July 27, 2012. The new CEO of Yahoo!, Marissa Mayer, said this week that she plans to take a maternity leave of only “a few weeks,” and that she will “work throughout.” Of course, I’m delighted that Yahoo! has a female CEO, and I wish her the best in juggling a family and a high-powered job — difficult for anyone, male or female. But let’s get to it: Is she right to scorn maternity leave? As a practical matter, she’s in a position to get as much help as anyone could want, making it possible for her to work while others change diapers for her. I do worry she’ll miss out on some of the joy of those first weeks and months with a new child. And I worry about her making such a public decision before actually having her baby– because until you hold your first child in your arms, it’s hard to know how you’ll feel. But mostly, I worry because there is already pressure in many workplaces against taking a maternity leave, and even more against taking paternity leave. I worry that other parents at Yahoo! and everywhere else who want to take leave — or need to take it — will face an additional barrier. What they’ll hear (in silent pressure, if not out loud) is this: Marissa Mayer didn’t take it. That is the wrong message. Most parents don’t have Ms. Mayer’s resources to pay for help — and, trust me, trying to cope with an infant without sufficient leave is about like trying to ski through a revolving door. Many have health issues after birth. Many put life ahead of work, and want this special time to bond with their child. Click here for Dotted Line Communication’s plea to Ms. Mayer to take maternity leave.
I sure wish I’d had maternity leave with my first child, born after my first year of law school. But no, even though we couldn’t afford a nanny, I had to keep up when classes started a few weeks later. Otherwise, I’d never have gotten the kind of law firm job I needed to repay my student loans and afford to raise a family. Click here for Unraveling, a short excerpt of my memoir about being pregnant during first year law school and how very hard it was to nurse my way through to graduation.