Maternity leave: time for introspection and self-fulfillment, or of isolation and painful urination? I am lucky to have had a full year’s leave when I had my daughter, was lucky to have a unionized job that paid a top-off and held my position for me. Considering that women in the US and beyond don’t have this same advantage, it’s not something I take for granted. Maternity leave, like early parenthood, looks different for different women. Some manage to travel and attend to tasks they couldn’t have while working outside of the home. But more often than not, mothers report feeling completely exhausted and mildly surprised that they didn’t have as much time to themselves as they hoped they might.
Central to my own maternity leave was an ongoing outpouring of fluids: leaky boobs, 15 weeks of postpartum bleeding, tears (hers and mine), waiting for my baby’s legs to get fat enough that she didn’t pee through the leg holes of newborn-size diapers. There was a lot of laundry, many nursing pad purchases and a healthy diet of granola bars and granola bars (which are easy to eat one-handed but do not taste very good). Three months after my baby was born, I went to the corner store on my own to buy cranberry juice while she stayed with my friends. That’s what “me” time looked like.
In her new book, Meternity, author Meghann Foye presents the idea that women who are not parents should get to take a leave of their own—“me”-ternity leave. The novel’s main character fakes a pregnancy to get herself a paid vacation, which, as many of us who have taken them know, parental leaves are not. Foye herself took a leave from work—self-financed and free of a false belly—to focus on herself and her writing. In a now-viral interview for The New York Post, Foye suggests maternity leave is a time for self-reflection. To which I erupt in a humble hahahahahaha.
Time for self-care and a life beyond a day job should be things every woman is entitled to—in an ideal world, where every woman can find a decently paying job to begin with. But does this time have to come with the comparison?
For artists in Canada, grants offer a meternity-like scenario—a bit of extra income to give them time to focus on their projects. Of course, these are lotteries to some extent; there’s much more demand than supply and one needs sympathetic employers for this to work. Non-parental leaves, paid and unpaid, aren’t new concepts: teachers have summers away from school, professors take sabbaticals. They’re perks more than rights, but they allow for self-reflection and time to explore interests outside of work.
In her meternity response piece in Salon, Mary Elizabeth Williams writes that “keeping a small, screaming human alive while you’re running on fumes and stool softeners is not so much a space for self-reflection as a boot camp in hell.” Having spent much of my own maternity leave in a cubicle of a bathroom running the obnoxious overhead fan because the sound soothed my baby, I concur. During that time washing my hair felt like a huge accomplishment. I once left the house wearing two different shoes. I could’ve benefited from a moment to see my literal reflection in the mirror—never mind deep internal digging.
In truth, I could have used a meternity leave from my maternity leave. I don’t think I’m alone in this feeling. I picture it as a little steam room where no one is allowed to compare stroller brands or talk about the consistency of anyone else’s feces.