I took four and a half months away from work after I gave birth to my twins. And yes, those days were full of sweatpants and dirty hair and Netflix and couch cuddles—but make no mistake: They were grueling. They were mentally, physically and emotionally exhausting. And they were certainly not a vacation.
Of course, that didn’t stop the comments about how I must be “getting so bored” or questions about how I was “passing the time.” Because we have this weird societal idea that parental leave is a vacation. And newsflash: It’s not.
That’s why we’re applauding Anna Whitehouse, the founder of Mama Pukka, for posting about this very idea. “A reminder to businesses: Maternity/ paternity leave is not ‘a holiday’. It’s not ‘a nice break’ and it is not time off,” Anna writes in a LinkedIn post.
“It’s a heady cocktail of anticipation, expectation, arrival and survival. It’s stripping yourself back to a primal state and nakedly navigating blocked milk ducts, torn stitches, bloody sheets, broken minds, manically Googling blackout blinds,” the mother continues. “You are needed. Every second you are needed—if not in person, in mind. It is a job. Without sick days. Without fair remuneration. It is the most privileged position in the world but it takes balls, guts (often with no glory), boobs and any other extremity you can put to work.”
Maternity leave is the perfect representation of motherhood’s demands: You’re in pain, recovering from serious physical trauma, dealing with an unfathomable hormonal shift—but you can’t really stop to take care of or even check in with yourself because there’s a little person (or a few little people) who depend on you for survival. And the weight of that? It can feel crushing.
Maternity leave is a perfect exercise in selflessness and tenacity. It’s certainly not the stuff vacations are made of, that’s for sure.
So thank you to this mama for making a truly important point. Because there is this unfair idea that mothers have a few weeks or months to simply check out…when in reality, that’s simply not the case. Maternity leave is demanding. It’s hard. It’s isolating. It’s essential. It is so many things happening all at once…and none of them feel anything like a break.
A version of this story was published October 22, 2021. It has been updated.