When I went on early maternity leave four years ago, I did not know that I would not be returning to my office. When I left in January of 2011, I left with my laptop and my blackberry, as I did every night for the past four years on the job. My baby was due in March but because of my health, it was advised that an early maternity leave would be wise. I was a litigation attorney and at the time, I was involved in an intense bankruptcy case that was requiring me to put in long hours. Seven months pregnant and harboring lupus, I thought it best to take it easy.
If someone had walked into my office the next day, it would have looked like I was coming back any moment. My computer screen blinking, active case files on my desk, my sweater hanging behind the door, framed personal pictures on the shelves and coffee mugs on the ledge. This was because I had fully intended to return after the birth of my baby. I was a sixth year litigation associate honing my craft, and I had an offer to teach at Columbia law school when I returned. It was not a matter of “if” but more of a question of “when” — was I going to return to work after the 4 month maternity leave or was I going to take an additional 2 months and return in the fall? I also expecting to be answering e-mails and doing some work during my leave.
It took me a long time to accept that my health would not allow me to return to work. First I thought, ok, I’ll take a few more months off but I’m returning in September. Then as I became hospitalized and unable to walk, I thought, ok, I’ll give it a year to recover. But as my inflammations continued, I realized that going back to work will have to be tabled indefinitely. My early maternity leave became a leave of absence, and my temporary disability became permanent.
It is true that many women never return to work after the birth of their child, opting to become a stay at home mom. I don’t think there is anything wrong with that. That, however, was never my intention. When I went on leave, I fully intended to return and that option was taken away from me. I grievously mourn the loss of my ability to work.