I was probably 29 or 30 years old the first time I heard one co-worker complain about another co-worker taking "maternity leave". Well, not specifically about the new mother taking time off, but complaining about the fact that she was never going to get to "take time off" because she and her husband had decided not to have children.
When I was in my twenties, early thirties, and basically right up until I gave birth, I was extremely uninterested in children. Like people would bring their new babies into the office and everyone else would gush and ooooh and ahhhhhh, and I would be like, "Oh, it's cute" and continue on my merry way and forget their baby existed. So, ZERO interest. I didn't hate moms and kids or anything, but it was just not something I ever thought about. If kids sat next to me at restaurants I simply would move, and I refrained from going anywhere where I thought there might be children. I didn't want to be around them, but I didn't begrudge them for existing or anything. I just figured that since it was my problem I would be proactive and try not to go to things where a kid might be running around.
Sometimes they were where I was. I specifically remember one time I was at Rembrandt's Restaurant and Bar, and I was hungover from the night before, and I literally just wanted to drink 10 Bloody Marys and not speak to anyone, and these kids and their parents were sitting in the bar. The kids were running around, and acting like dipshits, and the parents were just DOING NOTHING. Instead of quietly drowning my hangover in vodka, I now had to anxiously sit there and pray that these kids did not run smack dab into the server and make her spill hot coffee all over them, the parents, other patrons, herself...ugh. I did not like those particular children or their parents, but other than that my interaction with children( with the exception of my nephews and my best friends daughters (who I love because, duh, you love your family and friends ) was purposefully child free. Not a big deal. I don't even know why I just told that story, other than to say it made me and excellent mom in restaurants because my kids are basically not allowed to move their eyeballs when we go out to eat
(must be so fun for them!) but that has nothing to do with this. Soooo....yeah.
Anyway the co-worker. Her comment. It wasn't fair that new mothers got to take maternity leave, and she did not because she was not having kids.
I was pretty stunned. Like, the comment did not compute, and I was not pro-mom or pro-kid or anything like that. But I did know that babies needed their mothers for at least the first few months of their lives, and also I knew that recovery from pushing a person out of your vagina probably required longer than a few days at home.
My next reaction to the comment after blinking three times and not saying anything, was disappointment. I remember at that age, just generally being disappointed in adults. I realized that just because you grew up physically didn't necessarily mean you grew up mentally. And here was a perfect example of a grown up woman being jealous because another woman was on maternity leave and she "didn't get to take one." I eventually just chalked it into my basket of "stupid things adults say" and went on my merry way, because like I said, I was not in any way, shape, or form an advocate for mothers, or their rights or anything.I don't even think I knew what my own cervix was! A few years later, I thought of that comment.
When I was pregnant with Georgia, I was shocked to find out my place of employment did not offer "maternity leave". You had to take FMLA. I was so confused, and also thought back to that conversation with the co-worker who "didn't get to take maternity leave" LOL. There was no maternity leave to take! She was getting bent out of shape over something that did not exist. I had to use my sick days, vacation days, and short term disability days and then could take the remainder of the 12 weeks "off" unpaid. So I think at that time of Georgia's birth I was paid for 6 weeks and then went 6 weeks without pay. Wow, that is so awesome and everyone should be jealous of that.
I'm not going to get into how hard it is to take care of a newborn. If you have to explain that to someone, it is probably pointless to even be in a conversation with them about it. On the other hand, I also don't think being a mother is the hardest job in the world, or even the most important one. I have always said sanitation workers and doctors have the most important jobs as far as I'm concerned, and a 9 year old working 70 hours a week in and Indonesian sweatshop making Elsa and Ana dresses has a much harder job than me, a new mom who scared and exhausted but ultimately has met the love of her life.
The pros of motherhood definitely outweigh the cons. But it is still hard, exhausting, and confusing, and for an upper middle class, white woman who has experienced little to zero authentic hardships in life ( like most of mine were probably self inflicted or made up) I had a bit of a hard time adjusting to the lifestyle I chose. So for me, the first time I had to have a baby and take FMLA to recover from childbirth and learn to care for a new baby was the most physically difficult time in MY OWN personal life. But I want to recognize that it is certainly not the hardest thing anyone is going to ever do.
But like I said. It is no cakewalk. And that is why when Meghann Foye compared her ME-TERNITY leave to "maternity leave", I was left with a bad taste in my mouth. There is nothing "me" focused about taking FMLA when you have a baby. I especially liked when she said: :
"It seemed that parenthood was the only path that provided a modicum of flexibility. There’s something about saying “I need to go pick up my child” as a reason to leave the office on time that has far more gravitas than, say, “My best friend just got ghosted by her OkCupid date and needs a margarita” — but both sides are valid."
Flexibility? Margaritas? What the F?
When I have to call out of work, or leave early because of my kids, I have a really unpleasant physical reaction to that called GUILT. One time I chose to pay a babysitter $15 an hour for 8 hours instead of calling out of work because we were really busy, and I actually felt sick over not being there. It isn't fun to leave work early to get a sick kid. Most parents would rather be at work! Do you know what it is like taking care of my sick children? It's like being Veruca Salt's freaking personal servant. Yes, I signed up for it, but that doesn't mean it isn't difficult at times.
Georgia one time caught a bug from someone at school. She was barfing all night on Wednesday from midnight until 7am. I had to call out of work on Thursday because I was exhausted and because she stayed home from school. It isn't fun to call out of work, even if you have a very understanding boss.
Guess who got the bug on Thursday night? Me, Chris and June. We were all throwing up. All night. And Georgia kept waking up and then had a bloody nose and was freaking out. Chris was downstairs puking, I was upstairs puking among other things, and I am trying to hold June's head in a bucket while she had explosive diarrhea shooting out of her diaper, and I am sticking my head in a bucket, Georgia's nose is bleeding everywhere...I had to call out on Friday.
Is this enviable to anyone? Does this sound flexible, or awesome, or like I am going to sit around finding myself? I physically could not go to work OR take care of my kids because I was a hot mess from throwing up all night. I tried to walk to CVS in the morning to get the kids pedialyte because I was afraid they would be dehydrated. I had to sit down like 5 times during my walk, and I was practically crawling home in tears. I had to give June a teaspoonful of pedialyte every 5 minutes, then 10 minutes, then 30 minutes....until she stopped puking, while all I wanted to do was curl into a ball and die. But Meghan Foye thinks it's super awesome that I get to do that, and she wants a piece of the pie she isn't getting. Here's some pie Meghan, I hope it makes you barf and crap yourself all night.
Her sentiment that work life balance is OFF balance is probably correct for a lot of people. I can totally get down with that idea. But why did she have to bring new mothers into it? Why did she have trivialize motherhood? She too can take FMLA for a life altering event, unless she works for a company with under 50 people then she and people who need to take off for having a baby are out of luck. It isn't apparently that hard to take FLMA, this crazy person that I worked with took it three times in one year! Or Meghan can use her vacation days and take a fucking vacation, or use PTO and leave early. Like us moms do. You don't get mom-flex hours when you are leaving to pick up your kid, you have to be accountable for the time you are costing your company and submit for the time off and accordingly. And usually do some work when your kid goes to sleep.
I have been mad at my mom over periods in my life, but one thing I will never, ever say is that she didn't work hard. She threw herself into motherhood at 18 years old, and I admire her for that, and I think it's weird that there is this whole generation of people who have turned parents into villains, (which is not what the ME-ternity article is about, but I'm just going to comment on it because it's on the interwebs.) Yes, there are a lot of shitty parents, but there are a lot of shitty non parents too. And there are a lot of awesome parents, and a lot of awesome non parents. That is what makes the world go around.
So, yes. I chose to have a baby. So I "get to" use all of my PTO for FMLA so that I can take care of my baby for it's first three months of life and also wear diapers and icepacks on my crotch for a month after childbirth. And the childless do not.
People choose not to have children will not "get to" take FMLA to take care of a baby and recover from childbirth. But they can take FMLA to take care of a sick relative, or to attend to a serious health condition. If they are taking care of a sick relative, they can probably leave work early if need be. Or if they are sick and need to go to the doctor they can leave work early too, or take a sick day. And if you work in an environment where taking care of yourself or your family is frowned upon, you should get a new job. That isn't the fault of mothers, it's the fault of your shitty boss.
I do agree with Meghann Foye on one thing, sort of. Being a mother has given me a new perspective on life that I did not really have, or if I did have it, I did not nurture it. And that perspective is that everyone works hard. Everyone is tired. Adulting is exhausting whether you have children or not. (I did not figure this out during FMLA though, as she imagines, because I was too busy trying to figure out how to keep my boobs from spraying on people)
With my realization that life should not be a pissing contest over who has it harder, or not harder, or who has more than me, also came this feeling called COMPASSION, and I have it for everyone. I have it for people who have a headache, I have it for people who have to euthanize their pets, I have it for people who work third shifts, I have it for someone who studied all night, I have it for someone who is inconsolable because their date did not call them back, and I also have it for a parent who has to leave early to pick up her child from school.
So next time your co worker "gets to" leave, maybe squeeze her hand as she walks by and say, "I got your back mama" or make her feel a little better by saying, "I hope little Johnny feels better." Or maybe don't say anything, but laugh to yourself ...because even though she or he is leaving an hour early, they are going to be up all night with a sick kid, compared to you who maybe has one extra hour of work to do, but can then go home, put your feet up, relax and call your friend and have a margarita. Don't look at it like she is getting something you are not. Just feel thankful that you are not in her shoes and move on to a cause that is actually worth fighting for.