My Biggest Parenting Regret? I Didn’t Take My Full Maternity Leave
I didn’t take one. That’s the biggest mistake I made when it came to maternity leave. Make that TWO maternity leaves. And it’s also my biggest and probably only parenting regret.
Now, looking back, I think, “I was such an idiot!” If I could have a do-over, which unfortunately in this instance I can’t since I will not be having another baby, I would have taken the entire year off for maternity leave following the birth of my daughter, Rowan.
Do you know why I feel like even more of an idiot? Because, nine years later, when I had my son, I also didn’t take maternity leave. With both my babies, I was back to work within six weeks, after I healed from my C-sections, not taking advantage of Canada’s liberal maternity leave policy.
Yes, when my daughter was born, I did get a chance to spend two months in Maui, which was always a dream of mine, when she was about two months old. But, even with my baby in paradise, I still worked, continuing to write articles and columns for the newspaper I was employed with at the time.
When my baby daughter napped, instead of taking a nap myself, I would furiously work at my computer, not only for the newspaper but also finishing the edits on my first book, Knocked Up. To make myself feel better – because I really do regret not taking leave – I like to tell myself that, “You’re just an ambitious person!” Or, “You loved your work!” And, “You were at the top of your career then! Of course you wanted to stay there!”
All these statements may be true, but looking back, it’s also true that I now wish I had completely stopped working entirely, not just to spend more time with my baby, but to give my working (and sleep-deprived) mind a well-needed break. When else, after all, can you take a year off from a job, unless you are on maternity leave? Of course, I spent a lot of time with my baby. I worked around her napping schedule, or after she fell asleep for the night.
I still remember one editor emailing me to ask if I could whip off a time-sensitive column. I remember feeling frantic – how could I write with a baby!? – and taking her for a long walk, over a bumpy boardwalk, to get her to fall asleep…so I could work and show (or maybe prove?) that I was still “in the game” with a baby. It worked. My daughter fell fast asleep on the walk and I raced back to the place we had rented and wrote the column the editor so desperately asked for.
Looking back, what I should have been doing is taking my daughter for a walk on the boardwalk and enjoying the views of the whales in the Ocean, and enjoying the warmth of the sun on my body, and enjoying the many compliments about how cute my baby was. What I shouldn’t have been thinking about was work at all, let alone proving to this editor that, even though I was a new mom, I was still a hard worker. I should have just told him no.
Looking back, it does also seem odd to me that my editor, who knew I had just had a baby, was asking me to write at all. Even though I did spend a lot of time with my baby, in one of my favourite places in the world, I also admit that I was stupidly worried that I would be forgotten, I was worried that I was replaceable and that they would find another writer and wouldn’t need me anymore.
It absolutely sucks that my urge to have a baby and get pregnant happened EXACTLY at the same time I was on the top of my career. But that’s the position many women face. Looking back, I also realize that I really wasn’t replaceable because anyone who has read my stuff knows that I write “personal journalism” and no one could copy my life.
Still, I worried that I would be forgotten and that if I didn’t prove how hard working I was, all the good assignments would go to another writer. And I had worked so fucking hard, for so many years, to get to a place where I was rocking it, career-wise.
Plus, I know a number of women who took maternity leave, only to come back to find their positions “redundant,” which really means, “Someone else is doing your job just as well!” One ambitious career woman I know, who worked extremely hard to get to the position she had, took a year’s maternity leave and actually came back to her job only to find out that she had to reapply for the position she had left. How crazy is that?
In this article, written in 2013, entitled, “Should you take a shorter maternity leave?” they ask the question, “So what’s the rush to get back from maternity leave?” The (American) writers says, “Although it isn’t legal for employers to pass over pregnant women for promotions or salary increases, women are often unofficially docked for taking time out to raise a family, with the perception that the longer a woman is away, the less dedicated she will be to the job and therefore less worthy of a promotion. Throw into the mix the bad economy, and women have more reason to rush back to their jobs–they don’t want to give employers any reason to lay them off.”
Many women, they point out, have gone back to work only a handful of weeks after they give birth. They mention Marissa Mayer, who was the CEO of Yahoo!, at the time, who made headlines when she took two-weeks (working) maternity leave after giving birth to her son. It also mentions Victoria Beckham who “vowed” to not stop working, after her daughter Harper was born. She even tweeted, “Maternity leave…what’s that?”
More recently, Meghan Markle, Duchess of Sussex, made headlines last week by going back to work by appearing in a pre-recorded message for a Charity Gala, which took place in New York. Many people questioned and/or encouraged the new mother to take a “break,” even if it was just a short video message. And last week, Amy Schumer returned to a comedy stage, to perform a set, two weeks after giving birth and welcoming her first child.
I’m not one to question or to encourage Meghan Markle, or any woman for that matter, on whether or not they should take advantage of maternity leave. I’m just saying it’s one of, if not my only, parenting regret. Looking back, I shouldn’t have worried about being replaced. I shouldn’t have wanted to prove to anyone that I was still ambitious.
I don’t regret missing out on time with my babies, but I do feel regret that I felt pressure to work, when, really, I should have enjoyed the year off.
Did you feel the need to rush back to work? Would have you done your maternity leave differently? Love to hear your thoughts!