I work as an accountant for a large company in Central Connecticut. A few days ago someone in my office referred to my upcoming maternity leave as a “vacation”. This shocked me because this someone was a woman, who has a child, and knows the challenges of the first few weeks of a newborns life. My entire pregnancy I have endured the comments from men that I work with regarding my maternity leave. The “oh wow, must be nice to be able to take time off” and “Aren’t you going to be bored with that much time away from the office?”. I take these comments with the proverbial grain of salt and move on. But this comment, someone referring to maternity leave as a “vacation” really got me thinking about the attitude toward mothers taking time away from the office to nurture and bond with a newborn or newly adopted child.
In 1993 the United States passed the Family Medical Leave Act. This act required employers to protect the job of qualified employees for an unpaid leave of 12 work weeks when it was needed for qualified medical and family reasons. The state of Connecticut has taken that further and guaranteed job protection for employees who have a family or medical reason to take unpaid time off work for 16 weeks. I have opted to take 16 weeks off after my baby is born, 10 of which will be completely unpaid, and 6 of which I will receive a disability check of 60% of my gross pay. I realize this is a terrible policy, but I was well aware of it before trying for a family and my husband and I made several sacrifices over the last few years in order to ensure I would be able to spend 16 weeks at home with out child recovering from child birth and bonding with our new born.
I am well aware that my choice to forego 10 weeks of salary is not for everyone. I am also well aware that I am incredibly fortunate to be able to do this. I am sure there are women out there who are ok with the fact that they will return to work after 6 weeks, or maybe an even shorter amount of time after having a child( Remember Yahoo CEO Melissa Mayer who opted to only take a 3 weeks maternity leave and work from home the entire time?). And I say more power to them. We are all women and mothers, but we are also individuals with individual needs for ourselves and our families. To me, the women’s movement means that we are all fighting for the right to choose everything in our lives. We want to have the right to choose our own profession, our own spouse, if we even have a spouse, our form of birth control, where we live, if we have an abortion, etc. We want to act as individuals and make choices because they are good for us, not because they make us fit the mold in society. If we as women keep judging each other for our choices then we are doomed in our fight for equality. We need to celebrate each other choices, not tell each other why they are wrong.
Maternity leave is not a vacation and coming back to work shortly after giving birth does not make you a bad mother. Doing what is best for yourself and your child and the needs of your family is what makes you a good mother. If what is best for my family and me is taking all 16 weeks I am allowed by law then I would say I am succeeding as a mother, a woman, and most importantly, I am honoring myself and the person I am.