A new mom on what ‘meternity’ leave misses

One day after our first child was due to arrive but two days before he actually did, my husband and I had run out of ways to prepare. We had packed the hospital bag and set up the crib, purchased a boppy and a breast pump. But we did not yet have the baby. So, in an effort to encourage our little one along, we decided to watch “Lucy Goes to the Hospital,” the episode of “I Love Lucy” in which Lucy gives birth to Little Ricky. The episode is the conclusion of a story arc that begins with one of the show’s more controversial episodes: “Lucy is Enceinte.” This famous episode manages to tell the story of how Lucy informs her husband, Ricky, that she is pregnant without using the word pregnant, which was deemed scandalous for television by CBS.

Nearly 65 years later, it is safe to say that the mere mention of pregnancy is far less taboo than in Lucy’s day. Still, our culture has yet to become fully comfortable with the realities of pregnancy and childbirth. The Hollywood version of childbirth often involves a woman clutching her stomach and definitively declaring, “It’s time!” This often is followed by an idealized birthing scene in which a woman, barely glistening with sweat, gives a push or two before being handed a clean, neatly swaddled baby. Meanwhile, the real-life version often includes far less comical screaming and far more bodily fluids. And there is no glamorous Hollywood version of what happens afterward.

Advertisement

Nearly three weeks into my own maternity leave, I admit I didn’t have a full understanding of what this time would involve. When the beautiful, bloody body of our son emerged and the doctors dropped all 10 wriggling pounds of him onto my stomach, a part of me thought: The hard part is over. But later that night, as I lay in a hospital bed at 3 a.m. holding my hungry, hysterically crying infant son, yet unable to get him to breastfeed, I realized I had been mistaken. So it was with some sympathy, but also a significant deal of frustration, that I read the now infamous article published last month in The New York Post titled, “I want all the perks of maternity leave—without having a kid.” In that article Meghann Foye, a novelist, discusses her inspiration for writing her new novel, Meternity, which tells the story of a woman in her early 30s who decides to fake a pregnancy in order to get maternity leave.

The Post article describes the author’s own real-life efforts to find work-life balance after realizing that if she did not ever have children, she would never have maternity leave and therefore “that socially mandated time and space for self-reflection may never come.” While Foyer’s larger message about the need for better work-life balance is a worthy one, likening maternity leave to a sabbatical understandably rubbed many readers, including me, the wrong way. The Internet was quick to point out that during maternity leave—a time that, in fact, is not available to a large number of women—mothers must care for a newborn while at the same time recovering from vaginal tearing or a C-section, cleaning stitches or taking sitz baths, trying to tend to a bleeding, cracking, leaking, aching, sleep-deprived body. 

I know that caring for my son in the first weeks of his life is an amazing and rewarding privilege. It is not something I take for granted (and I appreciate America’s just parental leave policy). But it is important to acknowledge that for many people, this time can also be exhausting, frustrating, painful, isolating and terrifying. In my son’s second week of life, he and I had a combined total of five doctor appointments plus one emergency room visit and a session with a lactation consultant.

Being on leave has given me time to grapple with all these challenges. But a “socially mandated time and space for self-reflection” it is not. 

When it comes to discussing the details of these difficulties among friends or family, many people hesitate, perhaps out of embarrassment or a fear of seeming ungrateful or unloving. And so many people were surprised by the candor of a recent tweet by the model Chrissy Teigen following the birth of her first child: “no one told me i would be coming home in diapers too.” Her public tweet emphasized that such topics should not be confined to new moms or parenting forums. A wider, more honest conversation about the challenges of childbirth likely would help not only to dispel the myth of maternity leave as a type of vacation time; it could also help employers see it as a necessity and new parents to realize they are not alone. When it comes to open conversations about pregnancy and childbirth, we’ve come a long way since Lucy’s days, but we’ve still got a long way to go.

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
Teresa Trujillo
1 year 7 months ago
Congratulations on the new life you brought into this world. As a mother to none, but an aunt to many, I applaud your candor. I was a working woman with an out-of-balance life for a few decades. I don't understand the "meternity" concept promoted by a novelist who wants to concentrate on herself. Her life choices already point to a me-centered life. There was a pair of studies in 2014 that contradicted each other on whether or not people--primarily women--were happier with or without children. My favorite outcome of those studies was a NY Magazine article on "25 Famous Women On Childlessness". A couple of the women who were featured in a series of quotes admitted how selfish they were and didn't want to give up their personal goals for a baby. http://nymag.com/thecut/2014/08/25-famous-women-on-childlessness.html The Church teaches us to be open to life. The gifts and graces of parenthood cannot be weighed an measured against the personal goals that we set when we work to ignore God's plan for our lives. Kerry, God bless you and your growing family.
Chuck Kotlarz
1 year 7 months ago
Happy Mother's Day!
Maureen Weber
1 year 7 months ago
Congratulations! My heart is with you. If only I'd known, especially after my first, that I was not alone. Indeed, it felt as though I was. My mother helped me, but she was not prepared to listen to my laments — many of which you eloquently describe here. It was as if giving voice to them meant I was not grateful for being a mother, which I was. Now that I am looking forward to the birth of my first grandchild in September, I feel torn. I don't want to sugar-coat the truth to my daughter, but I do not want to frighten her as she is already apprehensive and worried. If my worries and difficulties would have been validated as a new mother, it would have been such a relief. I hope that's a gift I can give to my daughter.
GEO SCHROEDER
1 year 7 months ago
Being an unmarried, celibate Catholic priest, I appreciated your reflections very much. They reminded me of how much I enjoy watching "Call the Midwife", a very involving British-produced series, season 5, currently on PBS in our Phoenix area on Sunday evenings, maybe in other parts of the country as well. By watching it I have come to appreciate the many, many nuances, practicality, beauty, pain and surprises of pregnancy, birthing and childbearing. Your comments certainly fit into this multifaceted reality, the wonder, and practicality of it all. Thanks so much for sharing. Continue to enjoy the ride.
Margi Sirovatka
1 year 5 months ago
I found your article unenlightening, or at best, not well-rounded from a faith perspective. There are consequences to the decisions that we all make in life. Reading your graphic details of the trials related to newborn parenting reminded me of my time in the workplace as a single woman. I too might list the difficulties that related to my family life, ie the daily caring for my elderly parents for 10 years. These included changing diapers, brushing teeth with a suction machine, urinary catheterization, sponge baths, blowing noses…for my father and mother. I, like you, chose to provide this care for loved ones. I did not feel the need to publicize this care to others – I just did it. I did not get paid time-off to do it. (An important distinction: Family Medical Leave Act is something for which an employee needs to apply and get accepted. It is not paid leave.) This experience, added to the number of times in my 35-year career whereby I was expected to take on the responsibilities of my colleagues on maternity leave, leaves me with the conviction that your youth and inexperience play a role in your narrow perspective -- not much better than Meghann Foye’s.

Advertisement

Don't miss the best from America

Sign up for our Newsletter to get the Jesuit perspective on news, faith and culture.

The latest from america

As Pope Francis writes in “Laudato Si’,” we face “one complex crisis which is both social and environmental.”
Jim McDermottDecember 18, 2017
(Images: Gage Skidmore, Wikipedia Commons, Antonio De Loera-Brust, Sikelia Productions; Illustration by Antonio De Loera-Brust) 
“Gangs of New York” reminds us that for as long as the United States has been a nation of immigrants, it has been infected by xenophobia.
Antonio De Loera-BrustDecember 18, 2017
South African Deputy President, Cyril Ramaphosa, laughs at President Jacob Zuma, right, at the start of the ruling African National Congress elective conference in Johannesburg on Dec. 16. (AP Photo/Themba Hadebe, File)
Although Mr. Ramaphosa is a relatively acceptable leader of the A.N.C. in the eyes of some opposition parties, his economic stance will put him in tension with the populist left Economic Freedom Fighters and many trade unions.
Anthony EganDecember 18, 2017
The pope spoke Dec. 16 with members of the Italian Periodical Press Union and members of the Italian Federation of Catholic Weeklies, which represents nearly 200 Catholic newspapers.