Can You Work Through Maternity Leave? Marissa Mayer Is. Or So She Thinks.

I crack up sometimes thinking about my take on motherhood before and during pregnancy. I’d tell people, “I’m not going to change. I’m going to strap the baby on my back and go, just like I always have.” I was a world traveler before I became a mom. I climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro. Went to Fiji on a whim. Spent New Years in Timbuktu (sadly, overtaken this spring by Islamic Extremists). Now the most I do is look at a globe and thank my lucky stars I’m not globetrotting. For me, motherhood did what wanderlust couldn’t. It made me content. I would have never predicted the impact it would have on my whole way of life.

So I had to laugh — and cringe a little — when I read this week that Marissa Mayer, who was just named Yahoo’s chief executive, is pregnant, and — ya ready? — says, “My maternity leave will be a few weeks long and I’ll work throughout it.”  HAAAAAAAAAAAAA.

Clearly she has never had a baby before.

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m all for working moms. And before I had kids, that quote would have made her my hero. But now? I think she’s being a tad naive. I can still be her biggest cheerleader, but first I think she needs to realize that today’s woman simply: Can’t.Have.It.All. Or at least not the first few weeks with a new baby. And why should she? You never get the birth of your baby back. And physically, a birth through the chute knocks you for a few days. A C-section? 2-3 weeks. Not to mention the emotional toll it takes on your entire being. I felt–and looked–like I had been hit by a bus. To run a $2-dollar company, much less a $20 billion dollar one? Impossible. Unless you want to fail. And right now, Yahoo isn’t the dreamboat. It’s a mess. This is no walk in the park.

Simply put, people who don’t have kids: Don’t.Get.It.

Even if she has a baby who comes out sleeping 12 hours a night and refuses the boob (so he can be exclusively bottle fed, which is fine, really. I don’t judge how women choose to feed their babies), I still think she will be so utterly turned upside down that she may have to eat her words.

There are a few things in her favor. Let’s face it: babies are blobs those first few months. I’m sure she’ll have lots of help. The baby will be cared for and loved, both by her, her husband, and her help. It will eat, sleep, and poop. And that’s about it.

But what’s not in her favor is Mother Nature — because unless you’re a zombie or a drug addict, she does kick in, swiftly and (hopefully) beautifully. No amount of money can keep her force at bay. She brings even the strongest women to their knees. The maternal instinct and motherly love is earth shattering. (If it’s not, then the postpartum depression is. These are the things you can’t predict.) I don’t think running a Fortune 500 company can compare to what a baby does. At least not initially.

So my question is, will Mayer battle the demons of guilt? Will she be too exhausted to care? Will she miss out on bonding with her baby while bonding with Yahoo? Or will she be the first woman to “have it all” and thus, will I be eating my words?

No doubt Yahoo is to be commended for hiring a pregnant CEO. But as blogger Julie Ryan Evans points out in her piece:

“I so wish she and Yahoo would set an example — that they would give her a full maternity leave, and that she would take it and still keep her position. Even just the minimum — 6-8 weeks, and show the world that it’s okay for women to have babies and then to care for them and themselves for more than just a few days. That they and their skills are important enough to the company that they’ll figure out something in a woman’s absence and welcome her and her expertise back with open arms.”

Maybe Yahoo did offer her the full maternity leave and Mayer is choosing to work through it. Regardless, it’s unrealistic and naive. I just don’t see how it’s humanly possible without letting something — or someone — suffer. Namely, her.

But I get it. Because you don’t get it until it happens to you.

Of course, I could be wrong. Perhaps I’m being one of the “judgey” moms that my fellow blogger Heather Morgan Shott refers to in her very well-put piece on this issue. I’ll admit, she did make me pause when she wrote the following: “Instead of judging Marissa Mayer, and using her achievement as an excuse to rekindle the debate about whether women can have it all, why don’t we sit back and watch her work? I’m betting she’ll show us some magic–and probably teach us all a thing or two.”

I worry though, that Mayer could also send a message to the rest of the world that women can push through their maternity leave if they want; that all it takes is “a few weeks.” She could ultimately be hurting the case for the majority of us who actually want to enjoy our babies–and take care of them–before returning to the workforce.

Devon Corneal wrote a piece in the Huffington Post in which she says, “I don’t judge her for embracing her job — I hope she’s a success. I just want to make sure that her blithe decision to take a truncated, working “maternity leave” won’t be held up as the paradigm or used to pressure other women to follow suit. We all deserve better than that.”  

Evans echoes that sentiment:

“Maybe she’s superwoman, but a few weeks is barely long enough for the epidural to wear off. To think that she’s going to be mentally and emotionally ready to go back and lead a company two or three weeks later and leave her baby is ambitious at the least; thinking that’s what a woman has to do to keep such a position of power is depressing.”

It’s even more depressing if this is all Mayer’s choice. I’m hoping she just doesn’t know any better. Then again, maybe I should know better and hold back the judgement. We’ll see.


Photo courtesy of Google Images

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  1. by jane

    On July 19, 2012 at 11:05 am

    Very interesting topic. Would love to know how things are spanning out during the whole process, pregnancy, birth, newborn, etc.

  2. by Jamie

    On July 19, 2012 at 1:35 pm

    I’m very interested in how this turns out….my husband worked for Yahoo in 2006-2007 and he was lucky to have a couple weeks off when our son was born in March 07. His manager at the time had a baby a month before I did and she had a short maternity leave. But she did go back to work after that. Kudos to her if she can pull it off…

  3. by Laura Schoen Carbonneau

    On July 19, 2012 at 4:28 pm

    When I had my second son, we were short staffed and even though I had a six week maternity leave, I ended up going in a few hours here and there. I ended up shorting myself an entire precious week with my newborn. While I believe every mother has the option to decide what works best for her, I wish I could go back and take even more time with both of my boys. Those first few precious are indescribable and so short. We’ll all heard the saying that when you die you will probably not look back on life and wish you had spent just a few more hours at work… instead you look back and think of all the times you wish you could have spent with those important to you.

  4. by Amy

    On July 19, 2012 at 6:09 pm

    I completely agree with this article. I took four months off and going back to work was a HUGE challenge, and I work from home. Even the anticipation of going back to work the few weeks before has me on edge… And readjusting my baby and my life to the new schedule of me working took awhile to get used to. Bottom line: everything with a baby takes time to adapt to including, healing after the baby, adjusting to having a life with a baby, trying to leave the house with baby, realizing your life now revolves around this baby and their schedule, just to name a few! And then once you think you have things down, the baby decides they don’t want to do things that way anymore and throw everything for a loop. But all of this you don’t understand until it happens to you. Nothing prepares you for the way your life changes and the love you feel for your child. It is overwhelming and wonderful and also scary. I agree she is being completely naive to think she will be able to do all this and she should be realistic and realize that she doesn’t know what it will be like until she is in the situation. I for one hope she doesn’t fail because there is so much expectation by men that she will, but I also hopes she gives herself the time she really needs to cope with this life changing event!

  5. by Ange

    On July 19, 2012 at 6:24 pm

    For a first time mom I can see it being hectic to say the least. For me first I stayed home for an entire year, and well beyond… In Canada or maternity leave is amazing! For my second I worked til my due date, stayed home 4 months but also started my own business at the same time so I worked from home with 2 kids and returned part time to my other job…and now pregnant with number 3 I plan to take little to no time off now that my business is full time I have no choice. But plan to make the most of it. Not that my business is by all means a multimillion dollar business. While it will be a struggle for her to balance it all it is deffinitely do able! All the power to her!

  6. by Leah Everson

    On July 19, 2012 at 6:37 pm

    As one who has set up major boundaries as a working mom, I mourn for my friends who did not take a maternity leave with their own businesses. They wind up so worn out months later and more discouraged than those moms who do take care of themselves after birth.

    And it’s too bad that Yahoo! has become just one more American company not taking care of their working mothers. Will we perpetually be behind the rest of the world?

  7. by Working Through Maternity Leave

    On July 19, 2012 at 6:57 pm

    [...] Jill Cordes from Fearless Feisty Mama is questioning if women can truly have it all? I do understand and feel that sometimes we cannot, that we can have the career and then the family and then go back to the career.  It never seems to all happen at the same time, however if I had more money and help maybe I could have both? [...]

  8. by B Drake

    On July 19, 2012 at 7:01 pm

    I really don’t believe that going back to work will be such a big deal for her. People in her economic group can afford help, so she’ll be able to make all of her time with her baby quality time, and not worry about most of the logistics that lower income moms must handle.

  9. by Amber

    On July 19, 2012 at 8:24 pm

    As I hold my 3rd child in my arms who is 4 months old, I am grateful for the 12 wks of unpaid maternity leave. I do not regret the time I had. I agree with the blogger and her points. I am very sharp and paid well but I know that if I came back earlier I would have made mistakes and emotional. What money is able to buy her is nannies etc but it can’t buy off your hormones,memory, focus and body. I think she will have many tears and regret.

  10. by Lisa Spence

    On July 19, 2012 at 10:58 pm

    i’m hopeful that she sets a new standard. board meetings with a mommy’s helper and a bunch of rug rats in the next room. nursing through P&L discussions. business meetings at the park over PB&Js, delivering TED talks with an Ergo strapped to her chest, bouncing from side to side – exactly the kind of CEO i really want to be, but there is no precedent. i do think we can have it all, but we have to completely blow the “good old boys club” out of the water.

  11. [...] another response takes a similar stance, but also points out a few other points such as the “earth [...]

  12. by Elisabeth

    On July 20, 2012 at 12:14 am

    I certainly do not know the full story of Mayer. From the wording of this piece it seems as if she was already working for Yahoo, and thus would have enough time with the company to take a normal maternity leave. However the article does not mention that this woman, as a CEO, will obviously have help with her new baby. A husband, a maid, possibly a cook, and definately a nanny. The average working woman has her husband, and possibly a sister or MIL (maybe both) to help out the first week or two.
    No doubt Ms. Mayer will have an office next to hers set up as a nursery with frequent breaks. Newborns do spend most of their time sleeping in the first couple of months. I’m thinking she’ll do just fine.
    Some of us single Mom’s are driving & shopping with our babies 4 or 5 days after major surgery… a c section. One does what one has to… and when that means needing to go to the pharmacy and tote your newborn with you, you do it!

  13. by Mommyof1inFL

    On July 20, 2012 at 12:21 am

    I 100% agree with the comment that we need to blow he goold ‘ol boys club out of the water! Ann-Marie Slaughter’s article on this topic is by far the best I’ve read on it so far.
    After having my first baby 16 months ago, I realize that I too was naive. I did not believe in the “glass ceiling” or limitations based on gender; that is, until I experienced them first- hand. I truly believe that on the surface, sure, you can “have it all,” but below the surface things are much more complicated. I’m a lawyer with a demanding job, I’m a loving wife and I have a happy & healthy baby. I have it all right? On the insde, though, having it all often feels like having nothing. It’s no sleep, constant stress and overwhelming guilt with a capital GUILT. Even having it all on the surface was only possible because I have such an amazingly supportive husband, who is a devoted daddy and who has a much more flexible work schedule than I have. I can only speak on my own experience but I sure do wish someone had warned me about what “having it all” would mean.
    I am a lawyer and I work in a good ‘old boys environment; one that actually believes it is a great place for women to work and have babies. I first felt the blowback of mommyhood when I was six months pregnant and was looked over for partnership. I thought to myself, “I’ll show them!” I worked harder than ever, ended up hospitalized and put on home rest for the last two months o pregnancy. But I kept working for fear of being seen as weak. Heck, I was sending work emails from my phone in the delivery room (once the epidural was finally working). My labor was an excruciating 20 hours, my son was EXTREMELY Colicy (slept 4 hours/day TOTAL) and my husband was hospitalized the day after our son was born and had surgery when my son was 3 weeks old. I was drained emotionally and felt like someone had beat me with a sledghammer ALL over my body. I didn’t walk right for 6 weeks. When my son was 2.5 weeks old I started getting more emails and calls from the partner I worked with. was needed and I rose to the occassion by trying to again prove (mostly to myself and my employer) that a woman can “have it all.” I would either place the baby in his crib, or have my mom watch him when she was visiting every few days and take phone calls and do work. I did the math, and given the hours I worked during maternity leave, my 8 week maternity leave was actually only about 3-4 weeks. When I went back to work at 8 weeks, I finally realized that what my screaming non-sleeping baby wanted most was to be held by me while I was calm and doing nothing. It was something I unfortunately never learned to do. By the time he started getting eaiser and I began believing he actually didn’t hate me, it was time to go back to work.
    It took me until my son was almost a year old to feel the bond that many women describe as feeling from birth, or even from conception. I attribute most of that to this obsession with trying to have it all, or at least look like I do.
    I’ve gotten a bit better but my constant fear of losing my job and not being able to support my family haunts me.
    I can’t speak for Ms. Mayer directly, but if she is anything like me and other women who APPEAR to be supermoms,in reality, she is in for a tough road. I so desperately wanted (and still want) to prove that a baby doesn’t make me inferior or weaker that I overwork myself into oblivion (whether working on business stuff or mommy stuff). All I’ve proven is that you can “have it all” but you won’t be truly happy on the inside, and in the end, that is what matters most.
    I do wish her luck (and I wish for her cooks, night nurses, housecleaners and everything else that will make “having it all” much eaisier).

  14. by Holly

    On July 20, 2012 at 9:12 am

    I was working from the hospital less than 24 hours after my c-section. On the way home the next day, I stopped in to work to pick up and drop of paperwork. I actually spoke to 3 of my freight reps several hours after my son my son was born. And I regret none of it. He was sleeping. I had my husband there to do everything I couldn’t. And I don’t feel that I missed “bonding time” with my son. What I do regret is trying so hard to run a company with my son at work with me. I ran a small manufacturing company, so there was no corporate daycare and the warehouse was to loud for me to just put my son in a carrier and walk around with him. I worked until he was 10 months old, and he spent a lot of time in his playpen. He fell behind developmentally, my work suffered, and I was stressed all the time because I was failing at both of my jobs (work and being a mother). Working through maternity leave is not that difficult. Working while carrying for a 6+ month old child is stupid. She will probably end up being like so many nowadays and put her kid in daycare at 6 weeks old. And no one will call her a bad mother or say that she’s missing out on b eing a mother, when really she is missing everything. I understand many people have no choice but to put their kids in daycare, but that is sad. My husband and I agreed that we wouldn’t have kids until we could afford for one of us to stay home. I’m sure she could afford to stay home. Since she doesn’t want to, hopefully her husband doesn’t work.

  15. by Sue

    On July 20, 2012 at 9:13 am

    Starting at a new job and having a baby is probably significantly more challenging then a job you know. Befor my son’s birth I made a deal with my manager to work part-time from home to get an extra month added to my maternity leave!Personally, I worked right up to the birth of my son and because of complications with my c-section was in the hospital for 4 days.. Software deployed while in the hospital had a critical bug that I found a few days later from home… At my annual review (2 months later) I got an 11% raise. It can work!!! Oh, and this was my 1st, plus 3 young step children to care for full-time!
    its amazing what you can juggle if given the opportunity!

  16. by Zoe Alexander

    On July 23, 2012 at 3:26 pm

    The recovery after childbirth is different for each and every woman, but it is tough! Plenty of us have thought it would be relatively straight forward only to discover reality! We wait to see!

  17. by Julia

    On July 24, 2012 at 12:32 am

    I had 3 weeks off when I had my son, then went back to work 3 days per week- admittedly from home, but still a heavy workload. It’s hard, but no one can say I’m less bonded with my son than a mum who takes 6 weeks or 6 months. My son was easy and I felt great. Right decision for me. I’m sure MM will reevaluate if it’s not working, or if she can’t juggle it all. Obviously her plan is a best case scenario one.. It’s not for other mums to judge because she’s trying something that she thinks -and hopes- will work for her.

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  20. [...] were so many insightful, great comments based on my Marissa Mayer blog post, I figured I would share some of them. In most cases, these are just part of the comment, so if you [...]

  21. [...] staying away from Shulman & Associates for too long, it’ll be fascinating to see if she pulls a Melissa Mayer. How amazing would it be to see a mom actually enjoy maternity leave before returning to the [...]