For the longest time, I’ve been sitting at my work desk, contemplating how to quit my job without actually quitting my job. A tad dramatic, I know, but what does one do when they’re faced with the desire to take a considerable amount of time off from work to pursue other equally important aspects of life, without suffering the dire consequences of unemployment? I need to go on maternity leave. The problem with that (not so) bright idea is that a baby is far from what I need right now, regardless of how dreamy “matching mother and daughter outfits” and “mommy and baby spa days” may seem.
I’ll admit that my daydreaming tendencies tend to get the better of me, and this has been a long-standing struggle (insert all my primary school report card educator’s comments), but I think I’m on to something solid here. The fact that somebody other than myself has written a book, though purely fictional, about my desire to go on what has been termed ME-ternity leave can only mean I’m no less sane than I was yesterday.
The idea that Meghann Foye outlines in her novel, METERNITY, speaks to the right for women who have no intention of raising children at that point in their lives to be allowed the same amount of time off from work as their maternal counterparts to raise:
a) themselves (inner growth/ finding one’s true life purpose)
b) a business
c) a relationship and everything in between.
The character in Foye’s novel, Liz Buckley, is faced with an entertaining dilemma wherein she is a driven career woman in the fast-paced print media industry but is visibly exhausted from “picking up the slack of her colleagues who have kids.” Those who for instance spend fewer hours at work because they have occasional extra mural activities to attend with their beloved offspring. Extra mural activities which happen to take place during office hours.
Amid the exhausting working hours and constant feelings of contempt towards her colleagues who are parents, Liz happens to experience a case of “stress related nausea” which her colleagues quickly mistake for morning sickness and (as if the universe has finally heard her) just like that, Liz finally has a ticket to what Meghann Foye describes as “the mommy track”. To be fair, Liz doesn’t claim the pregnancy- her colleagues do, she merely refrains from correcting their flawed assumption. A little extreme for me to ever be able to execute without being annoyed by the idea of having to keep up with this lie, but Liz manages to milk this conception for every flexible hour and day off it’s worth. She even goes as far as wearing a faux baby bump and spending her extra time living, essentially, her best life. But what would a best-selling novel be without a little complication? Or a lot of complication in this case where Liz finds herself falling in love and having to decide whether to continue with her pregnancy façade or pursue the love of her life.
Naturally, Meghann Foye has received a significant amount of backlash from real life moms who feel her reduction of maternity leave to somewhat of a sabbatical is nothing short of obtuse. It’s not difficult to see how offensive it is to compare three to six months of sleepless nights and “nothing but vomit and poo” as one mother so graphically pointed out to “living it up” and enjoying the finer things in life. However, a lot of the backlash seemed to be condescending in a sense, making me wonder if some of the offended moms were not overcompensating for the “me time” they so desperately desired while taking care of their new born bundles of joy. Personally, I am still inclined to believe that there is a way to work around the politics surrounding maternity vs meternity which should allow both new moms and their childless colleagues to experience the same benefits without taking any value away from the other. I know I wouldn’t hesitate to accept that opportunity.
I’ve asked two incredible women who I know on a personal level and who live on either spectrum of this social debate (a debate which I may have purely created in my head- but am more than happy to humour) to share their thoughts.
Nolwandle Madlala is a loving wife and mother of two, who is also a Junior University Lecturer by profession and has just welcomed her second bundle of joy, Kwandamagugu, to the world. This is what she had to say:
“Believe me I understand why some Moms feel that extended leave should be a privilege. You attend to your newborn 24/7. When they sleep, you prepare for when they wake up. But, think about the joy you feel when you get to sleep in when someone else looks after the baby. Wouldn’t you want to enjoy that even if you didn’t want to or couldn’t get pregnant? No one enjoys waking up early to go spend their entire day making money for someone else. I reckon everyone, male or female, should enjoy at least a few months in a year recharging and resetting so they can go back to work feeling fresher, more creative, and eager to put their minds to work again (after mat leave, every Mom will tell you that their mind is itching to work out something other than the packet of diapers they need to buy).”
Nyasha Dzumbunu is an equally loving wife who has a full time career as a Chief Financial Officer as well as a growing fashion business, House of Perle. Nyasha and her husband have no kids as yet. This is what she had to say:
“I’ve been trying to balance spending quality time with my loved ones, a demanding full-time career in finance and growing my business which needs a lot of tender loving care & attention. Then there’s the much needed me time, which continues to evade me unless I make a concerted effort to get it: time to exercise, recuperate, introspect, read an inspirational book or just watch some mindless junk, really. At certain moments, I wish I could literally freeze time, for some guilt-free rest & to catch up on what feels like a never-ending to-do list. I find that I’m having these moments more & more frequently now. I would love to start having kids in the not-so-distant future, so am I being greedy for wanting me-ternity before I apply for maternity? A girl can dream…”
I would like to extend a special thank you to Nolwandle and Nyasha for indeed humouring me and sharing their thoughts on me-ternity leave.
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