Quick: What’s the proper amount of time a new mom should wait before returning to work after giving birth?
A: Six weeks.
B. Six months.
C. One year.
D. A widely fluctuating range depending on a variety of factors that include, but aren’t limited to, the baby’s health, the mother’s health, the father’s availability, access to child care, an employer’s flexibility, financial considerations, a mother’s desires (I know, crazy) and some other stuff that is no one’s doggone business.
Every time I think we’ve grasped that D is really and truly the only correct answer, a story comes along and bursts my bubble.
This time it involves Amy Schumer.
The actress and comedian posted an Instagram photo of herself performing stand-up at New York City’s Comedy Cellar earlier this week with a simple, “I’m back!”
Her son, Gene Attell, was born May 5.
The Instagram comments are a perfect distillation of our national conversation about/perceived ownership over women and their bodies.
“Jesus, Amy. Let the stitches dissolve first. I’m still on the couch and my youngest is three.” (Disdain!)
“Welcome back. #rock star” (Support!)
“Wow, you’re that desperate to get back your fame, that you waited a mere 2 weeks, after giving birth, to get back on stage. That boy was a publicity stunt.” (Outrage!)
“That’s incredible. Good on you! Positive vibes to you and your family. Keep it up!” (Cheers!)
“Any excuse to hire a nanny.” (Shame!)
It’s all there. The judgment. The sanctimony. The rising to defend her in the face of such nonsense. It’s a celebrity Instagram post, but it could just as easily be a Facebook parenting group, dissecting that one mom’s decision not to baby-wear.
I have a trick I use whenever I’m trying to decide whether to judge another woman’s reproductive choices. It’s super simple.
Should I judge that woman for not having kids? Nope.
Should I judge that woman for having a bunch of kids? Nope.
Should I judge that woman for not working outside the home after having kids? Nope.
Should I judge that woman for having kids and returning to work after two weeks/six weeks/six years? Nope.
Should I judge that woman for bottle feeding/breast feeding/cloth diapering/disposable diapering/hiring a nanny/sending a kid to day care/letting a kid cry it out/never letting a kid cry it out/doing something different than I do/doing something different than my pediatrician said to do/doing something different than my mother/mother-in-law did? Nope.
This shouldn’t really require thought. It should just come to us naturally, like breathing or thinking rainbows are pretty.
Unfortunately, it’s a constant learning process. Because we’ve been socialized to believe that women’s bodies are a national pastime, something we all watch and weigh in on. Like “Game of Thrones,” but with fewer dragons. Like the Super Bowl, but with fewer commercials.
This is especially true around women’s bodies and babies.
Are those bodies having babies? Are those bodies shedding the baby weight in an appropriate time frame? Are those bodies feeding the babies as nature intended? Are those bodies spending the proper amount of time off work, caring for those babies, even though we live in a country with zero guaranteed paid maternity leave, which makes time off work, caring for those babies, seem like something we’re more interested in being catty about than being proactive about?
No woman is off-limits. Sarah Palin caught heck for returning to the Alaska governor’s job the week after giving birth to her fifth child, Trig. Marissa Meyer was slammed for returning to run Yahoo less than a month after her twins were born. Chelsea Clinton was shamed for going to work instead of walking her daughter, Charlotte, to her first day of preschool. (Clinton’s husband, the child’s father, dropped off Charlotte.)
It’s exhausting. It’s regressive. It’s petty.
Schumer responded to the criticism with another Instagram photo, this one showing her using a breast pump while rubbing her eyes.
“Sending out love to the moms shaming me for doing stand-up last night!” she wrote.
Good on her for responding to the snark with a smile and a dose of reality. Maybe the whole ordeal brought us one step closer to realizing a woman’s return-to-work time frame is a highly personal, often complicated, many-variables decision.
In other words, none of our doggone business.