Tuesday, May 3, 2016

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No, Maternity Leave is Not a Vacation

Naptime selfies = "entertainment" during my "vacation."
Stay-at-home moms are the subject of much societal scorn—and now, even the unique necessity of maternity leave has been challenged, minimized even, with crazy people demanding “meternity leave” (for the burnt-out single woman) and “pawternity leave” (for the pet owner with a puppy or kitten at home). 

For the childless among us, it’s easy to view “maternity leave” as synonymous with “paid vacation” (or “sort-of-paid vacation,” too often). I, too, used to fantasize about the cushy existence of stay-at-home moms on particularly exhausting days at the office, imagining myself baking bread, plowing through my pile of unread magazines, and taking Pilates or hot yoga. I’m not sure where the baby figured into all of that—probably in a crib sleeping, or quietly playing with some blocks. 

Now let’s review the reality of maternity leave. 

My second night home from the hospital, my husband spiked a high fever; the pediatrician ordered him not to touch the baby. That left me—just four days post-C-section—to wake up, oh, every hour, lurch out of bed, incision straining, to breastfeed our daughter, change her diaper, then try to trick her into thinking I was still holding her while returning her to her bassinet. I had declined a prescription for pain meds—I’d spent enough time zombified from the meds to treat my preeclampsia—so all of this up-and-down action was done sans Oxycontin, for those who think post-childbirth recovery is a murky sea of pain med-induced pleasure, or at the very least, oblivion. 

At first fleeting glance, my days may have looked like a stay-cation—I sat on the couch, eating mixed nuts and watching Netflix. Problem is, I couldn’t get off the couch. Like, ever. My daughter needed to be held constantly—and she had no concept of lunch breaks or bathroom breaks (and there are no unions for new mothers). Tired? Too bad. Bladder bursting? Too bad. Arms aching? Too bad. Too bad. Too bad, her little infant mews seemed to say. 

I challenge any woman who feels entitled to “meternity” leave to enjoy her yoga-filled sabbatical with a four-inch incision across her gut, a newborn clinging to her breast, and only faint memories of that beautiful thing called sleep.

Meternity, a clever name for extra vacation time, is about “me” time. Maternity leave is about bonding time—and by bonding, I mean 24/7 physical contact, with a human being you’ve only just met 72 hours prior. I’m being facetious, of course. The truth is, I cherished those times, however sleep-deprived and desperate I sometimes felt, and I would do it again in a heartbeat. But not because it’s a sun-soaked trip to Big Sur, full of introspective, Oprah-worthy moments to commemorate in my journal. 

I’d do it again because it’s a medical necessity, for both my child and me. Women who take several weeks of maternity leave are at lower risk of depression six months down the line, and also report better physical health than moms who take less time off, according to research from the University of Maryland and the University of Minnesota. Time at home also increases a new mom’s odds of breastfeeding her baby, which, of course, promotes bonding, while also providing numerous physical benefits to the child. 

After three months (the amount of time I took off), I didn’t feel rejuvenated, rested, refreshed, or any other word often used to describe the state of post-vacation bliss. But I did feel more in love with my child than I could have ever imagined—and that, truly, is the entire point of maternity leave, a goal that “meternity” leave can never aspire to achieve. 


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