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‘Meternity leave’ chatter undercuts serious discussion for new moms

Katie Olszewski had all the illusions of a first-time mom. With 12 weeks off to care for her newborn twins, the dental hygienist imagined that she would finish up her time off with spring cleaning done.

Then reality hit – times two. She found that she was lucky to fit in a shower or load the laundry if her boys finally dozed off together for 20 minutes.

And nap when the babies napped? Good luck with that.

“I did not get anything done,” said Olszewski, a 31-year-old mother from Darien. “I honestly thought work probably would have been easier.”

Any new mom can tell you this: The idea of a maternity leave filled with a quietly napping baby, peaceful walks and mommy lunch dates is a myth. The reality is that many new parents spend the time off simply trying to hold it all together while keeping a tiny new life alive.

You wouldn’t know that from people stoking the so-called mommy wars. The latest: An author promoting her new novel, “Meternity,” told the New York Post that everybody, kids or not, should get a “meternity leave” – a break to “focus on something other than their jobs.” And she was tired of picking up slack for co-workers who were parents.

“It seemed that parenthood was the only path that provided a modicum of flexibility,” Meghann Foye told the Post.

With those words, she stepped on the viral land mine that is parenthood on social media. I admit I was among those annoyed. Nine months pregnant with my second and about to go on maternity leave, I couldn’t resist the click bait.

Time erodes memories of those days after a baby is born and leaves you with warm recollections of joyful cuddles.

But this I do remember from the first time around: More diapers than I ever could have imagined. Hours of feedings that added up to as much time as a typical day of work. Tears, many tears, and it wasn’t always the baby crying.

It was hardly a time of focus, and I was among the lucky ones who could take the time I needed.

But all this about the absurdity of “meternity leave” undermines a serious discussion. How do workers take time off to care for family – whether a newborn or a sick parent – and still afford to pay their bills? And how to make it economically viable for employers?

New York State is about to start a big experiment with paid family leave. A new law will phase in 12 weeks of partly paid leave funded by employer contributions for women or men who need to take time off to care for a newborn or gravely ill family member.

Last week, I met two mothers who starkly illustrated the need.

Meaghan Kalwaney, an actuary from Kitchener, Ont., is in the middle of what will be a yearlong leave partly paid for by Canada’s employment insurance to care for her new son.

She couldn’t imagine having to already return to work and find child care. “It’s hard to sometimes look after someone and help them grow when your body is healing,” Kalwaney said.

Amanda Reaghan, 24, lives in Lewiston, works as a bartender and had just five weeks of leave after her daughter was born. “I wish I had longer, but I just couldn’t afford it,” said Reaghan, who told me she could not continue nursing once she went back to work.

We have far more parents in the United States like Reaghan – those who wish they could spend more time with their babies but return to work frazzled, tired and not quite ready.

Parental leave is tough. Not being able to afford the time you need is even tougher.


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