Sunday, January 11, 2009

Maternity leave: use it or lose it.

When there's so much to do and not enough time to do it all in, I find it a bit dispiriting to see a woman in a senior government post NOT take her fair share of maternity leave.

Rachida Dati, France's justice minister, returned to work (and spike heels) just five days after giving birth by C-section. She's right to say being pregnant isn't a sickness - but it rankles with me that despite her seniority she's not prepared to take her employment rights. She could have taken annual leave for longer so I don't see that her career need have suffered by a few days more at home.

She didn't seem to be grimacing from any stinging pangs of healing scar tissue. So maybe she was on massive doses of pain killers. I can't help but wonder what sort of policy decisions she might make while she was half out of it with drugs and the new mum blues.

It would be wrong to judge everyone by my own experience, but I loved staying in my PJs for the first five days (perhaps only achievable for first babies - not so practical maybe for seconds, thirds etc), sobbed uncontrollably in the shower on day four and subsequently watered up whenever anyone offered to babysit. I imagined they were telling me that couldn't cope*.

Reassuringly, even Nicola Horlick (the UK's own apparent superwoman) took six months maternity leave for each of her children and insists paid work is best done with the support of a mixture or all of family, partner and nanny.

Despite the pressure that Dati puts on us all to pretend that motherhood doesn't have to change a thing, I'm embracing flexible working, treasuring each tantrum (yes, really!) and avoiding any opportunities for promotion that get between me and my Friday/Mum day.

*I got over this and now wrestle for control of their diaries.


Working mum said...

I'm with you on this one. I was surprised and disappointed at her decision to return to work after 5 days. Also, amazed, because after an emergency c-section I could hardly walk for days and certainly couldn't pick up baby easily or push a pram for about 3 weeks. I wasn't allowed to drive for 6 weeks either, so being fit for work was just not possible.

I don't think she's doing us any favours with this behaviour. I think our generation have a duty to debunk the 'have it all' myth (I'm trying to) and create a much more realistic role for working mothers. Like you say, avoiding promotion and enjoying working and motherhood together.

Adrian's Crazy Life said...

I hear ya. I thought the same thing about Sarah Palin. Going back to work 3 days after having a special needs child is just crazy. I almost think they should require at least a few weeks.

You're lucky that you get more than we do in the States. I think the max we can take with pay is about 12 weeks and that's not much. I took 5 months with my first (2 months bedrest - ugh!) and 3 months with my second.

Anonymous said...

"I don't think she's doing us any favours with this behaviour."

Funnily enough, I don't expect she's trying to. Given her very senior post (which has required years of hard work and determination on her part), I would be suprised if "act as poster girl for the whining-stay-at-home-mums demographic" is high on her agenda.

Grow up. Everyone has a right to personal choice. I envisage that her strong work ethic will serve as a wonderful example for her child, not a hindrance. And if it doesn't - what business is it of ours?

Sass E-mum said...

Of course, neither I nor the other commentators fit the SAHM demographic either.

Hard work and determination don't have to preclude anyone from taking care of their health and enjoying fair and reasonable employment rights.

As a public figure, the career choices Dati makes might well be her own but I think they are also of public interest.

I'd be interested to know Anon's circumstances.

SuburbanCorrespondent said...

Someone needs to tell that woman that we liberated women no longer feel the need to prove anything. And that there is nothing wrong with enjoying your newborn baby for a couple of weeks at least. And that the world will go on without her just fine while she is on maternity leave.

Talk about egocentric!

Yeah, it toasts me, too. Grrr...

Reluctant Housewife said...

Yikes. that soon after my C-section I could barely walk... much less work in spiked heels.


Yeah. Just what Working Mum says.

And anonymous... at least have the guts use your name with your mildly rude comment, k? thanks.

(Sorry Sass - not my blog or my place to police anons comments, I know, but that kind of anon thing just bugs me.)

scrappysue said...

honestly. women like her do NOTHING to dispel the myth that women can 'do it/have it all.' i actually want to slap her.