The Real Reasons I'm Not Taking A Maternity Leave
I've never felt very strongly about parental leave. But I do think that parents should have the choice to have as much time off with their family as possible, especially if they find themselves in highly demanding jobs, and I don't think that parents should have to choose which they place higher on the totem pole: work, or the baby. That said, I know that when my third baby comes around, I won't being taking a maternity leave. Because I work for myself, I have the flexibility to determine my own hours. I can work whenever and wherever I want. My decision not to take a leave stems from something firmer than just my self-employment status. After the births of my two older children, I spent so many years at home just being mom that, for me, work always felt like escape. It's also illuminated the pieces of my identity that I couldn't find in my role as just a mom. My work has always given me purpose.
When I had my first two children over five years ago, I was a stay-at-home mom. In fact, maternity leave wasn't even a thing I ever even thought about. We lived in California at the time and my husband got about six weeks of leave. After the birth of our older daughter, we waited until Christmas for him to take his leave so we could take the new baby to visit family without feeling the pressure to rush back. Two years later, following the birth of our son, my husband took off just two weeks, and we saved the rest for different trips throughout the year. It made sense for us because we didn't need a ton of leave to spend time together. His first job allowed him every other Friday off, and we spent every hour together outside of his work. He'd also taken on a second job after our son's birth that was just two minutes from our house. He was home most days at lunch, and our weekends were spent mostly in bed together. At the time, it didn't feel stifling, or as if I was settling. It felt like a dream most of the time; one I felt lucky to be living out in real life.
My work allows me to provide for my family, but the reality is that I don't have the financial security to afford to take any sort of leave.
I freelance for a living as a writer and a photographer, which means at any given moment I could be working. I write constantly and run a small photo business on the side. I'm pretty recently divorced, but attached to a partner I plan on having and building a life together with at some point in the future. I work everyday — there actually isn't ever a day when I don't work. Some days I begin working later on in my day, and on other days, I work around school drop-offs and pick-ups. On occasion, I have to be out in the field shooting. Given my lifestyle at the moment, I can't imagine taking the time off to take care of a baby. My work allows me to provide for my family, but the reality is that I don't have the financial security to afford to take any sort of leave.
As someone who freelances for a living, I think it's offered me a lot of freedom to do things on my own terms. It's given me space and ability to work as I please, to set the rules and guidelines, both for myself and for my children. Because of what I do, my deadlines are able to be shifted if need be, and I can meet with clients during normal 9-5 work hours. I'm also lucky enough to be in a position where I can wait to start my work until after my kids have gone to bed. I know just how lucky I am to be in a position like this, but working for yourself is not without it's fair share of struggle. It means I'm always on. I'm always avaiable. I have to squeeze time in for stories or shoots. Yes, I'm lucky, but I've also had to hustle for every opportunity I've gotten. When I was first pregnant, I was under the impression that the only way I'd have a job was if I adhered to the five days a week, 9-5 work schedule, yet I've crafted my career so that even though I do work more than 40 hours a week, often seven days a week, it's still possible for me to include my children into that. Sometimes doing so comes at the expense of a normal sleep schedule, it's still worth it to me.
I wasn't meant for a life at home with the kids. I knew I needed more. I knew I wanted more.
After I had my daughter, I also struggled with postpartum depression. Staying at home day in and day out, only really ever leaving to visit Target or grocery shop, was something that really got to me. It was then, amidst a deep depression, that I hoped and wanted so much more than to be a stay-at-home mom to my daughter. I could barely get dressed most days, let alone interact with people. It was a lonely existence at times, and the only adult I'd talk to on most days was my husband. I knew then, after Riley was born, that I wasn't meant for a life at home with the kids. I knew I needed more. I knew I wanted more.
I believe that maternity leave makes sense if you're working a 40-hour a week job, but even then, I feel like it's still limited to a series of weeks, mostly taken at one time. Then when that's over, you're required to go back to work and adjust to life as it was before. I don't think that's fair. And after having two kids, I know that's not for me. I know not everyone has the means and the opportunity to work for themselves or own their own business, but I'm so lucky I do.
Maternity leave seems to be built around this idea of what all women really want are a few weeks off to build a relationship with their children at home and then jump back into work their lives. Motherhood isn't a one-size-fits all experience. I don't want to take a maternity leave, but that's just me. Those moments of escape that I had after my son and my daughter were born reminded me of who I was before I became a mother and I loved that. Working also provided me with an outlet for my postpartum depression. I know that if and when we decide to welcome another child I'll pass on taking a maternity leave. And I'll be absolutely OK with that. Different women want and need different things, and for me, this works.