Why Me-Ternity Misses the Point

Oh, Meghann Foyle. I feel sort of bad for you, to be honest. Your tongue-in-cheek article for the New York Post, positing that you should have a “me-ternity leave,” has prompted such a backlash that it’s no wonder you cancelled your Good Morning America appearance promoting your novel of the same name. You were probably hiding in the bathroom as hordes of parents wielding pitchforks and pumpkin-soup diapers raided the building, looking for the woman who equated the first three months post-partum with time for self-reflection, who said that picking up the kids and meeting a girlfriend for margaritas were essentially the same thing.

Okay, for real: Meghann Foye, you’re actually a lot like me…pre-kids.

Before I had NS, I had this picture in my head of what maternity leave would look like. I imagined brunch dates with friends, my hair in a messy yet stylish bun, my pre-pregnancy clothes hanging off my slim (thanks, breastfeeding!) body. I imagined long, luxurious naps as the baby snoozed—or, better yet, I would use that time to edit my novel, to bake banana bread, to work out, to clean the toilet. I imagined the baby would sleep through the night at six weeks, as both my parents and M’s parents claimed we did. I imagined a soft, maternal glow around this time, as if we would fall, baby and me, into a bed of feathers and wonder.

Now, raise your hand if you’ve been pooped on twice in the last three months.

Meghann Foye, I see you did not raise your hand.

Maria Tiurina

Legit what becoming a parent feels like. Image by Maria Tiurina

The early days are hard. Breastfeeding was harder than learning Excel, and I haven’t slept more than three hours in a row since January. Even just riding the hormonal waves of the last few months has been a part-time job—trying to keep emotions like rage, irritability, fear, sadness, and the idea that I might drop the baby at bay has been like having all your most challenging colleagues constantly on conference call. The early days of parenting are like interviewing for the CEO position and then finding out your real job title is janitor.

And you know what? NS was a dream baby. He rarely cried, he loved being cuddled but also played on his own, he smiled at six weeks and laughed at eleven, and is generally very easy to be around. But even a dream baby doesn’t speak English, and cries whenever he needs to fart.

Some critics of the Foye backlash have pointed out, rightly so, that the real problem isn’t people who get maternity leave and people who want time off. The real problem is a corporate culture than expects everyone, parents and the childless alike, to be on-call around the clock. It’s workplaces with breakfast cereal and on-site yoga, that are billed as fun but really encourage people never to go home. It’s jobs that punish women for having kids by seeing them as “not committed” when in reality, they’re doing their damn best to juggle all the same shit you, Meghann Foye, are juggling—friends, finances, the tendency to wonder if you’re in the right job for the right reasons—with the added demands of tiny people who refuse to sleep and who will gladly punch you in the thighs if you try to brush their teeth.

People, including Foye, often say that having kids forces people to focus. Your time is precious, so spending it on non-essentials sloughs those things right out of your life. Maybe that skill will come; right now, I’m spending all my free time on Facebook, or staring off into space, wondering if I’ll ever sleep again. Early parenthood is kind of a grind, to be honest. After the work of feeding, changing, burping, soothing, entertaining, and safekeeping, there’s not a lot of energy left over for soul-searching or radical revisioning. I can’t imagine launching a business or starting a new career right now. My brain is pretty much vanilla pudding.

Honestly, I look back at my life before NS as one long me-ternity leave. I had so much time to do the things I wanted. I ate brunch. I rode my bike. I wrote a book (unpublished, natch, but it’s still there). I noodled around in my professional life, because I could. I had the privilege of not knowing what I wanted to be when I grew up. I was nobody’s role model, and nobody was counting on me. If I wanted to duck out for Korean lunch with friends, I could, and I did. If I wanted to get a little tipsy on a Tuesday, I could, and I did. It’s not that those things are off-limits now…it’s just that they’re way harder. And honestly, a hangover and an infant sound like the innermost circle of hell.

There’s nothing wrong with soul-searching, either with kids or without them. But maternity leave just isn’t set up for that kind of personal work. It’s not the same as a sabbatical, it’s not a vacation, it’s not a time to find yourself—in fact, maternity leave isn’t really about the mom at all. It’s about the baby, and keeping her warm, fed, clean and happy. It’s not as easy as it sounds. I could use a damn margarita right about now.

About the Author

Kaitlyn Kochany
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More about Kaitlyn Kochany

Kaitlyn Kochany is a Toronto-area freelance writer and editor. She had her son, NS, in January 2016, and has been trying to sleep and write since then.

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