MotherhoodWorking Mom Woes

Working through maternity leave?!@#&%* 12 weeks is not enough…

There seems to be a lot of hoopla over the new CEO of Yahoo, Marissa Mayer. The hoopla is there for a few reasons—because she was hired to be the new CEO of struggling Yahoo, because she is coming from Google, because she is starting her new job today and is pregnant and due in October, and reportedly, she informed her to-be bosses of her pregnancy when she was hired, which is to be commended on both sides—her honesty and Yahoo’s willingness to hire a pregnant CEO.

I’m going to play devil’s advocate for a moment and say that – well, she really didn’t have anything to LOSE by announcing her pregnancy to her potential new employer. Why? She was already employed at Google, and was not actively looking for another job (they approached her about the position). If Yahoo had said “no thank you” (which would be illegal if I am not mistaken—they would have at least had to disguise it as something else) Ms. Mayer would have just stayed at her position at Google, and all would be fine in the world. (I would even bet that Google has a pretty great maternity leave policy—but I don’t know for sure, so if you do, please fill me in!)

The reason this story has caught my attention is because of what she said on regarding her maternity leave:  (the article can be found here:

“As for maternity leave, Mayer, who recently joined the board of Walmart (WMT), expects it to be speedy. “I like to stay in the rhythm of things,” she says, referring to the CEO job that she is starting tomorrow. “My maternity leave will be a few weeks long and I’ll work throughout it.”

Now my first question is— is her maternity leave going to be only a few weeks long because Yahoo will not give her more weeks? (if so, then shame on Yahoo!) I do not know Ms. Mayer, so I want to be very careful as to not be offensive. In part, I commend her for “wanting to work through it” but, part of me is pissed off. Why? Well I will tell you why. Because I believe her words are a detriment to a cause that thousands of people support: Longer, more manageable and more secure (and paid!) maternity/family leave.  It is no secret that maternity leave in the United States lags behind other developed and developing countries in the world. The United States is one of three countries that does not offer PAID maternity leave (the other countries are Swaziland and Papua New Guinea).

Mapping Paid Maternity Leave (Think Progress)

image from Think Progress

The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 does not offer paid leave, only 12 weeks of unpaid leave (but, if you live in NY, you do qualify for the measly $170 “short-term disability” insurance—which is about $160 after taxes—- they should be ashamed of that amount and ashamed to tax it). You only qualify for FMLA if you have been employed for 12 months or over.

Perhaps Ms. Mayer is being idealistic—she believes she will have a speedy recovery, and she can most likely afford a team of round the clock care—you know, baby nurse, nanny, housekeeper, etc . etc. factors which would of course, help to get her back to work asap. But maybe Ms. Mayer hasn’t been told the truth about what it is like to have a newborn: the sleepless nights, the round-the-clock feeding, the pains and aches your body experiences after giving birth (or the recovery after a C-section), the countless diaper changing, the days when you don’t know what time it is, you haven’t had time to brush your teeth or wash your face or even leave your bed (because when the baby is sleeping all you wanna do is sleep as well!)

Ms. Mayer says she likes “to stay in the rhythm of things” – there is not rhythm with a newborn… they eat all the time, (and consequentially crap all the time), and they are not on a sleeping schedule yet.

12 weeks is certainly not enough maternity leave… a few weeks is even less…  To claim that she will be “in the rhythm of her work” and she will work through the few weeks she is out, is not acknowledging a reality we have to accept and come to terms with—babies need care, moms need time to heal and to be with their babies and that is OK. Employers need to understand this… especially in today’s world where work seems to creep up everywhere, 24/7 thanks to the laptops, Blackberrys, Ipads and iPhones that lay by your bedside and interrupt important life events. In a world where we can work 24/7 we need to make boundaries and space for private lives and important moments, not let work invade these moments.

I am a strong advocate for women’s right to work if they choose to do so, or even if they have to. But are Ms. Mayer’s words putting pressure on other working moms to do the same? Or other women employed at large companies going to be pushed to forgo their maternity leave and get back to work ASAP? Are we encouraging employees to feel that they have to rush through their time on parental leave? Are we saying to employers it is OK to not provide adequate maternity (or parental) leave and to expect their employees back to work? I feel that Ms. Mayer’s attitude toward leave is sending the wrong message at a time when we should be reforming the system to allow for more flexibility for working parents and a discussion on maternity leave policies. Due to the economy and the political climate, I know that the time is not now—we can build momentum for these kinds of changes, and one day, (I hope in my lifetime) they will come and the United States will not be the only developed nation that does not offer paid maternity leave to its women and children.

ps. i do wish Marissa Mayer best of luck with her baby!!

Diana Limongi
Diana a mom, activist, nonprofit professional, podcaster and writer from Queens, NY. She writes about motherhood, activism, raising my multilingual kids, culture and travel. She and her multicultural family live in Queens, NY.

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