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Cheering and Aching for Marissa Mayer

Monday night, after getting my two young kids fed and to bed, I sat down at my computer and clicked on a Facebook link announcing the news that Marissa Mayer, the new Yahoo CEO, was pregnant. My first thought? You go, girl!

And then I read this quote from Mayer: "My maternity leave will be a few weeks long and I'll work throughout it." And I gasped. Literally.

I am a conscientious objector in the mommy wars. I happen to be a full-time working mother of a daughter who is 4 ("and three-quarters!" she will tell you) and a 7-month-old son who started day care this week. But a mother's choice to stay home with her kids is something I admire and in some ways envy.

So the thought of Mayer's looming balancing act—pressure-cooker job, healing from childbirth, getting to know her newborn son, making the transition from couple to family—makes me positively ache for her.

I can't reconcile my gut reaction with what my head tells me: that women, particularly those as obviously extraordinary as Mayer, can do whatever they choose, and do it well. And it's not as if I think Mayer should refuse the job.

But maybe that's the point. Motherhood makes you understand more deeply than ever that your head isn't always the best arbiter of what's possible—or right.

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I know plenty of accomplished moms, and while none is a CEO of a gigantic tech company, many have big responsibilities. Not one thought her months-long maternity leave was too lengthy. All were still discombobulated, sleep-deprived and confused—if not clinically depressed—when they went back to work.

Before going on my first maternity leave five years ago, I had no idea what was coming. I was the sports editor here at the time, and at my going-away party, I remember telling the staff I was looking forward to reading the newspaper each morning with fresh eyes, not knowing beforehand what would be in it or what choices were made to plan it. My boss at the time, a relatively new dad, burst out laughing at the thought of me having the time to do that.

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Of course Mayer is different from most of the moms you or I know. She will have nannies and housekeepers. She won't have to entertain a preschooler while simultaneously trying to get her newborn to nurse without causing her excruciating pain—and then get dinner on the table. She won't have to make the daily choice: I have time to shower or eat—which is more important? And she's clearly possessed of an ambition that allows her to accomplish loads more than I could ever dream.

But even given those advantages she will struggle emotionally with being a new mother, just like everyone else. She will be doing that just three months after taking over as a high-profile CEO of a company in crisis. And realistically, she won't be able to take any time for herself.

Marissa Mayer has a tough road ahead. I will be cheering for her, and aching for her, every step of the way.

Used with permission of San Jose Mercury News Permissions Copyright© 2012. All rights reserved.

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