Meghann Foye thinks women without children should get ‘me-ternity leave.’ That’s a half-baked idea. (More)

“Digging into your whole life and emerging from it more confident in who you are”

Meghann Foye is jealous of mothers who get maternity leave. Jealous enough that she took 18 months of ‘me-ternity leave’ and wrote a novel about why women who don’t have children should get paid leave time too:

As for me, I did eventually give notice at my job and take a “meternity” of my own. I may not have been changing diapers, but I grappled with self-doubt for the year and a half that I spent away from the corporate world. And I grieved the loss of my dad, who had just died after a long illness. But a “meternity” done right should be challenging. It should be about digging into your whole life and emerging from it more confident in who you are.

It also gave me the opportunity to help someone achieve their “meternity” dreams – even if that person was a fictional character. My first novel, Meternity, was just released, and is about a woman who fakes a pregnancy and discovers some hard truths about what it’s really like to “have it all.”

Ultimately, what I learned from my own “meternity” leave is that any pressure I felt to stay late at the office wasn’t coming from the parents on staff. It was coming from myself. Coming back to a new position, I realized I didn’t need an “excuse” to leave on time. And that’s what I would love the take-away for my book to be: Work-life balance is tough for everyone, and it happens most when parents and nonparents support and don’t judge each other.

I want kids in the future, and I might still take a traditional maternity leave. I might not. But either way, I’m happy my “meternity” taught me to live on my own terms and advocate what works for me.

Glamour’s Jennifer Gerson Uffalussy offers an excellent discussion of why parental leave is nothing like a ‘sabbatical,’ and the New York Post’s Kyle Smith offers this brilliant retort:

Parents make the critically necessary sacrifice without which society would collapse like Jeb Bush’s presidential campaign: We shell out vast sums of money on everything from diapers to chess camp to prepare the next generation of taxpayers, who will be funding the retirement of people like the childless/childish Meghann Foye, whose pay-me-even-if-I-didn’t-do-anything attitude says not “imaginative social thinker,” but “squeegee man.”

A ‘half-baked’ story of evolution

Those are good replies, but I’m a squirrel – one of your evolutionary ancestors – so I’ll explain the real reason that human parents need paid parental leave: your babies come out half-baked.

Most infant mammals can at least crawl within a few hours after birth. Some can even walk on their very first day of life:

Yes, that baby giraffe is unsteady. No, it can’t defend itself from predators. Yes, it still needs mom’s milk for food. But being able to take a few wobbly steps – or merely crawl, like kittens and puppies and squirrels – means that newborn infant can get to mom’s nipple, and get out of its own mess.

Human babies can’t even roll over for their first 3-4 months, and can’t crawl for another few months after that. In short, a human baby usually needs at least six months to accomplish what a giraffe colt or a puppy or a baby squirrel can do on the very first day of life: get to food and away from its mess … and that’s why I say human babies come out half-baked.

The easy solution, of course, would be for human moms to carry pregnancies another four to six months.

And every human mom who read that last sentence screamed – or at least thought – “No way!” … probably with some not-family-friendly words added for emphasis.

Not that I blame them. The human birth canal is one of the best arguments against so-called ‘intelligent design.’ But it makes perfect sense if you remember that humans evolved from squirrels.

For a four-legged creature, the birth canal is exactly where it should be. The opening is horizontal, so the little tykes won’t fall out early. And four-legged creatures have wide hipbones, to make us more stable and maneuverable. Those wide hipbones mean a wide pelvic birth canal, so our moms can carry their babies until they’re at least ready to crawl to food and away from their messes.

So within a day or so after the babies are born, a momma giraffe or dog or squirrel can take a nap. If she’s asleep and the babies get hungry, they’ll find a nipple and feed themselves. If they relieve themselves, they can crawl out of the mess. And mom can, and often will, sleep right through it.

If you humans had been intelligently designed from the start, your birth canal would be in your abdomen. There’s a nice, big, open space between the bottom of your ribs and the top of your pelvis. That’s where doctors do Caesarian sections. That opening would be horizontal – like the pelvic opening is for a four-legged creature – and it would be big enough that you could carry your babies until they were fully baked.

But you weren’t intelligently designed. You evolved from squirrels. And once you climbed down out of the trees and started to walk upright, your hips narrowed to make upright walking more fluid and efficient. When your hips narrowed, your pelvic girdle narrowed too … and that’s why you have to push babies out through that small opening.

In fact, that opening is so small that human moms have to push babies out half-baked … months before the infants can even roll over, let alone crawl to a nipple or out of their own mess.

That evolutionary legacy – not “digging into your whole life and emerging from it more confident in who you are” – is why humans need parental leave. Human babies can’t crawl to a nipple or out of their own mess, so human moms (often but not always with help from human dads) spend those first few months feeding and changing diapers and feeding and changing diapers and feeding and changing diapers.

Parental leave not about self-discovery, unless you’re trying to discover how well you function on too little sleep and too much worry.

If it’s your first child, you worry about whether you’re feeding and changing diapers too often or not often enough and if it’s okay to let the baby cry for a couple of minutes while you finish peeing. If it’s not your first child, you worry about whether you’re ignoring the other kids while your new baby demands approximately 193.7% of your waking time and attention.

Either way, at some point, you start to worry about whether you will ever have another adult conversation. Because you can’t have an adult conversation with a baby, and every adult you meet … wants to talk about the baby.

Parental leave is not a time to “find yourself.” It’s a time to lose yourself … and wonder what self you’ll find if you manage to emerge from that baby-engulfed tunnel.

But you need those human babies to keep your species from going extinct, and to grow up and work to subsidize your retirement. So nowadays, every other industrialized nation on earth offers new parents a little help, by guaranteeing paid parental leave. But the U.S. doesn’t, and Foye’s call for ‘me-ternity leave’ – treating parental leave as if it were a vacation – makes it even harder for parents to get that help.

Her demand, like a human baby, is half-baked. And she needs to grow up.


Photo Credit: Meghann Foye (Twitter)


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