Kate Sheahan is a sports hero. She’s a star player on the Australian Football League Women’s League, 22 years after being told that despite being a football-crazy girl, she couldn’t play football with the boys. Yay for girl power and proving them wrong. However, Sheahan has also been hailed as a hero for taking only three days of maternity leave, which we can’t be as enthusiastic about.
Not because Sheahan didn’t make the right choice — speaking on Mamapedia‘s I Don’t Know How She Does It podcast, it clearly worked for her and her family — but because describing her as “every working mother’s new spirit animal” runs the risk of making a hell of a lot of other moms feel woefully inadequate for not being able to return to work right after giving birth. (Hands up — who else couldn’t get off the sofa until two weeks post-C-section delivery?)
Sheahan revealed that she left the tennis court — tennis coaching is her day job — to give birth, which she described as “horrid, there were lots of complications.” But despite those complications, she was — incredibly — back to work only three days after her son Will was born.
“I just improvised,” she said. “We made it work.”
Clearly, Sheahan is a go-getter who thrives on being busy and takes everything life throws at her in stride. When asked on the podcast what she thought about women “having it all,” she said right away, “I’ve got it all.” Many of us would respond in quite a different way, right? Something along the lines of, “Meh — that’s impossible.” And we absolutely shouldn’t feel inferior because we don’t have it all, because we suspect we might never have it all or because we didn’t go right from the maternity ward to the office.
Another mom in Sheahan’s situation — she’s her own boss, is able to take her baby to the tennis court with her, has a great support system and presumably no financial worries — might well be able to do the same. But that’s the thing. Every mom is in a different situation. Some give up work completely to become stay-at-home moms. Some are fortunate enough to have great maternity leave provisions in their employment contract to allow them to spend months at home with their babies before returning to work. And let’s not forget that many, many of them have very little maternity leave, not through any choice of their own, but because the U.S. does not guarantee paid leave.
Some women choose to return to work only a short time after giving birth, and some choose to take some time out to focus on their babies. There’s no right or wrong approach, and acknowledging that is the only way we can make all moms feel like heroes.