That dull thud-thud sound you can hear is me, banging my head against a wall. The wall comes courtesy of Marissa Mayer, the new CEO of Yahoo.
She was pregnant when she got the job, had the baby in September, took two weeks off, then scurried back to work. So far, so Superwoman.
It’s what she said next that gave me no choice but to start headbanging. Last week – at Fortune magazine’s “Most Powerful Women” dinner, no less – she announced: “The thing that surprised me, and really pleasantly so, is that the job is really fun – yeah, Yahoo is a really fun place to work – and the baby’s been easy. The baby’s been way easier than everyone made it out to be.”
Agh, agh, AAAGH. Thud, thud, THUD.
Marissa, listen, let me talk you through this. I’m very glad, really I am, that you’ve had an effortless time with the childbearing, and that the childrearing is turning out to be a doddle. Of course, I very much hope that you’re not saying it’s “easy” just because the doula, nanny and housekeeper all told you it was. However, the fact is that if you’re honestly finding it “easy”, then there is only one explanation, which I will spell out for you very clearly, to make sure we understand each other.
You have been L-U-C-K-Y.
What amazes me is that such an intelligent, powerful woman can’t see the damage that throwaway remarks like that can do to the lives of less powerful, less lucky women.
She’s effectively saying: “Look, I can run one of the world’s best-known companies, pop a sprog, bring it up and not turn a hair. I can’t see the problem! Tell me, what’s the matter with all you prima donnas out there, making such a fuss? What’s the big deal?”
I understand the career pressures that Mayer must be facing, but she had the chance to become a poster-girl for 21st-century motherhood; instead, she’s chosen to act like a man. I hope and pray that Mayer’s “easy” experience of parenting doesn’t affect Yahoo’s policy on maternity leave and benefits, because I’m fairly sure that most women would need – never mind want – more than two weeks to recover from childbirth and maybe just a tad longer to actually get to know their child. It scares me that every time an über-boss like Marissa Mayer says “it’s easy”, some mere mortal might get short shrift at work for not being able to cope.
For some of us, having a baby is a very big deal. I was only two years older than Marissa when I had my son and it was a pretty miserable nine months. For the first three months, I felt permanently sick but never actually threw up. The second trimester, when you’re supposed to glow and buzz with energy, all I really wanted to do was sleep. In the third trimester, I was so huge I could barely move. Then I went through 34 hours of agony, followed by years of exhaustion, exploding piles and stress incontinence. Now I’m on duty, 24/7, for the rest of my life. Not complaining; just saying. Every woman is different, and just because one has an easy time doesn’t mean the thoughtful people who warned her of the possible hardships were wrong.
I’ve heard a lot of rubbish this week about the magical 12-week cut-off point, after which pregnancy becomes “safe”. Pregnancy is never safe, and rarely “easy”. My heart goes out to Kate Wales as she suffers through the first difficulties of pregnancy, but Kate: there’s no need to be shy about showing the world how hard childbearing can be. Don’t hide; don’t feel you have to appear all shiny and happy on the hospital steps, saying “Oh, it’s nothing.”
I’d like to see one powerful woman admitting that pregnancy and childbirth really are something huge and life-changing, and often very, very tough. Kate, please, use your high-profile pregnancy to tell it like it is. You could make a difference, and many mere mortals will stop banging their heads against walls to thank you for it.