I’m the proud owner of Victory Public Relations, a small PR firm based in the NYC area that handles primarily health, beauty, and lifestyle accounts. I am also the proud mom of two beautiful little boys, the youngest of whom was born a mere four months ago. I recently returned to work following a three month maternity leave.
Taking my maternity leave was - perhaps unsurprisingly - controversial. One of the first questions people asked me during my pregnancy was whether or not I would take one at all. I received my fair share of “good for yous” and raised eyebrows, which may or may not be due to the fact that I’m a business owner, but regardless implies that in doing so I took some scary risk. In any case, the rhetoric surrounding maternity leave is incredibly confusing and my own personal experience reinforced the fact that the party line is absolutely conflicted in nature.
On the one hand people criticize the US for not requiring companies to fund family leave. On the other hand taking a maternity leave seems to imply a lack of commitment or even disinterest in one’s career. We see examples of high profile women declining maternity leave (like Melissa Mayer) and higher profile men taking paternity leave (like Mark Zuckerberg) and the conversation churns on and on.
For me this second time around it was an easy choice. I sincerely feel that without allowing myself time to recover from my son’s birth, bond with him, and adapt to my new life as the mother of two, I would have set myself up for failure both professionally and personally. Just as meeting professional goals and obligations requires focus and dedication, so too does adjusting to life after the birth of a baby. I have applied the same focus I rely on to grow my company to acclimating to my new life. So that when I did return to work I could do so with as much certainty as possible that things were in order on my home front. (NB: I’m talking specifically about maternity leave here, but this same thinking applies to any sort of family leave.)
That is not to say that the decision and transition is easy. Nor that there are no risks involved. But having been through it twice, I firmly believe that without the leave we all would have suffered - my family, myself, my work, and my colleagues.
I think we need to stop pitting maternity leave against career. Not only does it permit a woman to safely and healthfully adjust to her new role as working mom, it leads to a healthier, more successful work environment. I am not advocating for government-mandated paid maternity leave here, but rather sharing my insight and experience with fellow moms and business owners who are not necessarily one and the same. It is my sincere hope that every working mother takes a maternity leave and that businesses small and large support their employees during one of the most joyful and stressful periods of their lives with full maternity leave not reluctantly because they have been forced to, but simply because it is the right thing to do for both their employees and their business.
By Andrea Samacicia Mullan