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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Comments on Why I’m saying no to maternity leave

  1. I too did not have a real maternity leave, I am a full time grad student receiving a fully funded education from the Navy. Although I could have taken a quarter off and had no classes, I chose instead to take a reduced load and rearrange the remainder of my scheduled to taken into account the extra quarter added to my time at school allow for a lighter load over the remaining quarters. This means that I took 2 classes during my “leave” and only 3 or 4 the rest of my time here instead of 5 (which is no fun at all). I was also back in class 4 days after my son was born. Many people did not understand why I would do this or tried to convince me that the short (2 1 hour sessions) time I was away would hurt my baby or make it hard to breastfeed. None of it was true, nor do I know what it was that was supposed to take 6 weeks to recover, but then again my last job came with more sleep deprivation than my infant. Do I wish for more time with my child, yes and no. I wish I had more time to just enjoy him and not worry about school. house, homework, etc, but I staying home for 3 months full time would have meant alot less time with my smiley giggly 5 month old . . .
    Some of this doesn’t apply to you and your day sounds alot longer out of the house than mine, but you are not alone, and you should see what flexability can be built into your schedual, (work from home, flex time, 1 or 2 half days, etc)

  2. 1-3 weeks does not should physically realistic. No judgement , I’m happy you love your job, but please make the maternity leave decision with your doctor. Your body may not be ready, so don’t be disappointed if you need more time.

  3. This was written in February. I’m dying for a follow-up to talk about what actually went down when you had your child. Were you able to get back as quickly as you’d hoped?

  4. I don’t intend to have children, but from one legal aid attorney to another, I totally understand your point. Our work is so valued and so important to our communities that it is a strain on them when our offices are closed even for a day. I am the only Spanish speaker in our office (very small rural office), and I couldn’t imagine what taking 12 weeks off would do to our clients, or for the relationships we’ve built in the community.

    Cheers to legal aid!

  5. I don’t want to take a long mat leave either basically for all the reasons you just stated. I have a year long leave because I live in Canada but at this point I just feel so frustrated when everyone keeps telling me I should take it. WHY? because I am a woman? FUCK.

  6. I think the biggest problem I have with articles like this is how unaware the writer seems to be of how decisions like hers and Marissa Mayers affect the women in lower social positions. While to some point I want moms to be able to do what works best for them, when women who have high status jobs *opt* to have very short leave, it has a disproportionate affect on how society on whole views maternity leave. It sends the signal that it isn’t necessary because XYZ (with money and resources) didn’t need it. And that has a dripdown effect to the rest of us.

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