I want to start by saying that I don't like judging other women's lives or choices and, if she hadn't suggested maternity leave is full of "perks" I wouldn't have given so much as a toddler's fart about Meghann Foye's "Meternity Leave" thing. You can read the piece that's sparked mom rage here.
In theory, I have no issue with the basic concept she's talking about, which is really just a paid sabbatical. The US has pretty crappy time off practices and the idea that everyone, regardless of gender or whether they become parents, might need some extended time off at some point in their career sounds reasonable to me. There are countries in Europe where people get a month off every year as standard vacation time. And they have healthcare and taking time off when you're sick isn't met with horror. I personally don't think the US has a particularly healthy attitude about time off.
The problem comes in when she starts equating maternity leave with "me time", "perks", and some kind of vacay full of leisurely self-reflection and manicures.
First of all, most states in the US don't provide paid maternity leave. If you do get paid time off, it can range from 2 weeks to 3 months, the latter being unlikely. Most women have to save up sick time, vacation time, and have no guarantee they'll have a job when they come back. This is particularly true for women who are poor.
Second, pregnancy and childbirth cost a lot of money. Even with insurance, there are out of pocket costs that can range into thousands of dollars. Care that's standard in Europe, like ultrasounds at every appointment to check on fetal health, are not provided by most OBGYN's in the states. You pay for it if you can or hope for the best. This goes for other tests from blood sugar to DNA.
Many women max out credit cards and use up savings during their maternity leaves. Others, when things don't go as hoped, have to choose between seeing their infant in the NICU or going back to work so they can have the time off when their child is home.
Don't those sound like really cool perks?
Even when things go well and as hoped, the idea that you're going to have time for lots of self-reflection and "me time" with a brand new human being in your home, who needs you to feed them every hour-2 hours, change them, comfort them, and love them is laughable. The feeding schedule alone for infants is like a gauntlet, especially if you're breastfeeding. Which doesn't go smoothly for everyone, often resulting in bloody nipples and frustration.
If you formula feed you get to read about how you're poisoning your child and feel like a failure with endless shame and guilt that you couldn't make something that's supposed to be natural and easy work. And that shame and guilt is going to be your new BFF for every decision from here on out.
Meanwhile, your body is recovering from 9 months of having all its nutrients leached out while you grew an entire new person. Which you then either pushed out of your body, probably tearing your vag minorly or majorly...or had to have removed through surgery by cutting open your stomach which is actually your uterus stretched up from crotch to ribcage. You get to feel like a truck hit you for the next few weeks as you bleed for 2 months and your hormones go beserk, often leading to at least some kind of depression and anxiety from moderate to severe. If it's severe you get to have the "fun perk" of sitting in your home, terrified that you might do something unspeakable to your child who you love more than any collection of works could ever express, because you brain is a hot mess.
Are we getting the idea that the "perks" of maternity leave are not that perky yet?
When maternity is up, most women are faced with the "choice" of spending most of their salary on childcare because they can't afford not to work. Even when women want to return to work, the lack of support for mother's in particular means you're likely to be passed over for promotions and seen as "slacking off" for doing things like picking up a sick kid or leaving at a reasonable hour. This is in spite of the fact that studies show that parents either come in to work earlier to make up the time or work from home, and are more productive than their peers. Studies also show that while men are more likely to benefit from their status as father's at work, women are not. Women are told that taking time off to have a child has permanently set back their ability to advance, because since having children is "optional" there's no possible way they could make up that time or be better workers post having a child.
In the New York Post piece, Foye talks about how maternity leave seemed to give some of her female friends a chance to reflect on what they really wanted to do, with many starting their own businesses and leaving the corporate structure.
I don't think it's because they had a ton of time for self reflection. I think it's because motherhood changes your perspective and you realize that our system basically tells mom's they're on their own. So we get real clear, real fast, about what we do and do not want to put up with. Because we DO NOT have any time to waste on leisurely self analysis, we have to get shit done, now, because the baby just whipped off their diaper and is running full tilt down the hallway like a poop bandit and also there's a lot of laundry to do and dishes and food for the week because babies aren't super patient about anything and hey, WHAT IS IN YOUR MOUTH NOW????
For a lot of women it makes much more financial sense to work from home so you aren't adding the cost of childcare to your already less-than-the-dudes salary. This gives you more flexibility, you can be there for your kid/s, and you don't have to rely on the fickle benevolence of an outside employer.
But a lot of women don't have the ability to do that. You need to be in a certain income bracket to make that work and working from home with a kid is full of distractions, obstacles, and wrangling. Kids don't give a shit about your deadlines or your need for "me time". There is no vacation from being a parent.
And that's the thing. A "Meternity leave" is just about you and whatever you wanted it to be about. Maternity leave is about bringing a human being into the world who will now need you 24/7 for at least the next 18 years. And even when that human being is not relying on you strictly to survive, YOU will still think about them 24/7 because that's parenthood. It gets down into your bones and becomes the core of who you are.
Self care can be a radical thing, I firmly believe that. Hence why assuming maternity leave is some kind of act of self care is so absurd. It's all about caring for someone else. And that's what makes it beautiful and difficult and exhausting.
So no offense Ms. Foye, but I think I'd rather prioritize paid maternity/paternity leave in this country before "meternity".
For another take on the "meternity" thing, this piece at Yackler Mag is great.