Marissa Mayer, Pregnancy and Parental Leave Back In The Spotlight

By Jon Carroll
San Francisco Chronicle.

Marissa Mayer, the chief cheese at Yahoo, announced this week that she was pregnant with twins. Mayer made a similar announcement three years ago, when she told America that she was expecting a baby boy. After the child was born, Mayer and her husband took up residence in the penthouse suite of San Francisco’s Four Seasons Hotel.

She also built a nursery next door to her office at Yahoo.

At the time, Yahoo (along with most other American corporations) was under fire for failing to provide adequate leave time for expectant parents. That policy soon changed, following a recent trend toward offering more benefits as a way of attracting employees.

It was a conceptual breakthrough: People like benefits. The algorithms for that had apparently not yet been created.

So here’s what Mayer said this week: “I plan to approach the pregnancy and delivery as I did with my son three years ago, taking limited time away and working throughout.”

In other words, you can take your silly old parental leave if you want, but the real forward thinkers in this organization will be chatting up investors until just before the episiotomy.

Some people were unkind enough to suggest that it was easy for someone with a net worth of $300 million and a support staff of 26 (real number not known) to make such a decision. Other parents, less fortunately situated, might have a little more trouble.

Question: If your child has a cough, probably nothing serious but you can’t be too careful, who takes them into the clinic? You or your husband (currently in Dubai) or a paid nanny? Fourth option: Build your own desk-side pediatrician’s office. As the kids say, check your privilege.

Of course, there’s another way to formulate the problem: Shall I fully participate in an often life-altering process of love and nurture and concern, or should I go all out to ensure maximum return on the investment of some creepy old Libertarians who live in Los Altos Hills?

Do I get to have a life? When I am 88 and the tiny children come around and ask me, Granny, what words of wisdom do you have, do I tell them: Remember, you can always use toilet time to answer e-mail?

Or do I just give them my seven tips on how to pack a suitcase?

I don’t mean to make light of these decisions. We have all had to make them. We have to earn our keep, and we have to do things to make sure we can hang on to our jobs. Stuff falls between the cracks. Mostly it’s the women who get stuck with the dirty jobs, but we all have made those compromises.

And I can see how this might be an agonizing decision for someone who, for instance, works for Doctors Without Borders. Do I serve humanity in its hour of need, or do I stay home to protect and care for my infant son? There can be real, agonizing self-sacrifice involved. Duty or family, duty or family?

I’m sorry, but this is Yahoo. Yahoo. What does Yahoo even do that some other company doesn’t do better? Maybe there’s an answer for that question, but it’s not an obvious one. Yahoo is just a company trying to ride the tech boom like every other company, looking to make a bundle before the bundle business dries up.

So, like: unique opportunity for fulfilling life experience and deep unconditional love, or Yahoo? Companies are asking for more and more hours to pursue ever more trivial tasks. People are weeping at their desks so that Amazon can produce ever more efficient ways to buy grill forks. Consumers, like the sentient slime of science fiction novels, are coddled by bots and programs designed to extract maximum cash in whiffs of pink perfumed smoke.

Is that a little much? Yeah, well …

Mayer might have said, “I plan to approach the pregnancy and delivery as I did with my son three years ago, except this time I’ll be getting up every time the babies cry and singing desperate lullabies at odd hours and walking slowly through the park, and I urge each of you to do exactly the same, and don’t worry about Yahoo at all.”

I wish Mayer all the best; I wish all new parents the best. It’s a long and unpredictable journey, and even the best stories are fraught with pain and danger. Mayer’s son is still not 4 yet; maybe she should take them all on a nice camping trip around Norway. For, like, three months.

Wouldn’t that be lovely? A nice smell of grilling fish in the evenings, the light of the long winter evening reflecting off the lake, the sound of the bluethroat calling in the trees. Or, you know, Hawaii.

“Very true,” said the Duchess, “flamingos and mustard both bite. And the moral of that is — birds of a feather flock

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