I feel for Meghann Foye, author of the new book Meternity, about a woman who fakes a pregnancy so she can have take a break from work. When she talked to the New York Post about her book last week, I don’t think she was expecting to wade quite so dramatically into the highly opinionated no-chill zone that is the Internet of Moms.
Why are we so easily trolled, we moms? Perhaps because many of us are fed up with making do within social structures that don’t accommodate parenthood, while simultaneously acting under a moral code that insists that mothers are “the best.” Our frustration keeps building: if motherhood is so special, why do only a fraction of mothers get paid maternity leave? If Mother’s Day is so important, if it requires our families to genuflect loyally in our direction with brunches and pedis and fulsome peony bouquets, why is there virtually no affordable child care available in the United States?
Fuck, man. Both ends of this bind are very, very effective. Every time there’s an Olympics, Procter and Gamble commissions an expensive ad with only one objective: Make the moms cry. They’ve been doing this “Thank You Mom” campaign since 2012, and it works every. Damn. Time. Look, the latest one just came out, and I promise, it’ll get you.
To be a mom in America today is to be eating lunch at your desk, openly weeping over the Thanks Mom ad YET AGAIN, and then rushing from work (where you probably did not leave early, in fact) to pick up your kid at their expensive-ass daycare or after-school program. Pendulum-swinging from “you’re sacred” to “you’re screwed” again and again, day after day.
So it’s a hair-trigger situation over here in the Internet of Moms, and Meghann Foye’s hilariously tone-deaf premise that maternity offers mothers time for “self-reflection” was a joke that did not land. You’d have to be willfully obtuse to think that maternity leave really is a vacation, and I choose not to think that about Meghann Foye.
Unfortunately, pissing mothers off on the internet is a pretty reliable engagement-generator from the point of view of publishers, so a few days later we were gifted a follow-up, also from the Post, about a woman who believes that new pet owners also deserve time off. This is one of those times when, really, the only appropriate response is a Prince gif, or something that doesn’t require you to do an idea like that any favors by stringing words together at all.
Meghann Foye, meanwhile, has taken on the unfun burden of being the person whose gaffe pulled the curtain aside to reveal a deeply dysfunctional, unjust system that does everyone—not just moms, not just single ladies, not just pet-lovers—dirty.
Let’s dial it back a minute. Why does the main character in Meghann Foye’s book fake a pregnancy? So she can get more time off. The fake pregnancy is a functional premise, but the main beef in the story is not with mothers on maternity leave—it’s with a work culture that offers you no place to direct your grievances when you feel like you’re approaching burnout. Faking a pregnancy to get a vacation from work is at least as plausible a plot line as saying to your boss, “I feel like I work too much! I have no time for a life! Can I take a break, without getting fired, or being treated like a liability?”
Though I feel as if identifying the problem as American-style free market capitalism is the quickest way to make people put on their noise-canceling headphones, I understand why it’s so hard to endure the rehashing of a problem that seems inescapable. The concept of Batman Vs. Superman was taken seriously enough to actually get made and given major distribution, but critiquing the economic system that governs our land makes a person seem tedious and delusional unless they’re literally Thomas Picketty. I’m not a tin-foil hat person on the fringe, I swear. My consumer habits are just like everyone else’s—got my Sephora card and everything.
But who benefits when Meghann Foye writes a book about how her job sucks her life out of her, and uses working mothers as a straw man in the process? Who benefits when working moms take the bait—again—and attack Foye for not understanding the actual labour of motherhood? As all of this is taking place in our culture, qui fucking bono?
An unregulated labor market benefits. The myth of perpetual growth enjoys another day of not being debunked. The notion that paid leave is bad for business benefits. The idea that two weeks of paid vacation a year is part of a totally A-OK quality of life, not to mention being essential for “growth,” continues to go unquestioned. If you were to approach your boss with this request, she would shrug you off with some variation of, “If I give you a break, I’d have to give everyone a break.” And to give everyone a break would mean slackening the tripwire running taut as possible between competitors. To become less productive—it’s an immoral act.
When I moved from the U.S. to Montreal (I’m a dual citizen and I wish you all were, too) I gained access to a labor environment that gives parents a little bit of breathing room. My employer was bound by law to welcome me back after each of my 10-month-long paid maternity leaves. Even after I quit my job and went to graduate school, I could afford good daycare for two kids. And people work too much here, just like they do in the States. But the workplace policies in place here dramatically reduce the stress related to raising a family. I like to think I’m a calm person, a woman who doesn’t let stuff like “Meternity” get me too riled up. But if I’m being honest, it’s mostly thanks to my social programs that I can play the role of “chill mom.” Who knows how I’d feel if I were doing all of this with no help from my government.
Until we stop griping at each other for failing to understand each other’s struggles, all of which are very real, nothing will change. It’s hard, because the common enemy of burned-out single women and burned-out working moms is invisible, spread diffusely over our entire culture, impossible to isolate or pillory. And when you address that enemy, very few cool people take you seriously. Sometimes you end up trying a roundabout and possibly inauspicious angle, like writing a book called Meternity instead.
Ultimately, I respect Meghann Foye for maybe-accidentally, maybe just for a moment, ripping the scab off the weeping wound that is professional life in America. I hope she got a nice advance and spent part of it on a vacation that she really enjoyed.
Kathryn Jezer-Morton lives in Montreal with her husband and two sons. She’s 33, her kids are 2 and 5, and she’ll be contributing a semi-regular parenting column called Hey Ma here on Jezebel.
Illustration by Jim Cooke, source image from Shutterstock