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Bye, Bye Baby

Marissa Mayer, chief executive officer of Yahoo! Inc., smiles during TechCrunch Disrupt SF 2012 in San Francisco, California, U.S., on Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2012. Mayer is trying to drive a turnaround at a company that suffered three straight years of sales declines as Google Inc. and Facebook Inc. did a better job attracting users and advertisers. Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Photograph by Bloomberg via Getty Images

Freshly minted Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer, 37, gave birth to her first child on Sunday and caught a small amount of heat from the press for attempting to name her bouncing baby boy via crowd-sourcing.

She’s also drawing some ire because she’s planning an abbreviated maternity leave—like, 1 to 2 weeks abbreviated—during which time she says she’ll continue working.

Mayer isn’t the first woman to shun mother-child bonding time after giving birth. Victoria Beckham was back at work faster than she was back in her skinny jeans after giving birth to baby Harper in 2011. Ivanka Trump had “meetings on the calendar” two weeks after Arabella was born last year.

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It might make some postpartum women feel a tad wimpy for squeezing out every last second of their 6- or 8-week maternity leave when they read on the pages of People magazine about their more glamorous counterparts taking conference calls from their hospital beds. But it might also make them feel inadequate if they compare their homes and bank accounts to those famous women. Or their gowns for the Oscars (oh, wait, most of us don’t actually go to the Oscars).

To her critics, it’s apparently not enough that Mayer ascended to one of the most high-profile positions in the business world, or that she’s blazing a trail as a woman at the top of a major tech company. Now she also needs to make herself into a role model for other moms in the workforce? Can’t she just do what she needs to do to forward the company that hired her? Is it really her responsibility to go above and beyond what’s outlined in her employment contract?

We can talk all we want about women having it all, but how each woman defines “it all” is up to her.

Not every little girl dreams of becoming a mom. And even the ones who don’t and still become one anyway don’t necessarily declare after giving birth that their lives are complete. Some don’t want to lose steam in their careers and are content paying for others to help rear their children. Many of those children turn out just fine, and even better than the ones whose mom stayed home to attend to their every need.

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Mayer will figure out on her own if trying to juggle a career and child is too much. She’ll know in her bones in a few weeks’ time if the heartache of kissing her baby goodbye each morning is too much to bear. Maybe she’ll weep in her office when she realizes that pumping is more tedious than watching paint dry. Maybe she’ll let her milk dry up before she even knows the difference. Maybe her son will resent her someday because she wasn’t there for him in the early days.

We can talk all we want about women having it all, but how each woman defines “it all” is up to her; it’s not our place to force our values onto Mayer, or anyone else.

Sure, it would be a shame if other bosses took a page from Mayer’s book and forced new moms to work during their already-too-short maternity leaves. But there are some protections afforded by law to postpartum woman. And it’s doubtful that anyone working at a local bank, insurance agency, grocery store or school is paying close attention to what the CEO of Yahoo is doing following her labor and delivery.

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Ben Affleck recently admitted to Details magazine that his career comes first, and even when he’s present with his family, his mind is often on work, So why isn’t it OK for moms to do the same if it’s the truth? Maybe Mayer has a well-vetted nanny waiting in the wings. Maybe her parents or siblings live nearby and plan on spending quality daylight hours with her baby boy. Is her husband taking an extended paternity leave, perhaps? Don’t we all figure it out one way or another?

We seem to constantly decry a woman’s right to choose, and we cry endlessly about trying to have it all. But sometimes we probably just need to stop and accept that “it all” isn’t always possible, which is when we then pick and choose based on what makes us tick. It appears as if Mayer has chosen, and it’s simply not up to us to like or even accept her choice. That’s the beauty of it after all, isn’t it?

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