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Maternity leave is already a controversial topic in the U.S., which is the only developed nation without federally mandated paid maternity leave. Photo: Getty Images

From here to 'Meternity': US Writer stokes debate over family leave

Meghann Foye's fictional work about faking a pregnancy strikes a nerve on a real issue, but she says her message was misinterpreted


Should women who don't have children be able to take maternity leave?

Author Meghann Foye, 38, sparked criticism after her new book, "Meternity", was published. The fictional novel is about a 31-year old woman who fakes a pregnancy so "she'll get what she perceives is the rights and privileges of the moms on staff" Foye explains.

The book was inspired in part by Foye's own self-financed sabbatical, which she took around the time many of her friends and co-workers were having children.

The New York Post ran a story about Foye's break—using the attention grabbing headline "I want all the perks of maternity leave—without having any kids." The story sparked online outrage, as well as a broader discussion.

The novelist, however, said the New York Post misinterpreted her message.

"It was really just meant to be my personal story—and I had called it a 'meternity leave' but basically just as a joke to myself because all my friends were having kids," she said.

Maternity leave is already a controversial topic in the U.S., which is the only developed nation without federally mandated paid maternity leave. Times are changing, however. as workplaces to some degree have become more flexible.

This year, San Francisco became the first city to require fully paid parental leave, and New York joined California, New Jersey, and Rhode Island in requiring paid time off state-wide. Media giant Netflix offers unlimited paid parental leave for the child's first year.

Yet, according to the Department of Labor, only 12 per cent of U.S. employees actually get paid family leave from their employer.

When parents take leave to be with their newborns, someone in the office has to pick up the slack. That forms the crux of one of Foye's complaints.

"I had always thought in my twenties you work really hard and you cover for the women who are in their 30s or 40s who have kids but eventually the cycle will come around for you," says Foye. "But I think at that moment…it didn't happen for me, and I just started to think what am I going to do – it is a little bit unfair."

Yet the author says her perspective changed when her friends started having kids.

"You really see from the other side how difficult it is for moms going through this, and how it's not easy at all, they're doing two jobs and I don't feel that way anymore," Foye added

However, she says during this media firestorm people on both sides of the debate reached out to her. She noted that at least some people think its unfair.

So does everyone in the workplace deserve a break?

If an employee has a really great track record at work and can show their employer how a break will allow them to come back and be more productive and creative, then Foye believed workers should have that conversation with their boss.

"I don't think people deserve a break necessarily, but I think it can be a positive thing," says Foye.