Two weeks after the birth of my second daughter, I was hormonal and full of enough mom guilt to venture out for the first time alone with two kids.
Determined to show my firstborn that Mommy still loved her even though our entire world had been flipped upside down by the arrival of her baby sister, I dragged both girls to the local fro-yo shop for a special Halloween story hour.
I slurped down hot coffee, glancing anxiously at my newborn while my eldest danced the Monster Mash with the other kids. Still barely able to sit down without pain, I smiled nervously while we painted a pumpkin and I tried to figure out how to carry a newborn and two overflowing cups of frozen yogurt.
It was an exhausting 60 minutes, and I returned home giddy with excitement that I’d done it but also relieved to put back on my sweatpants. Still recovering from a somewhat traumatic labor and navigating the tricky early weeks of breastfeeding, I was still mostly a mess physically and emotionally, and the act of being “normal” for an hour or two was draining.
So when I heard the news recently that Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer plans to return to work just 14 days after the birth of her TWINS, I shook my head in disbelief.
“Why on earth would any woman do that to herself?” Especially one who seemingly has the finances to take a full 12 weeks unpaid if need be?
With both of my kids, finances ultimately dictated exactly how long I took. Sure, I was needed back at work, and no, I didn’t have anyone to directly replace me while I was gone, but I never let that affect my decision.
Instead I calculated exactly how much time unpaid time I could afford and then wrung every last minute out of the time I had: 9 weeks with my first, 8 weeks with my second.
It wasn’t enough time.
Here’s the thing, most babies don’t even crack their first smile until around 8 weeks. And if you haven’t been there before, let me tell you, you NEED that first smile. Badly.
Newborns take, take, take in those early weeks, and all they offer in return is being cute. But when they finally crack that first smile that isn’t just gas, but actually an indication that they’ve noticed you around all those sleepless nights and exhausting days, it’s like the sun bursting through storm clouds.
With my second, I earned my first smile just days before I had to return to work, and it simultaneously broke my heart and made it soar. “How can I leave this little lady just as we’re getting to know each other?”
And, as I did in the days before returning to work with my firstborn, I sobbed and complained to anyone who would listen about America’s draconian maternity leave policies and how much it broke my heart to be torn from my tiny baby so early on in our bond.
With both kids, when I did actually get back to the office, sure, it was fine, and not nearly as bad as I’d dreaded. But I also spent plenty of time fretting about the state of my milk production and wondered what new skills they were mastering and personality traits they were revealing in my absence.
Look, I respect a woman’s right to choose in all things. What I don’t respect is not giving a woman a choice, and forcing those who aren’t ready to return to work for financial reasons, both real and implied.
Because even for women high up the corporate ladder who can afford to take a full 12 weeks, the example Marissa Mayer is setting implies that if you really cared about your job and the state of the company, you’d hustle back.
She claims her limited leave is needed “since this is a unique time in Yahoo’s transformation,” but most employers can and will claim similar concerns given the opportunity.
There’s always going to be a budget due, a new product to roll out or a shift to cover, but we need to give new moms the ultimate priority and embrace a culture where not only are we providing parents the financial support required, but also encouraging them to, if they want, spend that early time bonding with these little humans that will change the course of their lives forever.
I know that for some moms, going back to work is a relief. An escape from the drudgery of tending to the nonstop needs of a crying baby. Hey, if either of my kids had colic, who knows how quickly I might have run back to the office. I get that not everyone wants to spend weeks and months home with a baby who, as noted, isn’t giving you much in return.
I respect that there’s no right or wrong answer to how long one chooses to take, I just want women to be able to choose.
But by very publicly stating that her workplace is the priority and failing to use her role as a leader to voice the need for freedom of choice in such personal decisions, Marissa Mayer failed her fellow mothers.
Marissa, if you truly WANT to go back after 14 days – how will you sit in a chair and stay awake for that long?! – so be it, but please don’t act like you NEED to go back, thereby setting the example that women should prioritize their workplace above all else.