By now you’ve read the infamous article about Meghann Foye’s “meternity leave,” or at least the outraged responses populating social media. Her jealousy over “co-workers clocking out for maternity leave” inspired the ire of parents who have taken family leave—and who bristle at the idea they simply checked out to drink mimosas on a weekday, reflect on their life path and admire a sweetly cooing infant.
(Riiiiiiiight. I want that kind of maternity leave, too.)
A dear friend, who is a high school English teacher, was one of these angry mothers. But she was surprised when that anger turned into something completely different. These are her words.
I read an article today about Meghann Foye’s desire for a “meternity leave” and I almost lost my shit. And by almost, I mean that I was near tears and had to call a friend. I said the dreaded words out loud—that I was losing control today. I was slipping closer to the void, getting closer to that dark, murky water where I wonder why I ever thought it was a good idea to have a child at all.
The first half of the title alone was enough to push me to the brink of exasperation: “I want all the perks of maternity leave…” What perks? Had I missed the perks?
Meghann describes a desire to reflect on her life, and to have time to grieve her losses—her “meternity leave”. The irony was so laughable I almost cried.
Yes, Meghann, I would like those things, too. Like you, I would like some quiet space and time, preferably weeks, to just sit around and wonder aloud to myself how the hell I got here. I would like time to grieve—truly GRIEVE my losses. You know, put on Sinead O’Connor’s “Nothing Compares to You,” imbibe in some fruit-flavored wine and cookie dough ice cream in cheerleading shorts, turn off all the lights, and lay on the floor and bawl-my-eyes-out GRIEVE until I feel better. I would like to grieve a list of the following things:
- my empty bank account and my payment plan with the hospital after my daughter’s stay in the NICU
- my previously unstained couch, carpet, seats of my car, and undergarments
- the stretch marks on my breasts from having my milk come in so quickly after the birth of my daughter
- the fact that life-affirming sex with my husband has been hard to come by since my daughter was conceived
- my inability to find a fucking shirt that fits
I could go on. You get the point. That is, you do if you’re a mother, but Meghann is not. She does. not. get. this. Meghann, there is no time to grieve losses on maternity leave. There is only time to rack them up.
How could she not know this? How is this adult professional (who works in the journalism industry for God’s sake!) completely clueless about what maternity leave really looks like? Why do all of us mothers keep so quiet about how awful all of this is?
Everywhere I turned I felt more mad. I was mad while I ate a peanut butter and jelly sandwich in my car for dinner. I was mad while I folded laundry. I was mad when I gave my daughter a bath. And I was REALLY mad at my husband when he asked if I could just run sprints up and down our street instead of going on my mile course because it was dark and 9 o’clock on a Friday night and he didn’t want anything to happen to me.
Because I, a grown woman, who has been battling demons and feeling very alone as another human literally sucks the life out of me CANNOT HANDLE running a half a mile away from my own house.
So I told him okay and then defied him, and ran the loop anyway. I blasted my music and took deep breaths of cool air and then it happened. I came across another runner. A man, carrying weights. Not hand weights. A big weight. A 30 pound dumbbell. Alone. At night. Without my phone, and not in a place where I told my husband I would be. All the hair on the back of my neck stood up and I felt afraid. I had one thought: if that man attacked me with that weight, no one would nowhere to look for me. And I ran.
I ran like a single woman.
I ran without thinking about my knee ligament that has bothered me ever since relaxin made it a little too loose. I ran without thinking about my too-full boobs that hurt. I ran without thinking about my husband or my daughter or my family or anything. I ran like I used to run: hard, fast, breathing heavy, and very, very afraid of being alone, of being acutely aware that if anything happened to me, it would be a long time before someone knew to miss me. I ran the entire way home with lungs of fire as I looked over and over and over my shoulder.
And all of my anger for Meghann melted away. I remembered what it was like to be “the old me.” To be a workaholic because I was so desperate to fill up all those empty hours after work was done. To have discussions with single friends who hoped that the algorithms of OK Cupid were a more accurate than match.com. To just want someone, anyone, to ask how I was doing outside of work, to take an interest in my life. To want to scream, Carrie style, “Where is the registry for not marrying the wrong man?!” Meternity leaves for everyone is right. I was perpetually on the brink of wanting to take a “leave” from this life because I was so painfully lonely. I remember that life.
And I suddenly saw all the perks of maternity leave: a chance to be missed. Maternity leave is a chance to go away and come back, to have others say how much you are good at your job, how they are glad you are back, to say how much they missed you and looked forward to your return because they SEE you and VALUE you. And you know what happens after you do go back to work? Then the table flips, and you get to keep your job and your income and hear how much you are missed at home.
So yes, I am always pulled too much. I am always moored and wanting more freedom and wishing I had more alone time, instead of being constantly surrounded by children and coworkers and work and chores and noise.
But that is just it. I am constantly surrounded. I am constantly missed, by people who honestly just always want me around.
Did you read the article about “meternity leave”? What did YOU think?