Maternity Leave 2.0

I am thrilled for any number of reasons that Yahoo hired Marissa Mayer, chief among them that women are finally beginning to break the glass ceiling in tech and that pregnant women are being seen as serious contenders.

But in all the talk about the ever-connected – and ever-shorter – Maternity Leave 2.0, including today’s piece in The New York Times one thing is missing from the dialog: The true toll it can take on women, including what remains a taboo subject: post-partum depression.  Don’t get me wrong, I am all in favor of hiring pregnant women and I have been in a position to do exactly that.  It worked out beautifully.

I also know first-hand the toll working even while still in the maternity unit can take.

When I was in the hospital giving birth to my daughter my publisher called to say that the pub date of my upcoming novel would be moved up.  The revisions that I thought I had months to do now had to be completed within weeks.  “Just work while the baby naps,” my editor said.  (For the record, she was a mother herself.)  Alright, I thought, that sounds do-able.   Frankly, part of me was glad about the need to keep working.  It was such an entrenched part of my identity that I thought it would ease the transition to motherhood.

And so, of course, that is precisely what I did.  Unfortunately, I also stopped sleeping and developed post-partum depression, which I was too ashamed to admit to anyone – including myself.   I didn’t even really know enough about PPD to recognize the symptoms. (It still galls me that hospitals send you home with all sorts of information except the warning signs of PPD.)  I hid it from my husband, my doctor, and of course, my publisher.  (It didn’t help that for some insane reason that I  can no longer recall I had it my mind that we wouldn’t hire help for the first three months.)

The book got done on time.  We eventually hired help.  And the PPD waned.  A few years later, I decided to come clean and publish a magazine story about PPD.  I have never had as strong – and as undercover – a reaction to a piece.  Women  in the hallways of my office, on the street, in furtive phone calls, all confessed that the too had suffered from PPD but had been too embarrassed to admit it.  They didn’t want to be seen as incompetent  as mothers or as workers.

So.  Back to Marissa Mayer.  Yes, she will have all the help she needs.  And yes, technology has made staying in touch so much easier than it was when I had a child 18 years ago.  But  I hope that women who now have the bar set even higher are able to acknowledge that it is not easy, no matter what.  Unless we are willing to admit that, we are doing each other a great disservice.


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