Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Yes, Maternity Leave Is Necessary

A good friend of mine, who is home with her now-three boys during the day, having left her public policy job when number one was born six years ago just had number three. When I saw her first photos, I wondered what it would be like to have another baby without the looming deadline of maternity leave.

My first born was born three days after my maternity leave started. Not because it was scheduled, but because it was a three-day labor. But then I took 15 weeks off, paid for two of them.

With my second a year ago, I took 12 weeks off - paid for nine of them - and worked from home the first week back. It was also the  middle of December so it was fairly quiet in the office then. I wanted to take more time and return in the new year, but there was an implicit threat that I ought not take more that the FMLA limit of 12 weeks.

At 12 weeks postpartum, I was just figuring out how to be a mother to two littles. I was getting used to my new body. I was shocked at how tired I was. And I was just entering the postpartum depression that has largely consumed me for the last six months.

I could have taken much much more time, to get to know my baby, myself and get a grip on my new role but that didn't seem reasonable.

And now, we're being asked if we have to take maternity leave at all. The New York Times' headline asks if maternity leave is necessary. And I say, yes it is.

We can't deny how motherhood changes us. Not even the physical changes, but the emotional and psychological changes as well. To argue that we can continue with business as usual - whether we are the CEO of Yahoo! or a mid-level executive - denies us, and our babies, that magical time of focusing on only one another.

We can have dual roles as mothers and executives, but we can't bypass the time it takes to learn how to do both.

It's said you can learn a lot about a country based on how they treat their women and children. In the US it seems we care more about business, and as we slip further and further behind in the world economy, it seems that isn't working out so well.

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