There are a lot of ways in which I really lucked out when it came to maternity leave. Relative to the rest of the country, it was generous in both time and the fact that I was fully compensated. I had the support of family and friends nearby, and, for the most part, everyone treated me with kindness and compassion. Still, every now and then, the awful things people say when you're on maternity leave would take me aback. More often than not, these statements are made by people who aren't intentionally setting out to hurt you, but who nevertheless should have known better.
Life with a newborn is tough, and necessitates around the clock dedicated time and effort. Maternity leave, therefore, is absolutely essential. Still, According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 12 percent of Americans have access to the paid parental leave and approximately 25 percent of new mothers will return to work within 10 days of giving birth. In other words, in the United States the majority of parents know they'll only just begin to get the hang of many newborn issues (sleeping, feeding, bonding) before having to figure out how to do all these same things while working.
Plus, and on a purely sentimental level, the fact that maternity leave is temporary looms large in the minds of most new moms. So, needless to say, this is a trying, difficult, and often emotional time for any new mom who is trying to get used to postpartum life while healing from labor and delivery, simultaneously. Here are the things you can say that will make all of that worse, so maybe, you know, don't.
"I Could Never Go Back To Work"
How fortunate for you, then, that you don't have rent or a mortgage or a basic need for food like most other living organisms. Unfortunately, rube that I am, I go to the grocery store every week so I don't starve. Damn me and my greedy, selfish ways, relying on employment to provide food and shelter!
But one doesn't need to go back to work (from a financial standpoint) to be perfectly justified in returning back to one's career. Still, the implication that those of us who work after children are doing something wrong is really hurtful and best left unsaid, even if "you're only speaking for yourself." Because there's no way this doesn't come across as tremendously judgmental.
"You'll Lose The Baby Weight Eventually"
Thanks for focusing on my body's physical appearance. I'd think you'd be much more interested in reveling in its majesty and power, considering it just carried and delivered another human being. But no, by all means, let me know how there should be less of me in order to be socially acceptable. Moreover, let me know you think I should be concentrating on it in some way.
"You Look Exhausted"
I am exhausted, but knowing how very much it shows isn't what anyone wants to hear. Like, I know what I look like when I'm exhausted. It's not anything I'd like to resemble, if I can avoid it at all. So if we could all just keep up the polite fiction that I don't look like a baggy-eyed she-beast right now I'd appreciate it. Thanks.
"How Could You Leave This Face?!"
If possible, this one is actually even meaner than "I could never go back to work." With the former, at least you're technically only speaking for yourself. In this, you're specifically saying there's something heartless in me that allows me to part with my adorable child. It's both the wound and the salt rubbed in it.
Trust me, I know it's going to be really hard to go to work knowing that this precious little one is at home. You're only making it worse when you not only point it out but suggest some sort of defect in me that would allow for such a thing.
"You're Being A Paranoid New Parent"
Truthfully? Yeah, probably. I feel like most parents get that. However, we're paranoid because we really don't always know what we're doing, and when you tell us we're being paranoid that drives home the fact that not only do we not know we're doing, but people notice and we're being judged for it. So it's this vicious cycle of insecurity.
Of course there are other times when you're telling us we're being paranoid when we're really just ignoring outdated, proven-to-be-dangerous advice that you're trying to convince us is gospel. In any case, it's the worst. Please knock it off.
"I Want To Get Paid Not To Work, Too"
Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha! *sharp inhale* Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha!
OK. Yeah. That's what's happening. I've arbitrarily been given this free vacation time to just sit around doing nothing. So unfair you aren't given the same opportunity. You should talk to HR about that.
"What Do You Mean You Can't Come To My Event?"
If you're lucky, you will be surrounded by people who recognize that having a newborn (and recovering from childbirth) means there's a lot of stuff you aren't going to be able to do right away. Big events with a lot of germy people, for example. Or, like, walking for more than five minutes at a time, depending on what stage of recovery you're at.
Still, too often I hear about a postpartum woman being chastised and berated by friends and family for her inability to jump right back in the saddle immediately after giving birth. "But it's your cousin's wedding! You have to be there!" Ummm, too bad? I have a newborn and I'm recovering from a c-section so, no, I can't fly to the Bahamas or fit in a bridesmaid's dress a week after delivery.
"You're Spoiling Them"
What do we have to do to get everyone to just acknowledge this as a statement of fact? Of course, in a world that some people don't believe is round or warming due to human activity, I guess that's a lot to ask.
"Hey, I Know We're Not Supposed To Email You, But..."
Then why, Julie from the sales department? Why did you e-mail me? There was a protocol established before I left the office about whom you should contact if you had any questions in my absence. Why did you break that chain of command, Julie? What was so very important that you've put me in the awkward position to have to either work during my meager maternity leave or ignoring you and seeming like a jerk? Am I seriously the only person you could come to with this question? I just don't think I am.
"That's All The Time You Get? I Could Never Leave A Baby That Young."
There's a slight difference between this and "I could never go back to work." In a way, it's more pernicious because this is often working mom on working mom shade. Like "Of course you went back to work because, hey, so did I. But you're doing it the wrong way. I made a much better decision than you."
Fellow working moms, we're supposed to have one another's backs! Support one another, damnit!
Sharing Any Daycare/Nanny Horror Stories
Because I promise you that this is probably every working mother's number one fear: that her child's care provider is negligent or evil or that something horrible is going to happen to their child in their absence. There's literally nothing you can do to make that fear go away, so don't bother bringing it up. Besides, she's probably heard the same stories and already had several nightmares based on them. The first time you leave your child under someone else's care is always scary, even under the best of circumstances. Let's not make it any worse.