Marissa Mayer  is not a role model for Working Motherhood. Her stance that she will only take a few weeks of leave (or rather, won’t take one at all, but will work at home through her leave)  does a disservice to all working women when we do not have any mandatory paid maternity leave in the US- especially when inadequate maternity leave directly effects the health of mother and baby.

Yeah, there’s a 20 percent dip in infant mortality with an extra 10 weeks of leave and a 40 week leave saved the most lives in a study- likely because mothers were able to successfully complete 6 months of exclusive breastfeeding and breastfeeding with solids for a longer period than that. Other studies found lengthened leave tied to lower school drop-out rates and a higher IQ while mother’s rate of postpartum depression decreased with each extra week of leave. Adequate maternity leave is important!

A slap in the face to the working and lower-class women who have ever fought for paid maternity leave, Marisa’s choice almost seems like an upper-class privilege to turn away paid maternity leave.  And it is. Flexibility to have her partner stay home if he wants, or to have a nanny- and her ability to set her own hours, and a private office for pumping are unique features of the someone in her position. Proving that you really can’t have it all- Meyer shows that breaking down the glass ceiling means you might not be able to enjoy the maternity leave so many women fought for.

The Family and Medical Leave Act enacted in 1993 finally gave women just 12 weeks of UN-paid, job-protected medical leave. Despite the relatively new law, all we see is a trend of  women taking less and less of the maternity leave that is allotted for them.  I cannot help but wonder if this number is directly correlated to the rise of women into higher-paying, higher-profile jobs.

And we all know that she doesn’t know what she is getting into anyway. 13% of women suffer from postpartum depression. It takes 6-12 weeks to recover from a c-section. It might be a year or more before she gets any sleep (but she can afford a night nanny).  For so many reasons, only about 25% of women return to work full time after childbirth before children are school-aged (many go to part time or switch jobs, work from home or start a business). But women who make more money are more likely to go back to work.  The lure of a high-paying, high-profile career  is more likely to compete with the urge to stay home with that baby.

With the price of daycare, many working and middle-class two-parent families tighten the purse strings and choose stay-at-home parenthood until children are school-aged. Although more than 70 percent of moms with kids younger than 18 participate in the labor force, the number drops to 63.9 percent for moms with kids younger than 6, and just 56.5 percent for moms with infants, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

Again it is precisely the people who can financially afford to take maternity leave (Ms. Mayer’s job will not be in jeopardy because if she takes more legal maternity leave, simply because of how high-profile she is)- who don’t. White, educated, gainfully employed women choose to take less maternity leave than anyone else in the last census report on the topic, even though for many of these women, maternity leave available is longer and is paid.

Let’s break it down again. Most women must have and must take (and deserve paid) maternity leave because: it is healthier for mom and baby physically and psychologically, they can’t afford for their partner to say home, they can’t afford a night nanny, they need to properly establish a breastfeeding relationship.

But I’ll add one more thing. THE BRAIN JUST DOESN’T WORK WELL, POSTPARTUM! It is operating in a primal state and you will be at your absolute worst at work. I tried to get back into life coaching after a week out and I was a total space case. Maybe after reading this my clients will call me for a refund. And then there is the mommy guilt. I don’t know a single working mom who doesn’t have that. My own sometimes feels debilitating even though I currently set my own hours.

I really wish that women with high-powered, highly visible careers would take all of the unpaid (and especially paid!) maternity leave available- in order to set a national example and precedence. These are hard-won WOMEN’S RIGHTS~!  But I wouldn’t want to force any individual to do anything. The point of having a rights is that you get to make choices. It just seems to me this is one of those rare opportunities where women can use privilege as a way to make life better for everyone.

I think Ms. Mayer is saying one of two things. “Hey, when you have a high powered career, you can’t afford to take Maternity Leave.”  Or, “I love work so much, I can’t wait to get back to my job.”  I truly hope for her sake that the second sentiment is true because I can really respect that. I have a good friend who is going to probably go back to work soon after having twins.That is because she loves her job (and she owns the company and when you own a small business, the rules are very different) and I can relate.

But I can also say that all of my  35-40 year-old friends with “real jobs” took lots and lots of maternity leave or quit their jobs post-baby.  I couldn’t find any statistics on it, but I can tell you that 80 percent of the women I know changed their original work plans after meeting that baby.

So I really just feel sorry for Ms. Mayer. She told the entire world and her company that she wouldn’t be taking any real maternity leave, before she had any idea what she would feel like postpartum. That’s quite a pickle to be in when your brain’s turned to goo and you realize you just love wiping up that little baby’s poo.

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