When Alexis Glick gave birth to her first child in 2001, she was eager to spend at least 12 uninterrupted weeks bonding with him before returning to her high-pressure job as a trader at Morgan Stanley. But five days into her maternity leave, her boss asked her to head up the firm’s New York Stock Exchange business—starting immediately. “I remember sitting with my baby and saying, ‘Okay, is this going to be good for you and me or not?’” recalls Glick, now the anchor of Fox Business Network’s Money for Breakfast. She decided that the offer was the chance of a lifetime, and so, six weeks after having her son, she was back in the office. “There were times when I felt I was giving up my new mommy time, and I felt sad about that,” she says. “But I also realized you don’t get those opportunities very often. You have to seize the day.”
While pregnant, Glick never considered that taking a three-month maternity leave would be unreasonable. After all, it was endorsed by her company, and didn’t most women take off at least that? Doesn’t the body need time to heal? It’s not like one day you give birth and then—poof—the next afternoon you have your body and your life back. Or is it? In an era when France’s justice minister recently gave birth on a Friday and attended a cabinet meeting the following Wednesday—and when, more famously, Sarah Palin took just three days off from her Alaskan gubernatorial duties after the birth of her fifth child—an increasing number of women are making childbirth look, if not like magic, certainly a lot easier than it was for their mothers by taking mere weeks, not months, off from work.
“I don’t know anybody who is taking three months off anymore,” says a high-profile Manhattan boutique owner who brought her two toddlers to market appointments when they were just weeks old. “You can be tired at home or tired at the Balenciaga showroom,” she says.
Though many companies provide new mothers with six weeks’ paid leave, the 1993 Family and Medical Leave Act stipulates only that larger companies allow qualified employees 12 weeks of unpaid leave. (In a 2007 survey, out of 173 countries, the U.S. was one of only four that did not offer federally mandated paid maternity leave; Swaziland, Papua New Guinea and Lesotho were the others.) But many women these days are choosing to take only half of that. “By six weeks postpartum, typically everybody looks back to normal [internally],” says New York ob-gyn Rebecca Amaru, who adds that after a second or third child, a woman can feel back to normal in as little as two weeks.