What Kind of Women Think Maternity Leave Is Paid Time Off?

Raise your hand if you think all of us stay-at-home moms are on permanent vacation.
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May 5, 2016
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Self-reflection. It was this joined two word phrase that really ticked me off. Ask any mother how much self-reflecting she did during her maternity leave and you will likely run into a few possible scenarios. You may recognize a look of confusion, or you will have the experience of someone laughing maniacally in your face. There is also the possibility that you'll strike a nerve and bring on a waterfall of tears. Regardless, you probably won't get a direct answer because maternity leave is not about self-reflection or building one's self-confidence. Which is why the sentiment in Anna Davies article promoting Meghann Foye's fictional novel Meternity is seriously offensive to me.

A sampling of what I would consider her entitled statements: "For women who follow a 'traditional' path, this pause often naturally comes in your late 20s or early 30s...but for those who end up on the 'other' path, that socially mandated time and space for self-reflection may never come." Most mothers will agree with me that maternity leave is the exact opposite. Your world is flipped upside down. Everything you were once sure of is all of a sudden in doubt. Self-reflection is not in your vocabulary because YOU are no longer important (you ARE, but it doesn't feel that way).

You are a vessel of milk and a zombified body with hands that carry, change diapers, wash bottles, and wipe tears. Your house is a mess and you can't remember the last time you had a drink because you are worried CPS will come and confiscate your offspring (at least that first month, when you don't know any better). You have spit up and shit in your hair and clothing and you seriously really don't even care because you are too exhausted to give any more effs. This doesn't sound like "me" time.

Ms. Foye states "...as I watched my friends take their real maternity leaves, I saw that spending three months detached from their desks made them much more sure of themselves." Wait, what? I have not yet met a new mother "sure" of herself that early on. There is no motherhood boss telling you that you're doing it right. Everything you do is pure guesswork. Baby is crying? Throw a boob in her face! No? Um... Maybe she is cold, put a blanket on her (DON'T DO THAT! Blankets are dangerous!), TV MIGHT help, but that will definitely turn her into a zombie someday, you just changed her diaper five minutes ago but lets try that again. How about a bath? Maybe the blue lighting is too stimulating, should have gotten that red light bulb and the blackout curtains. Why is she crying!? You better figure it out because you are her mom and you CANNOT FAIL HER. This is what runs through a new mother's head, all day and all night long, and it's ten times worse at night, because that is when they cry, and cry and cry.

She would have the reader believe a mother emerges the best version of herself after birth. Apparently, all self doubt flies out the birth canal along with your baby. "AHA! Hand me that baby! SUDDENLY EVERYTHING IS SO CLEAR!!!" However, the reality is I can't tell you what I did the first six weeks after having my twins and subsequently my third child. I can tell you I was in a fog. There was NO me time. I was lucky if there was coffee and toast. Reading this article was like a punch to the gut. People still think this way? Is what I do still so undervalued that this lady considers it "me" time? AKA vacation time? What does her article indirectly imply about stay-at-home mothers? Does she and the rest of society think we're just on one long meditative vacation?

As you can see, I have personal reasons for taking offense, especially to this particular sentence, which Foye uses to describe her colleagues leaving the office early: "It seemed that parenthood was the only path that provided a modicum of flexibility." Didn't know if I should cry or laugh at that one.

But after sitting down and really thinking about it, my genuine problem with the article is this: Currently, new mothers are fighting for more time to stay at home with their newborns. We are woefully lacking in that department compared to other industrialized countries and children are suffering for it. After years of mothers getting little recognition for what they do, we are finally making headway. It's no longer a secret that mothering is hard, thankless work. Foye's argument for "me-ternity" (a term I hope I never have to type or read again) craps on that fight.

Society puts so much strain on mothers, and does so little to help them out. The idea of "Meternity" degrades even further the importance of a mother's role. Having a child is a choice, yes. We all make choices, some choose not to have children and that is fine. Just because I had a kid doesn't make me better than anyone else, or more deserving. BUT... it does mean I have the responsibility of raising non-assholes. Which believe it or not, starts right at the beginning with this thing called bonding. No one wants a bunch of Patrick Batemans running around, so lets just keep that in mind.

Other mothers have been offended by this cutesy article, not because of Foye's need for more vacation time, but because of the implication we are over here self-reflecting and figuring ourselves out when in reality we're too fucking tired to even remember how to tie our own shoes or that the remote control does not require refrigeration.

Look, I'm all for more vacation time in the US. It is a truthful statement that America is generally overworked and doesn't know how to turn off. However, this is not a battle for women between who works harder and who doesn't. It's not a battle between who should have more "me" time and who shouldn't. It's not that battle, because maternity leave is NOT me time and meternity (sigh..) DOES exist. It's called "vacation", "sabbatical", "voluntary leave". Sometimes it's paid, and sometimes it's not. And just as a heads up, maternity leave is not always paid. Meghann Foye and her book are battling the wrong battle. Maybe it's all semantics, but I'd like to think that mothers deserve the respect of not labeling maternity leave as something similar to what sounds, at least to me, as a vacation.

I have not yet read Ms. Foye's work of fiction. But the ridiculousness of the article itself has me convinced it is intentionally flippant to promote book sales. I don't know whether that fact makes me angry or not. It confuses me more than anything (why???). Regardless of it's flippancy, the article is an act of defamation to mothers. If Ms. Foye does actually want kids one day, my inclination is to go easy on her because no one knows what it's really like until they are in the trenches.

In those first few months of her motherhood experience she may be up every night, tending to her bleeding and cracked nipples, hoping her c-section scar doesn't open up (again...), bouncing her screaming colicky newborn, accidentally rubbing shit in her hair, and she may reflect back on this article and think "damn it. I was a total dick".

I feel bad for her in that future moment, because, like many other women maternity leave is when she will probably lose herself and who she always knew herself to be, hopefully just temporarily and without too much self-degradation. Hopefully she has the support system to help her climb out and find herself again.

Until then, fight for your me time. You probably deserve it. But PLEASE, it's not maternity nor anything closely resembling it. Maternity leave is an entirely different animal than what you seek. It is where self doubt finds you, self confidence plummets and it's where any flexibility you had in your life goes to die. It's not about self-reflection, it's about self preservation.