Why I’m saying no to maternity leave

Guest post by Ashley
By: Brooke - CC BY 2.0
By: BrookeCC BY 2.0

Last month, I read a particular article with interest. It was an article about Yahoo’s new CEO Marissa Mayer and her open decision to take what she called “an abbreviated maternity leave.” Of course, this threw the Internet into chaos, with many weighing in that if she did not want a full 12 weeks with her new baby, she shouldn’t have a child at all. And it gave me pause, because, frankly, I feel for her. I’m not going to be taking any meaningful maternity leave either. Not because I don’t feel like I can, but because, well, I really don’t want to.

Let me give you some background about me and my job. I love my job. I am a public interest attorney at a legal aid organization. We do varied work, but my practice focuses on advocating for and representing the elderly, immigrants and people with disabilities. All my clients are low-income, are facing serious issues (domestic abuse, immigration woes, discrimination, etc.). I am the only attorney in my office fluent in American Sign Language (ASL), and one of two Russian speakers and the only Gaelic speaker. I actively decided after law school to pursue public interest law. I’ve voluntarily accepted a lower salary than others and the hard work because I believe in it and really enjoy it.

Now that my husband and I are expecting, of course the issue of maternity leave has come up. I think I initially just thought that a standard 12-weeks would be assumed. I have so many friends who wish they had more, who would tell me “after the baby comes, you won’t want to go back to work!” And I tried to believe that. Really, I did. The problem was that I never, ever felt that way.

I know that at my job, I’m the only person who handles certain matters. I’m the only one who can speak to certain clients (such as our deaf clients). I kept thinking about the clients I have now and the ones who will be coming (trust me, there’s never a lack of clients in legal aid). And here’s the thing — I think I care about those clients and my baby equally. I love this baby so much, but I have love and care for these people I meet too. I feel their anger and want to make stuff right for them if I can. I cannot see myself ever NOT doing this job.

So, I decided that I did not want a full maternity leave. I settled on, not foreseeing any medical issues, a leave of between 1-3 weeks (with the ability to work from home for those few weeks I’m out of the office).

My husband and I are blessed that this is possible for us. His place of employment is actually a family-run business (his brother, mother and father all work there too). They’re happy to have the baby come to see them every weekday. My parents are semi-retired, so some days, the baby will be with them. And I did compromise and agree with my husband that I’ll make every effort to delegate more and try to work more 8 hour days.

I know that many people will read this and say “why have a baby if you want to immediately go back to work?” Well, here’s the thing: I really dislike the idea that compassion and caring are finite resources. They’re renewable resources! The fact that I still choose to devote time and energy to people who I consider to be deserving of it doesn’t mean that my child has lost anything. I can still love and care for him or her fully. And I dislike the gender essentialist view of that argument. My child will have an entire family around him or her all day. I wouldn’t want to have a view that pushes my influence while excluding our very large (and very multi-cultural) family. I won’t worry about my child when I’m not there, because I know that he or she is surrounded by the best possible people for them.

Then there’s this: I never want to build my whole identity around my child. That sounds harsh, maybe. But it’s true. I love my job. I worked hard to get it. I work hard in it. It has provided me with some of the proudest moments of my life. I don’t want to lose that, ever. I can be both things at once, and nobody will be the worse off for it.

I just don’t buy the arguments that women must totally rearrange or give up every other joy, source of satisfaction or goal they had before. Besides, I justify it this way: I want my child to be proud of me. I want them to know that even when Mommy isn’t home, Mommy is out doing a job that is trying to make the world a little better for everyone — including them.

I know this isn’t a much discussed topic — most of the mothers I know wished for MORE time off with their babies. Those who would privately admit to wanting to return to work generally took the full 12 weeks but were happy to return. There’s not a ton out there for moms who want to get back in the office as quickly as possible.

Am I in the vast minority for wanting this? I have no clue, honestly. But I think if supporting mothers is a noble goal, then there should be support for all moms — those who want to stay home all the time, those who want to work at their own pace, as well as those of us who just wanna get back to work.

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Based on reader feedback, the title on this post has been changed.

Comments on Why I’m saying no to maternity leave

  1. I thought I was going to take the full 18 weeks allowed by my state ‘maternity disability’ (6 weeks) and FMLA (12 weeks), but i went back after 14, gradually. I too loved my job and was eager to get back to it.

    Though, I’m not sure I was ready at 1-3 weeks to go back, despite how foreign being a mom was. I had a TON of energy in the first 1-2 weeks and then I CRASHED hard. I’m glad I had the flexibility to go back when I wanted (they said I could come back anytime), but scheduled myself out for 18 weeks as a just-in-case. My HR person said it’s easier to deal with you coming back early than you extending if you need it. That’s the crazy thing I found out about parenting, was that my pre-formed plans didn’t always go, well, as planned!

    My only advice is to make sure you’re in contact with your doctor, and are medically cleared. Most wait the 6 weeks to clear you for normal activity (like sex and working out), so not sure how that might affect a shortened maternity leave? If it’s right for you and your family, then I think that’s a good thing, but I also think being flexible and leaving room open for your mind to change (or your body, cause exhaustion in those early weeks…whoo boy!).

    • I was going to make a similar point. It’s awesome that you want to go back right away, no judgement there, but your body might have a different plan altogether. I know you mentioned ‘not foreseeing any medical issues’ – but as natural as giving birth is, even in a complication-free birth, recovery can take a while. I don’t have kids yet, but I have three close friends who all had kids in the last year – and all of them said it took them between 4-6 weeks to even start to feel properly ‘recovered’. These were all “easy” (relative term) births with no complications and no real medical interventions. They didn’t have any medical issues, per se, they just had a fairly normal, slow, and steady recovery from the birth process, and that took a while. And that’s all before you even start to factor in the adjustments that come with lack of sleep.

      If you’re lucky and bounce back right away, all the power to you! I would just recommend having flexibility in your plan, because your body might have other ideas, and I’m a huge advocate of listening to what your body wants 🙂

    • I couldn’t agree with this comment more. I think going back at 1-3 weeks is less about spending time with baby and more about–holy cow my body just created and expelled another human and now relies on me for ALL its food.

      That first month I was so tired I barley remember anything–and I had a short vaginal birth. Breastfeeding was a big challenge and the lack of more than two hours in a row of sleep was really, really tough. And I LOVE working. However, any work I would have done during that time would have been sub-par. I started working from home part time when I got my head on straight–for me that was about 6 weeks postpartum.

      I would suggest leaving yourself open to the fact that this may be a lot harder than you think (or it may not!!). Don’t beat yourself up if it is. I suggest carefully considering your exhaustion level and physical health before you go back–are you really serving your clients running on empty? Exhaustion ain’t no joke.

    • Same here. We refer to the first 8 weeks of my daughters life as ‘The Dark Time’ because of the complete and very intense exhaustion. We barely knew each other after the first few weeks and she still needed such physical closeness. There are so many physical, hormonal and mental changes that happen after delivering a baby. The bleeding, the mood changes, the lack of sleep – not to mention, you never know what kind of baby you’re going to have.

      There is a great deal of unknown. I think it’s great that the OP knows what she wants NOW. But it’s the THEN that is so important. That’s what I wish people realized and talked about so moms could stop feeling so guilty.

    • THIS! My wife and I were fortunate to be able to both take a leave when my daughter was born. My wife had an “uneventful” pregnancy & labour was short. We were home from the hospital in 24 hrs. Even still, she didn’t feel “herself” until about the 8wk mark. As for the baby – we both had tons of energy in the first 2 weeks, but by the 3rd week the lack of sleep had caught up to us and we crashed hard.
      It might be better to plan a longer leave and go back earlier if you can. Or, go back gradually – start with part time hours (maybe just for the clients who require your language skills?).

  2. Contrary to the mainstream’s common perception, I don’t think the majority/minority argument applies to any parenting topic ever, so that point at the end is moot.
    It sounds like you have a wonderful support system (village) that will help to make this work for you and your partner. Give yourself enough time if you have any complications (I’m sure it’ll be FINE!) and need additional recovery time, and just do what you feel is best! <3

  3. I technically had 20 weeks of leave, but gradually went back to work after the first week. Thing is, I can both work from home and take my baby to the office, and I can basically work any time of the day since I don’t have fixed office hours. Same thing for my husband, we split the parenting duties evenly. So, yes, I worked through most of my leave, but I had my daughter with me all of the time. To me, this was an ideal combination of being there for my baby and still doing meaningful work, even though not as many hours as usual and with interruptions.

  4. Due to circumstances out of my control I will have to return to work earlier (maybe way earlier) than 12 weeks. My job (with the Federal Government), does not pay for maternity leave. So I have to save up time for nearly 3 years (no vacation, no sick time) just to cover a paycheck while out on maternity leave. For my current pregnancy I have just about 2 weeks saved of Annual leave, and two days of sick leave. This lack of time was due to a family emergency that prevented me from saving time.

    So now here I am the bread winner of my family, who needs to get a full paycheck every two weeks to make ends meet, facing Sequester, and Maternity Leave all at once. My husband and I will have to resort to cashing out some retirement money to make ends meet for me to stay home even for one month.

    My return will be part time at first, and I would love to take 4 weeks off straight away (as I know the rigors of life with a new born), but that might not be feasible.

    I loved staying home for a full three months with my first. I was not ready to go back to work when I did (family emergency reasons really made it the most difficult to return). But I also love my job, and have the support of a husband who will be staying home with our newest little one. So that helps to ease the pain of returning to work early.

    However…I say “ease the pain” loosely as I also Love my career, and my work. I feel I am making a difference for people every day with what I do. I am the “bread winner” because I want to be, and because I am lucky enough to have a husband who supports my choice to be a hard working mom.

    I am sure that some people will be surprised if I start back to work earlier than the 12 weeks…but not everyone has the ability, or choice to take a full 12 weeks off. I have listened to stories of woman who return to work one and two weeks after birth because they will lose their jobs, or home if they don’t. I don’t like the idea of dipping into my retirement to cover some of my bills, but at least I have that option, and twenty plus more years to repay the damage that will be done by taking out the cash now.

    • Federal Employee fist-bump of solidarity! My kid turned 6mo yesterday, and I took 13 weeks off. Everyone assumed the feds gave great maternity leave, and were shocked when I explained that my 13 weeks resulted from never taking sick or vacation time for the past 3.5 years. It sucks.

      Good luck with the sequestration – I hope your agency is okay. We still have no idea what’s happening over here.

      • We are not to sure of how the sequestration will hit us either…but I did find out that I can take Leave-Without-Pay during my maternity leave, and count it to the mandated furlough!

      • Here’s another federal employee fist bump. I’m also the breadwinner and my husband stays home with our 10 month old. I saved and was able to take 10 weeks when he was born, with only a few unpaid days. I was down to almost no sick or annual leave when he was born, but I’ve managed to build it up modestly thanks to a credit hour work schedule.

        Sequestration is going to be really hard on us. I was hoping to try for #2 soon, but I’ll have to stave off the biological clock for another year or so, at least if I want to keep paying our mortgage.

  5. I am also a public interest attorney working with a low-income population of people with disabilities. Most days, I love my job, even as it is also immensely frustrating. However, I have a one year old and I would LOVE to work fewer hours so I could spend more time with her. She was born when I was in law school, and even though I wasn’t the birth parent I had a very tough time taking exams a month after her birth. I was so tired, and I didn’t want to work even though my law school clinical work was fascinating and important. I didn’t take an easier load that last semester, but my partner wishes I had, in that our childcare sharing was vastly unequal. I just couldn’t find a way to get it all done. I didn’t want to shirk my clinic clients either, but it meant I shirked on my marriage.
    Look, maybe you’ll get an easy kid, and you’ll have enough support. Leaving yourself room to work part-time for a while might be a good back-up in case you realize that things are tougher than you could have realized. Your clients will always be there, and there will always be more of them. You are important, but it’s important to live the rest of your life, too.

    • Not to step on your toes or anything, but part of why I chose what I did is because my clients WON’T always be there. Most of the people I see have issues that are considering “pressing” – DV situations, deportations, etc. They are the types who need immediate (within 1-2) assistance oftentimes. That’s part of why I got hired, based on language abilities. It’s so much easier to have an ASL-speaking attorney in the office then have to arrange for the translator sometimes, especially when you have a woman who needs a PFA within the next few days. I went into the job I did knowing that it’s vastly different than normal legal work in that time is most often of the essence – which appealed to me in some way. But it’s not always the case that clients will be there, and I tried to consider my obligations to them as well.

      • I think what the poster above was meaning was that there will always be clients..even if you’re on maternity leave…like, if you were killed tragically clients would always be there…and somebody would have to step up and take care of them if you were gone. Maybe I read it wrong, though?

        • Nope, that’s exactly what I meant. There are things about my background that make me unique and are part of why I was hired, but it’s 5:30 and I am leaving. If you don’t make arrangements at work now when you have time to prepare so that your coworkers CAN do your job, through a relay line or a phone interpretation system for the Gaelic, what will they do if g-d forbid you get hit by a car?
          There’s that rabbinic saying, that it’s not your job to save the world, but it’s your job to help. Specifically, Pirke Avot: “It is not your responsibility to finish the work [of perfecting the world], but you are not free to desist from it either.” That’s how I see myself–part of the struggle, but I can’t be responsible for it all.
          You will find a balance for yourself, but you did ask if other people felt the way you do now. My answer for my family is no.
          I can’t help All The People. If I stayed later I could help more, but still not nearly all, and it would come at a serious cost to myself and to my family, and eventual burnout.

  6. I really loved reading this. To be honest, I’m pretty sure I’ll be ready to go back to work. While I get that there are medical reasons for moms to have longer maternity leave than dads to have paternity, it bothers me that it’s assumed all moms want that time and yet not equally viewed that dads may really need/want that time (or at least that is not valued sufficiently in many places). I’m really lucky where I work. Most of the women I know who’ve gone on maternity leave have been able to take a year. There is no way I would want to be gone a year though.

    I know people who have had no choice but to go back to work because they need that income and didn’t have a job to come back to.

  7. I don’t think taking a long maternity leave (for those able) means you are abandoning your own identity. I am VERY big about the fact that I am still my own person, even though I practice attachment parenting, I breastfed for a longer than normal time period, etc. That dedication to my child is just part of who I am. I am still my own person with my own interests, my own business, my sense of style and etc. My #1 concern for someone taking an ‘abbreviated’ maternity leave is the ability to begin and maintain a solid breastfeeding relationship. Perhaps that’s not a concern for you; but for me it would be the #1 thing in having to be away from my baby early.

    • Indeed. Wanting to spend as much time as possible with your newborn or have an extended maternity leave doesn’t mean you aren’t dedicated to your job or your other hobbies and relationships. It just means that things have changed and we adapt to the situation, feelings and desires that we are presented with.

    • I just wanted to second this comment. Advance planning, if you’re planning to breastfeed, is essential. Also, I agree it’s important to keep options open and see how it goes once your baby is born.

  8. I had my child in England, where most folks take the full (paid) 6 months at least, and many take a full year (second six months at partial pay). I was back at work in 3, which shocked pretty much everyone. But it was the best thing for me, my partner, and our baby, who got to attend an incredible daycare. I still get funny looks when I talk about the relief I felt upon getting back to work – it’s like you’re not supposed to say that – and I still don’t know what to say when people want to bond over missing our kids. My kid is awesome, but spending 24/7 with her would not be good for either of us.

    • I think this is what gets me here, that in the U.S. we consider a 12 week unpaid maternity leave a luxurious amount of time off for new mothers. Not exactly….

      (Note: this is not any judgment of the OP.)

  9. I fully support every family to figure out what works for them. I don’t understand why people would say anything like, “if you don’t take your full leave why are you having a kid”.

    But I’m not sure I agree with your premise either? Maybe I’m reading too much into what you’re saying, but it feels like you might think that women that don’t want to go immediately back to work are not passionate about their jobs and are happy to be defined as a mommy only.

    As you alluded to in your agreement to shorten your days when possibe — time IS a finite resource even though caring is not.

    I’m a first time mom so I have no idea what my experience with maternity leave will be, but I am both passionate about my job and willing to take the 6-12 weeks I have available to me. I consider it taking care of myself, my husband, as well as my baby as we adjust to our new life together. That being said that is my choice and I agree we should fully support all moms choices!

    • I’m not suggesting that women who take a long leave care less about their jobs. However, I will say this – there is a ton of variance in the world around how women feel about employment. For some, a job is the “stuff I do to make money” thing, for others it’s enjoyable but still work, for some it’s dreadful, and for some, their job is a calling/vocation/purpose in life. I’m in the last category – the idea of going a long time without doing the job is something that frightens me. I’m fairly good at the job, I’m an “indispensible” employee, as my boss calls me, and I truly love the work. And also, I have the flexibility to go back quickly, due in large part to my husband’s family and my own. So the question to me simply became “you want to go back, you have the means to go back, why not go back?” It wasn’t a question of if I wanted to return quickly, it was a matter of how quick. And if (God willing) I am physically able to, I will.

      I’ve known incredibly passionate career women who give birth and can’t think of doing anything but being home. That’s fine – but it’s not me. I do acknowledge that to some extent, I feel an obligation to return. I work with people who are in the some of the lowest points of their lives and the organization I work for is the only thing providing them any hope or security. I feel such a profound obligation to those people that I don’t think having a child could overcome it. I’ve spent 9 months (almost) now ruminating on whether that whole “rush of love that cancels everything out” will happen and honestly? I don’t see it for me. I know I will love this child and do anything for them, but I feel that same protectiveness for the clients I already have. I know plenty of women would consider it weird to feel the same affection for your child and people who I haven’t known very long, but I do. The problem is that society has bought into one narrative – that women have babies and then invariably want nothing more then to care for them, at least temporarily. When that’s oftentimes not the case.

      • I do understand your perspective, you are right that employment doesn’t meant the same thing to everyone.

        And as a first time mom I can definitely identify with what you’re rejecting: the assumption by some that once you have the baby, who you are will change and your job won’t be as important to you. And the assertion that if your attitudes don’t change, it somehow makes you less of a parent.

      • I do understand that feeling of ruminating for 9 months and not expecting things to change. I really felt nothing towards my daughter when I was pregnant with her. I spent 9 months panicking that I wasn’t going to love her when she was born. And then she was born and I said to my husband “I can’t believe I love her so much.” It doesn’t mean that I wanted to care for her every minute of every day, but it did change my perspective on well, lots of things. And I understand too being in a caring profession and caring deeply about people at work. I’m a HS teacher, and I love my job too. I wouldn’t say I’m indispensable, but I was leaving behind important stuff and people, at work. I’m back at work, and I still care deeply about my students. But I encourage you to give yourself space to experience an emotional connection to your child that is totally unlike any other emotional connection. I am sure that this feels preachy and annoying, and maybe it won’t happen. But I have never met a single parent who says that the emotional connection that they have to their children isnt entirely unique from all other relationships. None of this precludes you in any way from returning to work immediately, but prepare yourself for to be blindsided by emotions that you weren’t necessarily expecting. Then if it doesn’t happen, you’re none worse for the wear.

      • I do understand what you said about your your career being your calling, I’m a nurse and I can’t imagine doing anything else. However, as a nurse (and a mother of four) I realize that what you’re about to undertake giving birth can be the equivalent of a physical trauma that you will need to recover from. On top of that, if you breastfeed, you will have nutritional needs above and beyond what you already have while gestating. Your sleep pattern will be fractured beyond what you can imagine. Your husband, as helpful as he will want to be will look at you and say “the baby’s hungry” and roll over and go back to sleep because invariably men fail to see how they can assist without breasts!

        When my second child was born, I did go back to work – part time- nine days after he was born, but I brought him with me in an office setting and he layed in a pak-n-play or swing unless it was time to feed and change him. This went on for about three months until he was starting to become more interactive and want more hands-on attention constantly; he then went into childcare with his sister – what a relief! I loved having him with me but I loved being just ME at work – not someone’s mother or wife, but ME. It’s very important for you to have your own identity and sense of accomplishment.

        However, I would NOT go back to work again that soon! What the heck was I thinking? I was exhausted, always on edge I’d make a mistake because I was so tired, always felt like I wasn’t doing anyone justice (myself, my kids, my boss, my husband, my coworkers…) I bled longer than I had with my first child because I was lugging that damn pak-n-play and swing around everywhere so I felt more tired because I was anemic in addition to sleep deprived.

        I know you want to be there for your clients. I know you feel like you’re the only one who can do your job for you, but you also have to think of your own HEALTH. Can your firm hire/contract out with someone who interprets for your clients who speak ASL/Gaelic on a short-term basis? Can you use a program like MARTTI? (My Accessible Real-Time Trusted Interpreter) We use this at the hospital where I work daily for the hundreds of languages our patients speak. I’m just concerned if you go back too soon you may put yourself behind the 8-ball physically and take a much longer time to recover than you would have had you taken even a week or two more off.

        Been there, done that, got the T-shirt and did it differently with the last two.

  10. I think that every mom needs to decide what’s right for her and her family, so to each her own. But I will say this as a general note, even though you’ve probably heard it before…it is very often hard to tell how you will feel about a lot of things until after the baby is born. I do not wish to disregard or invalidate your feelings on this at all, but just wanted to share what I think is a common occurrence with new moms. I was stunned at how differently I felt and how I looked at different issues like maternity leave once my daughter was born, and I have heard the same sentiment from a number of my mom friends. I am in no way saying that your feelings on this will or should change of course, but just wanted to point this out because it was such a surprise to me, how much could change within just a couple of weeks–days even!

  11. My only constructive comment is …… to have no plan at all. Seriously.
    The moment that baby is born, so is a mother – and it truly transforms you. You literally will have no idea how you will feel once that moment happens. Be flexible, be open and live in the moment.
    And for goodness sakes, take care of yourself. The marathon of labor and the new lifestyle of having a wee one around are not always easy-breezy transitions.
    Best wishes to you and your family! And kudos to you for finding and thriving in a fulfilling job you are in love with!

  12. I was still sitting on a pillow at 3 weeks postpartum, and that was with an unmediated, uncomplicated, homebirth. Of course every woman is different but pregnancy and childbirth are HARD on your body. Give yourself time to heal.

  13. One thing that I think gets overlooked in conversations about maternity leave is how you and your body change after childbirth. Maternity leave isn’t just about the baby. Post-partum is also about healing and recovering from pregnancy and childbirth and it can be a significant recovery. I was shocked at how long it took me to feel like I was back to normal. Expecting to be right back in the office functioning as usual 7 or 14 or 21 days after delivery may not be a fair expectation to put on your body, especially if you’re nursing.

    By all means, do what feels right for you! There is no default setting. But be kind to your body!

    • One item that I keep thinking about as I read comments here is Canada’s convention to provide 17 weeks of leave for (employed) women who have given birth – if it results in them possessing a baby or not. Apparently my government believes that up to four months may be needed to recover from childbirth.

      Just some food for thought.

      • Actually, Canadian women are entitled to 1 year of maternal/parental leave. This can be split between parents, regardless of gender, or taken entirely be one person. My wife’s employer topped up her benefits to 93% of her salary (normal benefits are up to 60% of your salary). Unfortunately, being entitled to a 1 year leave doesn’t mean that your job can bare an absence that long. My wife was able to work from home and take 16 weeks.

        • I think Liz’s point is that you can take 17 weeks of paid leave in Canada after giving birth – even if that birth (sadly) doesn’t result in a live baby. So in the case of stillbirth or a pre-term delivery where the baby doesn’t survive, or any other circumstances that can result in the baby passing away shortly after birth – the mother is still given the option of 17 weeks for both physical and emotional recovery.

          You can absolutely take a year of leave in Canada, (I’m Canadian too, woo hoo!) but everything beyond the first 17 weeks is parental leave, not maternity leave, which means there must be a live child to care for in order for you to be eligible to take it. So I think Liz’s point is that from the perspective of the Canadian government, a woman should have the right to 17 weeks for physical recovery, regardless of how the birth turns out, while the rest of the time we’re allotted is to allow time for either parent to stay home and care for the child and bond.

        • @Karen: this isn’t quite correct.

          Women who give birth are entitled to 15 weeks of paid maternity leave (assuming they are EI Eligible).

          Any parent (birth, adoptive, same gender, whatever – as long as they are EI eligible) is then entitled to an additional 35 weeks of paid leave, which can be taken by either parent in whatever combo.

          Therefore Liz is correct, that the Canadian gov’t recognizes that 17 weeks (2 week wait + 15 paid) is reasonable for recovery from childbirth. Also, what Rachel said. 🙂

          (Also, Canadian employers are REQUIRED to provide that time off, without loss in position, salary, or seniority. I’m assuming you meant that your wife felt obligated to go back?)

          (also also: EI is 60% of your salary…up to a max of $425 weekly. So not 60% for everyone)

  14. I get where you’re coming from, and honestly thought I would feel the same way when I had my son. I took 6 weeks of maternity leave, and ended up wishing I could have taken more. I plan to take as much as possible with my next child.

    But remember, maternity leave is not just about being with the baby and identifying as a a mom, it’s about healing from childbirth, which can be a big deal. I respect that you want to go back to work as soon as possible, and that’s great. But logistically it may be harder than you think. At 1-3 weeks I was still bleeding heavily from my vaginal birth. If you end up with a c-section you may still be in a lot of pain and not be able to do a lot physically. At 2 weeks we were just getting the hang of a breastfeeding/sleep schedule, so it would have been really hard to head back to work then, even though my husband is a stay at home dad.

    You need to work what works for you, and I wish you the best at doing that. But honestly, your expectations seem a bit high, so just be prepared to be flexible.

    • At 3 weeks, I was still bleeding heavily and breastfeeding every hour around the clock. It would not have been possible physically for me to go to work, especially since I am a symphony musician and I have to be on stage, holding it together.

      I was just starting to go for short 10 minute daily “walks” around the block at that point because my stomach muscles were starting to feel like they could hold my legs up again. It hurt to sneeze and it was hard to get up from sitting or lying down. I had an uncomplicated birth and recovered well. It’s just that it takes a few weeks.

      It’s not that I’m not a dedicated professional. I am. I went back to work part time at 8 weeks to play some big shows, which in Canada is REALLY early to go back to work. I went back full time when the baby was 9 months old, which again everyone considers “early” here. It still jarrs me to see people here talking about their “full maternity leave” of 12 weeks.

      This is sort of an aside, but I think society should be set up so there are childcare rooms in every workplace. I think having your baby in the building would make it much easier for many women to go back to work “early” and keep nursing. I know I loved taking my baby to work and he loves hanging out backstage with us.

  15. You, like everyone else, need to do what is right for you and your family. We all need to take the judgment out of parenthood (from every angle that’s not abusive). Our children will be the best they can be as long as we are being the best we can and doing what is right for us, regardless of what that is (again, unless its abusive). I choose to be a SAHM, despite all of the time and energy I put into my education for my career, and I don’t think my kids will be any more or less proud of me for making that decision. When it feels right for our family, I will go back to work and be equally content in that choice as I am now with this one. As long as you’re happy and your family is happy, who cares what the circumstances are? Do you and forget everyone else. You need not justify your decisions to judgmental people. 🙂

  16. I went back to college a week after giving birth. I was determined to finish my degree that semester. That being said, I am a stay at home mom. I don’t think that making the decision to be with your kids (whether for maternity leave or permanently) equates to choosing to give up joys, goals, & your identity for your kids. I am still myself. Among other things, I am a writer, a bibliophile, a wife, & a mother. A woman can wear many hats & have many identities. I fully support your decision to return to work as soon as possible. Just be careful not to equate giving up work or taking additional maternity leave as placing your child’s happiness over your own. Like you said, mothers (& fathers) need to be supportive of each other’s decisions. &, with any luck, all of our children will be proud of the choices we make as parents.

  17. I just want to applaud you for being brave about your decision. Our culture seems to judge anyone who doesn’t fit in the ‘box’ and I’m sure your kid(s) will be better off for your independent thinking and courage.

  18. To each her own. I wish you the best with your plans. Just remember to cut yourself some slack- it’s hard to know how you will be feeling emotionally and physically after the birth.

    With my first, an unplanned c-section after 36 hours of labor, I was in no shape physically to do much of anything 2 weeks after the birth. I couldn’t imagine going back to work in the shape I was in. I wasn’t back to normal for 7 to 8 weeks.

    With my second, another c-section after 7 hours of active labor, I pretty much felt like myself after 2 weeks (although late onset pregnancy induced hypertension meant bed rest for a little while around that time).

    Emotionally I wasn’t ready to go back after 12 weeks. Being home felt like family vacation!

    So I wish you all the best and commend you for doing what feels best for you and your family- even if it’s unusual or misunderstood by others.

    My advice to all new parents (moms and dads): Be kind to yourself and keep your expectations of yourself, your spouse, and your new baby, low! Those first weeks can be a tough transition- everyone is learning.

  19. I’ll join the chorus of “you never know how you’ll feel until you’re there”! And you never know how things will go. Hopefully you can keep the window open so that if you really aren’t ready to go back, or your child doesn’t sleep so you’re exhausted, or you have a complicated recovery, you can re-evaluate.

    I have to agree with Liz, above; I juggle two professional careers and mommy is one part of a complex identity, but I was delighted to have the flexibility to take a longer mat leave than I’d planned. It didn’t reduce my commitment to my work one little bit. It was just a time to prioritize differently. Surprise, surprise, once I had my boy my priorities adjusted, and keep on adjusting. This article read to me as if this somehow made me “less than” as regards to my career. No.

  20. Not to sound rude, but I don’t get why either side needs to justify anything. The overly-defensive attitudes of either – SAHM or a WM – sound like overcompensation, and to be honest it sounds catty. For example, “Well I’m a SAHM – clearly I love my children more if I’m willing to be with them all the time.” Or “Well I’m a working mom. I’m better than SAHMs because I actually provide for my kids.” Really, both arguments exude arrogance. I have been a 9-5 working/career mom (doing something I loved) and I have been a SAHM. Let me tell you – both are difficult, and neither one allows you to do everything you’ve ever wanted. Both also have their rewards. No need to brag about it.

    • This is an issue I have been coming to over and over and over with ALL aspects of child-rearing. None of the choices you make whilst on the path to a child come with a badge of fucking honor. You just have to make the choice as it presents itself to you on the path. It is what it is.

    • Yes. I like posts more when they about “This is what I did, and it worked for me.” Rather than “This is what I am going to do.” when we might not see the follow up. So, please remember to tell us how things are going! Congrats!

  21. At a week post-partum, I could barely get out of bed without help since I had an (unplanned) c-section. I was also fairly reliant on daytime naps for at least six weeks because I was up every one to two hours at night breastfeeding and was just exhausted all the time, which no one else can really help with. This is all to say that while I support moms who want to go back to work really early, and I really hope that you are able to do what works for you and your family, for me, I would take all the time they would give me because having a newborn is exhausting. I can’t imagine trying to concentrate on work those first two months and actually doing a good job because I was just so tired.

    Side note: I’m still super tired at 11 months, but since going to work killed my breastfeeding supply (my body doesn’t respond to the pump) and we had to switch to formula, at least my husband can help out with the still-relatively-frequent night wakings.

  22. Totally digging this! I return to work in 3 weeks making my entire maternity leave 14 weeks and making my daughter 9 weeks when i go back. My entire pregnancy i knew i was going back ‘early’. My husband is taking the australian gov. paid parental leave which is 18 weeks on minimum wage. (way to go aussie gov by the way!). he will be the primary carer and when he goes back we have a good family to help out.
    people drove me nuts saying ‘you’ll see’. uh…..nope. more then ready to go back~! nursing is just part of me. i dont see it as loving your clients as much as your baby but when you know your baby is happy and safe when you’re not there but your clients arent then why wouldnt you be able to make that choice?

  23. For the first two weeks I still had trouble sitting down and getting up (after a totally normal easy birth). Baby woke us up every 2 hours round the click for the first month. It took a good 3-4 weeks to really establish breastfeeding. My doctor doesn’t clear patients that early.
    I’m a bit insulted at this idea that because I think it’s best for my family to have mom with baby as much as possible (particularly for feeding) that my only identity is as mommy and I’m not passionate about my job.

    • “I’m a bit insulted at this idea that because I think it’s best for my family to have mom with baby as much as possible (particularly for feeding) that my only identity is as mommy and I’m not passionate about my job.”

      A few people have said something similar… as the person who read & edited this piece, I just wanted to put it out there that I really, really don’t think Ashley is trying to imply that. I think it’s important to not take someone else’s perspective and decision personally — to me, she’s speaking her truth about what works for HER. If she were you, then she would have written a different piece. Both perspectives and experiences are equally valid, but neither is meant to judge the other.

      • To be honest, although I wasn’t one of the people who commented that I was insulted, I did get that vibe – but more from the title than the actual article. If you reverse the title it essentially says “I’m saying no to maternity leave because I don’t identify only as a mom” – and I can DEFINITELY see how that’s interpreted as essentially saying ‘if you say yes to as much maternity leave as possible, you must only identify as a mom and nothing else’. I know that wasn’t the intention, but the title definitely comes across that way and potentially sets people up to be defensive. Maybe I’m the only one reading it that way though.

          • Honestly, it all reminded me of this paragraph from Ariel’s post Being a mom isn’t my most interesting feature:

            Motherhood is just a portion of my identity — and not even that remarkable of one. It’s a quality I share with BILLIONS of women on this planet. That shared experience is amazing and I love recognizing it and feeling that connection with my fellow mammals… but for me, that shared experience is not the thing that feels like my core identifier. I’m much more likely to identify by my work (small business owner, publisher, author, web entrepreneur), or my culture (pacific northwesterner, raised by hippies, retired raver), or my hobbies (dancer, comedy event producer, camper) than I am by my parental status.

        • Yes, the title. It’s the connection in the title between how much you identify as a mommy and the length of your maternity leave. I also am more likely to describe myself by my job title, my education, or my ethnicity, but that has nothing to do with how long I think maternity leave should be.

          • The original title was just “Saying no to maternity leave.” When I read the piece, I added the “I don’t identify only as a mom” because that’s how the piece read to me. I don’t think that not taking full maternity leave is the ONLY way to express that you’re not 100% identifying as a mom, but it’s one of them. It’s certainly not meant to imply that if you did take full maternity leave you identify completely as a mom, or that your career doesn’t matter to you but there’s obviously a disconnect here, and I’m wondering why to me this sounds fine but to a portion of the readers it doesn’t. I’m pretty sure a lot of us could start a list of things we do that could replace “why I’m saying no to maternity leave” in the title and it would make sense.

            I really do want to understand this — if you guys want, feel free to email me (so we don’t totally derail the thread) your perspectives on the title. This kind of thing is a big part of my job, and I want to make sure I’m at least in the same book as most of you, if not on the same page.

            [email protected]

          • ALRIGHT ALL: I’m reverting the title based on this feedback, primarily because I do not want to have to put the author in the awkward position of defending the title since she didn’t come up with it. Over & out.

          • I think it does make a difference how the article was read.

            “This is me, this is how I feel, this is my choice” is different than
            “Because I feel this way this is my choice”.

            Someone made an observation that all sides get defensive and that may be part of how it’s received too. But to me the second way implies that if you made a different choice you couldn’t feel that way.

        • True, though it’s not just the title (the title is changed now). It’s stuff like: “I never want to build my whole identity around my child. That sounds harsh, maybe. But it’s true. I love my job.”

          I love my job, too. And I definitely don’t want to build my whole identity around my child, either. But the implication is that moms who take TWELVE WEEKS (?!) of maternity leave are in fact building their whole identities around their babies.

          I live in Canada so I’m still getting my head around the idea that twelve weeks is considered “full” maternity leave. In most of the world, any mother going back at the early date of twelve weeks would be considered extremely career-oriented.

          I went back to work part time at 9 weeks and then full time at 9 months, and everyone always asks me how I managed to go back to work so “early”.

          You can still take months of maternity leave and be dedicated to your job. And be a whole real person.

  24. You do you. I think one thing of note with regards to Melissa Mayer, the Yahoo CEO is that she has a private nursery attached to her office at work. I think that is awesome, personally, and would love that – but most importantly I think it speaks to how unique her situation is in terms of wealth and choices.

    • She does say this in the piece: “My husband and I are blessed that this is possible for us. His place of employment is actually a family-run business (his brother, mother and father all work there too). They’re happy to have the baby come to see them every weekday. My parents are semi-retired, so some days, the baby will be with them. And I did compromise and agree with my husband that I’ll make every effort to delegate more and try to work more 8 hour days.”

      Not the same situation, but it sounds like she was a pretty solid system in place.

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