Giveaway alert! (I have a copy of the novel to raffle off at the bottom of the post.)
It’s true. In the years before I got pregnant I would often fantasize about having a baby, taking a maternity leave, and finally having enough time and head space to pursue my dreams.
Of course, I wasn’t climbing the corporate career ladder, either. I was working as a bartender and trying to find writing work on my off days. And since mat leave in Canada pays about half of your salary (up until a set maximum), we wouldn’t be able to make ends meet on half of my server’s wages (since tips don’t count toward mat leave income). So, first I would need to find a new job, then get pregnant, then go on mat leave, and then I would have a whole year to figure things out.
I remember a bar regular warning me that maternity leave probably wasn’t the bastion of creative and financial freedom I seemed to think it was, but I wasn’t about to take life advice from someone who clocked more hours at my bar than I did.
So when I first read that New York Post article about Meghann Foye’s new novel, Meternity, in which a childless career woman decides to fake a pregnancy just for the mat leave, I didn’t roll my eyes quite as hard as the rest of you. Foye says that when she worked as an editor at women’s magazines she would see colleagues take maternity leaves and seem to come back with a renewed sense of direction. She also complained about working long hours while colleagues left to make daycare pick up and got work-from-home days to accommodate sick kids and doctor’s appointments. (She probably didn’t see those same colleagues clocking another hour or two on their laptops after the kids went to bed, but all right.)
She said, hey, if moms get to take some “personal” time off, shouldn’t everybody be entitled to that? And it is true that many professions do offer people the chance to structure their pay to allow for a year off (or a sabbatical, if you will), so the idea isn’t entirely off-the-wall.
But let’s look at this mat leave comparison a little harder.
I’m going to take a step back and squint real hard … and nope. Like, I understand where she’s coming from, but still no. Here’s what it’s really like.
The mat leave dream: A much-needed break from the unrelenting and exhausting demands of your job.
The mat leave reality: You actually learn the meaning of the word unrelenting. Holy crap, your job never woke you up every two hours all night long and sucked your nipples raw. You start fantasizing about returning to work so you might one day be able to enjoy a coffee while it’s still hot while at the same time sobbing because now you are financially responsible for this little creature and now you really see what it’s going to be like to be trapped in a job you hate.
The mat leave dream: Have a kid and then reap the rewards of those sweet, sweet flex schedules.
The mat leave reality: “Flex time” is actually code for “you will never be free from work again.” Sure, you “get to” leave work and fight against rush hour to pick up your kids from daycare before rushing home to cook a meal that will be picked over and discarded and then spend another hour fighting/begging/pleading/singing/crying them to sleep before you sit down at the computer at 9pm to make up for the work you left undone. Yes, you are able to hop onto conference calls from home while deftly catching your child’s vomit in a bowl at the same time. It’s certainly a privilege to never be able to leave your work behind while simultaneously earning the disdain of all your colleagues.
The mat leave dream: Those months off will help you remember what your priorities are and give you the breathing space needed to go after your dreams.
The mat leave reality: You will lose all sense of self as you give yourself over entirely to keeping a helpless little baby alive and well. In fact, you’re on the verge of a full-blown identity crisis: you won’t fit into any of your clothes, you’ll pretty much need to make all new friends (unless your bestie also just happened to have a baby), and spontaneous getaways will become a thing of the past. When it takes over an hour to get out the door to go grocery shopping, ideas like “breathing space” and “dreams” start to sound like punchlines. Oh, and that mom you know who decided to go into business for herself was actually just trying to figure out how to avoid the astronomical costs of childcare, but now works around the clock, is barely keeping afloat, and second-guesses her decision every single day.
The mat leave dream: You finally get to put your own needs first and enjoy your life.
The mat leave reality: You love your children to bits and pieces, but spending all your waking moments cooking, cleaning and wiping butts is hardly what you call a “lifestyle choice.” It’s a trade off and a bloody steep one at that. There are moments of pure joy when your baby smiles for the first time or when he snuggles happily up against your chest and your heart is so filled with love that you think it might burst. Then again, you haven’t slept for weeks, so you’re probably just delusional.
But hot damn does that dream STILL sound good to me. I’m totally in favour of a “meternity” leave for everyone; especially moms who are just coming off mat leave! They’ll need it the most. In the meantime, a book about a woman who fakes a pregnancy just to take the mat leave sounds like a pretty good escape from my own reality.
Giveaway! Giveaway! Giveaway!
The good people at Mira have offered a free copy of Meghann Foye’s new novel, Meternity, to one lucky winner. Let me know what you would do with your own “meternity” leave in the comments and I’ll draw a random winner next Wednesday, May 11 at midnight.