It is one week before I go back to work, I can hardly believe it. I have taken the full extent of my 15 weeks maternity leave plus two additional weeks from Mozilla, and my husband will take the next three months of parental leave (in Canada, 15 weeks must be taken by the mother and the remaining 35 weeks can be divided between parents any way they’d like).
As I consider the coming weeks and how I will balance work and home life, I know I will be returning to work a different person. A friend told me about a bulldog woman she worked with who came back from maternity leave and was much more likable. While still stubborn, the woman was less flagrantly ambitious, no doubt because her priorities had changed. I have also read that often when women come back to work as mothers they are far less divided than one might think; they are in fact more organized, more efficient and better leaders.
My colleague David Humphrey wrote a really nice note to me before I left about becoming a parent.
“I can say with some experience that it is harder than anything you’ve ever done, and more rewarding, that it will break you, but also remake you into something new and better.”
I wonder, how have I changed? Am I new and better? I have certainly felt broken at times. And also very rewarded.
It is true that I have learned a few new skills I hope will transfer to my work. I have developed greater endurance. I have gotten better at multitasking and working in short, broken amounts of time. I have become more resourceful at learning skills and subject matters that are completely foreign to me. I am more disciplined about bed times. I no longer freak out about poo in the bathtub. My community is wider since I can relate to more people in the “mom and dad club”. I think I might be a better friend, because I am genuinely grateful for all the kindness folks have shown us over the last few months. And my desire to leave the world a better place has really solidified: this is the world my daughter has to live in. Plain and simple. This motivates me like nothing before.
Those are the positives. On the flip side, I worry about Amelia constantly. I am not sure if my brain grew at all to accommodate this extra worry, or if it pushing something else out. I have heard that new mothers lose a few IQ points, which doesn’t surprise me at all.
My cousins came to visit from Georgia and we all went out for Ethiopian food over the holidays. The restaurant was nearly empty, the music was quiet, the food was spectacular, but Amelia did not want to sit down so I stood at the end of our table and jiggled her around, swaying back and forth and sometimes pacing in front of the window as the streetcars passed. Eventually the matron of the restaurant came and simply said, “I’ll hold her for you.” She was warm and motherly and seemed okay so sure, I let her go, but I did not relax or take my eyes off them for a second.
She walked up and down the restaurant, lifted Amelia up in the air, held her close, whispered to her, sang to her, basically all the things my grandma would do but I imagined her running off through the back kitchen and me chasing after her and tackling her to the ground, wrestling my baby back.
So. I need to learn to relax. And to accept help gracefully.
There will be some challenges. Nap time, feeding time, pumping time, meeting time, screaming time, and definitely learning to let go. But I think it’s important I go back now, and here’s why, despite some people’s perception that I may be coming back “early”.
Canada’s policy to grant new parents a year of leave after having a baby, supporting you with 55% of your previous salary, is one of the reasons I have wanted to stay in Canada. This seemed to be one of the progressive differences between Canada and the States, where no maternity leave (paid or unpaid) is mandatory. A full year of leave for a young family to look after a new child and adapt to a new life truly seems to be a blessing. But I am starting to see this a little differently. A year is a really long time for one person to be away.
Unfortunately the burden of expectation is on the mother to take the majority of time off, and I think this is damaging to women. While every family is different, and it is nice to have the choice to come back to work or not and when, perhaps there is more we could do to relieve the pressure on women to stay home and to create a more equal working (and parenting) environment between men and women. Kay Hymowitz wrote an interesting article about this for Time called “Longer Maternity Leave Not So Great for Women After All”. Here’s an insight that resonated with me:
Over the past decades, Norway, Sweden and Iceland have been tinkering with policy formulas to get dads to take longer paternity leave. They’ve found that when, and only when, they introduce “use it or lose it” daddy months — that is, when fathers get several months of leave that cannot be transferred to mothers — men will take substantial time off with the baby. However, any leave time left to a couple to divide is almost always taken by women.
Luckily, I have the best husband in the world who really wants his share of leave with Amelia, and I am proud of and grateful to him for dividing this time with me. I know that going back to work while I am still nursing will be a challenge. But this feels right.
Again, I mean this feels right for us, as every family is different, but I wish more men overall would consider taking longer periods off when they have a baby, especially men in tech because it would make us few women in tech less of a rarity when we must take leave. I wish more employers would consider alternative working arrangements, including remote setups like what I’ll be doing with Mozilla, so that new parents could make this kind of arrangement work.
In the meantime, I feel lucky to have both an awesome husband and an awesome employer and I hope I can serve as a decent example as to what women can achieve when given an equal opportunity.
See you back online next week!
** The header image for this post is derived from a maternity leave infographic by Ivonne Karamoy for Women&&Tech.