Zwambag: There's no 'me' in maternity leave

The Motherload

Maternity leave.  If you’re to believe many who have never had the chance to experience birthing a tiny human and then trying to keep them alive, you might be led to believe that it’s a time of reflection, relaxation and pursuing passions that a day job just doesn’t leave time for.

The latest in this string of myth perpetuation is Meghann Foye, who has become the target of outrage after an interview promoting her new book “Meternity”. I personally haven’t yet decided if this is some big publicity stunt (that’s working beautifully, I might add) or just a very misguided opinion that she voiced publicly to her agent’s chagrin, but none the less, it needs to be talked about.

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When I was on my first maternity leave, I got lots of passive aggressive questions such as if I was enjoying my baby vacation or why I no longer had time for a girls night. An avid Friends fan, the one that sticks out in my mind is when Rachel’s co-worker asks her how she’s enjoying her baby vacation and she responds that her idea of a vacation does NOT include something sucking on her nipple until it’s raw. The problem is, there is this attitude that we are just on vacation when we take a year off from our jobs to heal and take care of our children.

In a recent interview published by The New York Post, Foye is quoted as wanting all the perks of maternity leave without the kids.

Well, Ms. Foye. Let me tell you about the perks.

First, you get to lose your shame as you lie naked and screaming in a hospital room full of people who can only give you painkillers (sometimes) and wait for you to eventually push a baby with a very large head out of a very small place.

Then you have a tiny human who only sleeps for thirty minutes at a time, but only if you’re holding them and they’re swaddled just right and they’re the optimal amount of full and the room isn’t too bright, and who relies on you for every little thing in life. You get sent home with it and no instruction manual.

Then there’s the indignity of stool softeners, peri bottles, stitches in places you never knew possible, postpartum bleeding, leaking boobs, and baby blues that cause you to weep uncontrollably because you ran out of bananas. I have a theory that maternity leave (the first 12 weeks of a woman’s time off in Canada) is timed with the baby blues because people can’t handle crying women. I can’t tell you how many people I made severely uncomfortable after I burst in to tears simply because they greeted me.

Then you begin the life of ten diaper changes a day, copious amounts of laundry, learning how to breastfeed (it was a big curve for us with lots of tears) or spending hours each day cleaning and sterilizing bottles, worry about every cough or slightly elevated temperature, vaccinations, rules about how to do everything, periods of purple crying, colic, teething, growth curves, car seat regulations, baby food making, sensory activities, housekeeping and navigating a parenting world that is so full of information that confusion, guilt and shame run rampant.

While there might be the odd nap or Netflix night, “me time” is not what maternity leave is about. We take maternity leave because our children need us in the first year of their life; it’s a scary place and they need care, guidance and love. And boobs.

Furthermore, even finding childcare for a child under the age of one is incredibly challenging because many don’t offer it (for good reason) and those that do are regulated to only be able to accept a very small number of children that age.

In Foye’s opinion, women without kids miss out on “socially mandated time and space for self-reflection” and that she believes in the value of a “Meternity leave” which would be a “Sabattical-like leave that allows women, and to a lesser degree, men, to shift their focus to the part of their lives that doesn’t revolve around work.”

I’m not even going to address the issues with inequality (and why she believes women deserve this to a higher degree than men) or the fact that these options exist already in unpaid leave, sabbaticals or simply quitting your job to travel or take time for yourself.

I am going to say that maternity leave is not a time of self-reflection. In fact, it’s a time where women feel more lost than ever. Consider this: one day, you’re pregnant and working. You’re the person you’ve been working towards for years—career, marriage, home, friends and interests. Then you have a baby and suddenly? You’re now a different person. You no longer have that job. You rarely see friends. You’re too tired to even remember what interests are. You have a whole new set of expectations on you and someone depending on you.

There’s a reason that many mothers feel like they’ve “lost themselves” in early motherhood and struggle to find a new equilibrium. It’s not a vacation. It’s not a time to focus on ourselves and cultivate our interests. It’s a time to bring forth life and encourage the development of a whole new individual. The focus is fully on another.

Does it have its perks? Absolutely. There is nothing better than the first time your child smiles at you. There is a deeply rewarding sense of pride as you watch your child grow and become independent and part of the future cloth of this country.

But in order to raise the leaders of tomorrow, parents need time off in early childhood to lay the foundation.

That’s what maternity leave truly is. It’s hard and exhausting, and it’s a foundation for a life well-lived.

 

Brianne Zwambag is a full-time boo-boo healer, snack artist, janitor, referee, master storyteller and child stylist in Fort St. John, who sometimes gets a chance to sit down and write about life, mommyhood and the issues that surround it.

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