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Dear God, NO! Maternity leave is not “me time”

Mothers know maternity leave is no vacation. It’s not a time for self-reflection or relaxation. And it’s definitely not a time for catching up on sleep. In fact, it’s exactly the opposite of all of those things- It’s a time for taking care of a new baby, every minute of every hour and allowing your body to heal from childbirth. And while the early bonding experience of new parenthood is a beautiful thing, it’s also exhausting and relentless in a way that most of us hadn’t known was truly possible until we had a newborn swaddled in our arms.  

The round-the-clock demands of having an infant can sometimes make a new mother feel she’s lost herself altogether. It’s constant, but to make it even more difficult, many women are forced to take it on with little or no help and very, very little paid time off work. Maternity leave is, in a word, a shit-show and here in the U.S., we get a piss-poor version of it, too. Truly, it’s a recipe for very tired, very drained, sometimes emotionally depleted new mothers, and the rising rates of postpartum mood disorders reflect that.

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But don’t try explaining any of that to Meghann Foye, the 38-year-old author of “MEternity”- a new novel in which she makes the case for why she, a woman with no children, equally deserves her own “maternity leave” because, well, if women with children get paid time off to focus on themselves (wait, what?), then really, why shouldn’t she? Foye’s proclamation is that in order to avoid burnout, she deserves a sort of “sabbatical,” like a standard maternity leave (uhhh.. what?) to refocus her life’s priorities. You might be wondering, what exactly does the author think a standard maternity leave entails? I know I was. But in a recent interview with the New York Post, she gave us an idea.

Foye said, of maternity leave “For women who follow a ‘traditional’ path, this pause often naturally comes in your late 20s or early 30s, when a wedding, pregnancy and babies means that your personal life takes center stage. But for those who end up on the ‘other’ path, that socially mandated time and space for self-reflection may never come.”

Listen, I’m all for women taking any path they should choose, but what exactly is she talking about?

If you’ve ever been on maternity leave before, you’re likely wondering what “pause” Foye is referring to when she talks about maternity leave. Perhaps it’s the “pause” that comes at 4 a.m. when it’s the tenth time you’ve been awoken by a screaming baby. You clumsily make your way to the bathroom to relieve yourself before saddling the baby to your chest, moving as quickly as possible because the screaming is getting louder and louder. You catch a glimpse of yourself in the mirror. “Dear God,” you think. “Is that even me?” It’s brief, but it’s there. That millisecond. That blink.

Maybe this is the pause the author is referring to. But, I’m really not sure. I’ve been a mother for six and a half years. I’m well out of the postpartum period and I’ve yet to find the pause button, or these moments of quiet self-reflection she refers to. Perhaps Miss Foye can direct me to it because clearly, I’ve been missing something. I’ll be waiting for her call.

But what gets me even more hot and bothered is the “Meternity” author saying that while women who have children are allotted this glamorous break, women who do not have children never get to experience such a thing. Well, I’m not sure how Foye spends her time off work or her vacation time for that matter, but I’m guessing it’s not the same as how most parents use theirs. Most parents end up using vacation time for things like staying home with a sick child, making it to a school event or God-forbid, being sick themselves. Time off is hard to come by when you have a job and a family. And while it might be hard for everyone, it just about evaporates when you decide to become a full-time parent. Perhaps she should “pause” to consider this. But, oh yeah, she thinks maternity leave is a vacay.

This is not a conversation about who works harder- mother’s or non-mothers. We all work hard in our own ways, no questions asked. But Foye is critical of the way her co-workers not only take maternity leave, but also dart out of the office at day’s end to tend to their children (I mean, how selfish of them!). It’s unclear why the author finds this so reprehensible, a woman caring for her child. But to hint that a working woman’s life, in any way, somehow gets easier when she has a baby because of all that pampered maternity “me time” and clocking out of work on time to pick up her kids is completely ludicrous. It’s the craziest thing I’ve heard this decade, and my daughter told me just this morning that she’s going to be an olympic ice-skater. I smiled and nodded my head, remembering our last trip the ice rink, when I dragged her around the rink, hunched over and picking her up off the ice no less than 400 times. My daughter is a terrible ice-skater, but still, her olympic dreams are far less mind-boggling than Foye’s suggestions about working motherhood.

Maternity leave ain’t no vacay, Miss Foye. Caring for a newborn baby is one of the most all-encompassing points in a woman’s life and typically, the time she is allotted to stay home and do that is very small. It’s measly. It’s pathetic. It’s inhumane how quickly we expect new mothers to get back on their feet and assimilate back into their work environments. Most of them end up leaving their newborn babies long before they’re ready and it’s painful. It’s damaging. It’s wrong. Time off from work to be with your baby is not a God damned luxury. It’s a necessity, but it’s also, just a different, likely more demanding type of work. Because no matter how cruel a boss you’ve dealt with, they’ve probably sent you home to sleep at some point. Newborns don’t give a shit about your need to sleep, or take a shower or tuck your breasts back in your shirt before you attempt to devour half a sandwich with one hand.

If there’s one thing Miss Foye and I can agree on it’s this: we all need more “me time.” Mothers and non-mothers alike. But please, I beg of you, don’t act as if maternity leave is a freaking vacation. It is so far from that. Calling it “me time” is a huge slap in the face to working mothers everywhere. 

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2 thoughts on “Dear God, NO! Maternity leave is not “me time””

  1. Spot on, Sarah. This whole “me-ternity” thing is a joke! Real maternity leave consists of mama getting 2-4 hours of sleep at a time, a crying baby that wants to lay on you all day, and barely enough hours in the day to eat, let alone shower. Our society needs to recognize that newborns need care from the mother. And the mother needs help from the father or someone else that can assist with the daily demands of life. The newborn period is 12 weeks, and the only soul searching you might have time for, is trying to figure out the cries from the soul you brought into this world.

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