”
I have no interest in adding to the dog-pile just beginning in the wake of such statements.
But, in a time and a society in which parents of all genders and relationship statuses are still fighting so hard for our rights in the workplace, I believe it is critical to ensure that we keep a clear understanding of maternity leave and its vital necessity alive.
The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 “allows eligible employees to take up to 12 work weeks of unpaid leave during any 12-month period to attend to the serious health condition of the employee, parent, spouse or child, or for pregnancy or care of a newborn child, or for adoption or foster care of a child.”
Childbirth is covered under this act, but it is certainly not the only reason for which employees have federally protected rights to take time off.
Beyond such overwhelming circumstances, the idea of occasional sabbaticals to give long-term, hard-working employees time off to grow and recharge is not without merit.
BUT, that type of sabbatical is NOT equivalent to, comparable to, or in any way, shape, or form related to maternity leave, which is (in most cases) a medically initiated event.
In the article at the heart of this storm, Foye is quoted as saying, “From the outside, it seemed like those few weeks of them shifting their focus to something other than their jobs gave them a whole new lens through which to see their lives.”
From the inside, those few weeks of shifting my focus to something other than myself — someone, in fact, who will forever be more important to me than myself — gave me a whole new lens from which to see my life.
And for that, I am forever grateful.