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.
You might also like…
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- I’m genderqueer and pregnant: how my tattoos are helping me maintain my identity
- You’ll seeee: fear-mongering predictions that didn’t come true
Based on reader feedback, the title on this post has been changed.