I heard about the Rachel Foyes interview before I read it. I’m not sure if I would have even cared if it hadn’t been for the fact that she didn’t even show up to plug her new book Me-ternity, a fictional tale about a woman who fakes a pregnancy in order to experience the “perks” of maternity leave, on Good Morning America. I might have even been interested in the story if it hadn’t been for the New York Post article by Anna Davies.
In the article, Foyes tells Davies about why she took a year and a half me-ternity leave, which, to be fair was really a click-baitey way to describe a self-imposed sabbatical. According to Foyes, a Me-ternity leave is a “sabbatical-like break that allows women, and to a lesser degree men, to shift their focus to the part of their lives that doesn’t revolve around their jobs”. The female specificity is because Foyes claims women experience higher rates of burnout due to their home-based roles (i.e. wife, mother, domestic goddess etc.). While I resisted giving this any more attention than it already has been given, I simply see far too many problems with her assertions that are, in fact, damaging to working women, and working parents.
First of all, Rachel Foyes’ job sounds awesome! Not only does she get to “work on big stories, attend cool events, and meet famous celebs ALL THE TIME,” (emphasis mine), but she also seems to have an employer who encourages, as opposed to punishes, families to attend to their obligations, and won’t fire someone for taking 3 MONTHS of leave. Most places get a little twitchy after 3 weeks. Yes, I realize their are some legalities involved, but most of us know there’s plenty of leeway for employers to “let you go” for reasons technically not involved in maternity leave. That envy she claims, is all her, and believe me when I say that most of us would far rather be enjoying a margarita with her best friend than deal with the playground moms. Oh yeah, and the reason it sounds like picking up your child has more gravitas than meeting that friend for a post-ghost margarita, is because it does. Your friend is not a child. Getting stood up on a date is nothing like get abandoned at school by your Mother. Both sides are not valid. What is valid is that you’re talking about parents who are leaving “on time”, not early, and what other people do is really none of your business.
Rachel asserts that maternity leave offers the opportunity for self-reflection, which she claims is evident in the way women post-maternity leave are able to self-advocate more, are more confident, and even make life altering decisions. She cites friends of hers, one who started her own business, and another who changed industries, as examples of the benefit of maternity leave’s self-reflective nature. The reality is that maternity leave is about as self-reflective as boot camp, and any changes you’re seeing in your friends are as a result of a shift of priorities, not some crazy epiphany during a pedicure.
Second of all, while maternity leave has elements of self-reflection, it is nowhere near as zen as Rachel Foyes seems to believe it is. It’s much more about pushing your mental, physical, and emotional boundaries beyond what your previous conception of what those limits were. For example:
- Remember when pulling an all nighter involved booze, hallucinogens, deep conversations, or a paper due in the morning? Imagine writing that paper on the most boring subject imaginable without the use of any product designed to keep you awake, and you still don’t even remotely have an idea of what the first days home with a newborn are. Oh, and if you’ve had a c-section, you can add doing all this while recovering from having your abdominal muscles sliced open, when a sneeze makes you feel like your stitches will explode your guts all over the couch. Having a newborn pretty much assures you will forget what restful sleep feels like because those puny three hours you may get will be spent twilighting in something that seems like it could become sleep, and waking at least once to poke your child to make sure he/she is still alive.
- Bleeding nipples. I’m not sure what Rachel’s into in her private life, but I can bet that her Me-Ternity leave didn’t involve cracked bleeding nipples on the end of breasts that have gained ten pounds, spurt milk at inopportune moments, and feel like they have been invaded by a society of rock people.
- Maternity leave means diaper changes while battling self-doubt, usually in the form of “What the fuck did I just do to my life?”, the realization that the world is nowhere near as safe as you’d previously thought it was, and wondering what crazy hormonal imbalance made you do something like this to begin with.
- Bodily fluids…everywhere, and not the fun kind.
The truth is that the article, and ensuing justifications are harmful. So many people want to pretend that much ado is being made of nothing more than a simple play on words, and I, for one, wish that was true. Unfortunately, it just is not. The truth is that most jobs aren’t as accommodating as Rachel Foyes’, and most families can’t afford the unpaid leave they are legally entitled to. The truth is, we have laws that protect newborn puppies more than newborn humans, and women like Rachel Foyes who think it’s cute to draw comparisons between maternity leave and vacation time are simply adding fuel to the already out of control blaze of ignorance which forces women to make a choice between career and family. Yes, there is a need for more time away from the job, and, perhaps, our country needs to follow the lead of other countries who recognize that there is just as much need for mental health breaks, as there is for bonding between families. I just wish Rachel Foyes hadn’t taken the obvious jab, and had been a bit more creative in the way she decided to ask for, demand, or simply just take it. Her little play on words is destructive, and invalidates all of the parents, both male and female, who are struggling to make it in a world that puts so much emphasis on helping create childhoods children shouldn’t have to recover from without offering the support to achieve them.