Thursday, October 4, 2012

The Truth About (My) Maternity Leave

Marissa Mayer, the newly appointed CEO of Yahoo!, gave birth to her son earlier this week, and the flurry of articles on the state of her maternity leave have been published. I've found it hard to read a lot of them, since they are critical of her choice to spend little time at home, and work through that time as much as she sees fit.

I understand that for many women, the idea of working while parenting a newborn is a complete non-starter. But I don't believe that's true for all women. Because it wasn't true for me.

When Hannah was born in 2004 and Max in 2008, I was very fortunate to be working for companies that provided some version of a paid twelve week maternity leave, and I took full advantage of it. I loved the chance to be home with my babies, both to recover physically and get used to all of the demands that parenthood requires. However, I was never completely unplugged from the office.

The first thing I did after coming home from the hospital with Hannah? I logged into my work email account. Four years later while in labor with Max, I was sending work emails from my Blackberry between contractions. Maybe it's just my overachieving nature or my desire to control things, but I still spent those weeks plugged in to what was happening in my offices to whatever degree I could - and I was a 26 and 30 year old insignificant player in all of it. I put pressure on myself - not my bosses, just this internal compulsion - to keep my head in the game, to not miss out, to prove that I was worthy. I can only imagine that Mayer, in the position she holds, hears that same internal pressure even more loudly than I did.

When I wasn't thinking about work, I was fairly immersed in other things. With Hannah, I still took one class towards the completion of my MBA, and made reruns of "The West Wing" a scheduling priority (this is pre-DVR, people!). With Max, I was obsessed with the Obama-Clinton primary races, and I still had to pick up Hannah from school each day. One of my proudest parenting moments was getting Hannah and six day old Max to Hannah's first ballet class on a super cold and icy day, being as put together myself as I could be while trying to figure out how to breastfeed on the go. My house was always clean, the laundry was always done. I always showered, even if I didn't put on the cutest outfits afterward. I'm sure there were rough days where I let things go, but generally, I stayed on top of a lot of it. That's just who I am.

Again, I was very fortunate. I didn't suffer from postpartum depression, my children were healthy, I had a lot of advantages. Hopefully for Mayer, she's in a similar position.

But here's the thing: Mayer's position is different because she is in fact a CEO. She has the power to prove that family-friendly policies like maternity leave (and heck, even paternity leave!) can be put in place at a company and the company can still do well! She has the chance to encourage and support her employees, and to grant them access to the programs they need to start off family life on the right foot. She has a platform to encourage benefits like these throughout corporate life and beyond. And if she does, it's likely that her employees are going to be motivated to do more and better for their company. It certainly worked that way for me.

So I get it if Mayer wants to, needs to, work. It's not about her choice there. For me, it's about the choices she can afford to others.

1 comment:

  1. Wow - what a great post. I love your perspective on this. First, big props to you for staying on top of all that after your babes were born. I'm so impressed. I took 5 months off when Q was born, and I think I maybe checked my work email one time. I had a little PPD and whole lotta PPA, so a shower was a huge accomplishment. Second, I agree with you that Mayer is in a unique position to set a precedent for new parents, despite what she can/wants to do with her time off.