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Modern Parenthood

Marissa Mayer: Take longer maternity leave – for yourself and us

An open letter to Marissa Mayer: Congrats on the job as Yahoo's new CEO. But maybe reconsider your plan to take only a couple of weeks of maternity leave.

By Guest blogger / July 19, 2012

Marissa Mayer poses at Google's Mountain View, California headquarters, in this 2009 file photo. Mayer, who at the time served as Google's vice president of Search Products & User Experience, was named as Yahoo's CEO in a surprise announcement on Monday.

Noah Berger/Reuters

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Dear Ms. Mayer: Congratulations on your new gig as CEO of Yahoo. Congratulations, too, on your other big news – your pregnancy. Congratulations as well on provoking many of us mothers out there who otherwise would have preferred to stay out of the “Mommy Wars.”

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Guest blogger

Linda K. Wertheimer, The Boston Globe’s former education editor, writes about religion, education, and family for various publications and blogs at Jewish Muse, A Writer's Blog on Faith and Family. She is a late bloomer:  In her early 40s, she celebrated her adult bat mitzvah, married, and had a son – in that order.

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I have been loath to join the debate about whether women can have it all. But Ms. Mayer, you gave me no choice. How could I possibly stay mum after you told Fortune you were expecting your first child in October and you prefer to “stay in the rhythm of things.” Hence, you said, “My maternity leave will be a few weeks long and I’ll work throughout it.”

Those words at first made me seethe. Then, they made me sad for what you will miss if you focus more on work than on the first weeks, let alone months, of motherhood. Not to mention, what about the physical recovery time many mothers need after childbirth? Two weeks is nothing. Your body, believe me, will feel a lot different after delivery.

What message are you sending to mothers in America being so nonchalant about maternity leave? The nation’s Family and Medical Leave Act, which allows new parents to take up to 12 unpaid weeks of leave, was only passed in 1993. Our country is behind many other nations, and if anything, the United States needs to do more not less to give new mothers a break before they return to work. Australia, for example, gives new mothers up to one year of job-protected leave, according to an Associated Press article. You have a terrific bully pulpit as a new female CEO. The message you’re sending now is terrifying. Have a new baby, work at home as much as you can during those exhausting first weeks of motherhood, then head back to the office.

I too had a great job when I became pregnant with my first and only child. I was an assistant city editor overseeing education at The Boston Globe, where I had always wanted to work. I got the job in 2004, was married in 2006, and became pregnant in 2007. Most women where I worked took three months or six months off, but I knew of a few who took an entire year. I took a year off with the understanding that I likely would not return to the same position I had upon departure. My career would go backward, but I decided I was OK with that. That, of course, was my choice. So was ultimately deciding to quit the Globe in favor of freelancing and teaching and spending several days a week with my son, who’s now 4.

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