When Google's doyenne Marissa Mayer was named the new chief executive officer at Yahoo, she made headlines. And when she subsequently announced that she's expecting a baby in October and intends to work through a very brief maternity leave, she reignited media commentary on this summer's button-pushing topic: a working mother's effort to embrace both professionalism and parenthood without chaffing. Some have described Mayer's decision as a watershed for women who want to feel they can—here it comes, again—"have it all." Others have criticized her choice as naive and not very motherly. But since when did the notion of loving your career equate to not loving your children?
Experts uphold a mother's right to work. "I absolutely think women should work while on maternity leave, primarily because a lot of women I've known over the years are really dedicated to their jobs. They're also deeply devoted to having their family and their spouse." says Susan Heathfield, a management consultant who writes about human resources at humanresources.about.com.
Jessica Herrin is the CEO and founder of the jewelry and accessories company Stella & Dot. She's also the mother of two girls, and has become dexterous with juggling parenting and professionalism. Like Mayer, Herrin chose to work through her maternity leave. "I think it's important for working women to be authentic about what makes them happy and not to conform to society about being a pregnant person working," she says. "I'm wired to want to work all the time. I would go nuts if I tried to stay home."
If you are a pregnant professional, you should know that there are many good reasons for abstaining from work post-delivery. But there are also a few good reasons to continue working, if possible. Here's a handful:
1. The working world has changed. Professionals no longer need to chain themselves to their office desk to get work done. Generous Wi-Fi access, smartphones, and tablet computers have birthed flexible schedules and mobile offices, and it's possible to stay home with a newborn and still stay tuned in to your job's tasks. Many of the companies that make WorkingMother.com's list of 100 Best Companies allow employees telecommuting privileges and the chance to compress their work weeks—two options that could work well for a brand-new mom. Some companies also permit automatic phase-back hours for new parents. "This allows you to work part time when you get back," explains Jennifer Owens, the editorial director of Working Mother Media. "It's like a soft-landing back into work."
2. Your new baby will sleep a lot at first. "I always thought maternity leave was quite ironic," Herrin says. "Provided that you don't have a difficult birth and an extended labor, that is. Because you deliver your baby, and three days later, you're fine. And your baby is primarily sleeping. You actually have the time to go back to work if you choose." Herrin brought her youngest with her to the office very soon after giving birth and was able to grow her business while also bonding with her baby. "I truly had a newborn at work," she says. "I definitely worked shorter days for the first two months. And I only lived a mile away from my office."
3. You can use it as catch-up time. Do you have a few company reports straggling? This could be your chance to revel in not having office distractions and catch up on those loose ends. Or perhaps it's a good time to take an online seminar that pertains to your profession. Maybe you could even do as Herrin did (while at home on maternity leave with her first daughter) and explore your entrepreneurial side. "I had another full-time job while I was starting Stella & Dot," Herrin says. "And I used my maternity leave to start my new business. I was really focused on the underpinnings of my business models."
How to Take a "Working" Maternity Leave