Freedom of Choice

As you may have heard, Elizabeth Vargas recently announced that she was going to be stepping down from her co-anchor position at ABC news because she is about to have another baby. When she returns from her maternity leave, she’ll go back to her less stressful and less dangerous (read: not requiring frequent travel to a war zone) job as co-host of 20/20. Of course, analysts and feminists everywhere have taken this as an opportunity to comment on the State of Working Motherhood in America, and so I figured that I’d join in on the fun, too.

The Washington Post quoted a guy named Andrew Tyndall, a consultant who studies evening news content, as saying that, “by effectively demoting Vargas when she returns from maternity leave, ABC sends the wrong message to young women. What is the worst workplace nightmare the pregnant employee faces? It is the fear that her employer will find some way not to guarantee her job back on return from maternity leave.”

Ah, I love it when men expound upon the worst fears of pregnant employees.

Don’t get me wrong, I had a lot of fears about what would happen when I returned from my maternity leave. I worried about my boobs leaking during meetings, I worried about how I would manage to escape during the day to take my daughter to her monthly checkups, and I worried about what I would do if my nanny ever called in sick. But I didn’t worry much about the security of my job. I felt pretty confident that the Americans With Disabilities Act and the Family Medical Leave Act pretty much insured that it would be there for me.

The more interesting issue, for me at least, is not about your employer guaranteeing you your job when you return, but rather, about whether you even want the job when you return. Unfortunately, what seems to be happening a lot these days is that women are waiting until they’re older to have children so that they can focus on their careers. But then when they attain their career goals – partner in the law firm, top seller in the company, network news anchor – and finally do become pregnant, they then become faced with having to make a horrible choice: the all-consuming career that took blood, sweat and tears to achieve, or meaningful time with their babies. Because you can’t really have both - the hard truth is that when you’re hot you’re hot, and you’d better not drop off the face of the earth to go breastfeed for three months, because by the time you come back somebody else will be channeling the sun instead of you. Yeah, your job might be waiting for you, but the buzz around town about how great you are might not be.