A Friend Called Her Maternity Leave a ‘Holiday.’ It Was Anything but.

Samira Shihab, a founder and mom of three, holding her newborn baby.
Samira Shihab

  • Samira Shihab, a founder and a mom of three, says maternity leave is a crucial chapter.
  • Shihab wrote about maternity leave misconceptions in a LinkedIn post.
  • She said that she too was guilty of seeing leave as a time for relaxation.

Samira Shihab was on a catch-up call with a friend when he used the word “holiday” to refer to her maternity leave.

Shihab is a principal at AC Ventures, a venture capital firm that works with early-stage startups in Southeast Asia. She’s the founder of two Indonesia-based companies: Tinkerlust, an ecommerce app, and Stellar Women, a community for women in entrepreneurship.

Shihab, who is based in Jakarta, is also a mother to three kids, ages 12, 8, and three months. Her third child marked her first maternity leave — and it wound up being a time in which she reflected on the idea that maternity leave means you get a couple months “off.”

“I myself was guilty of it. Before maternity leave I was like I’m going to work on this and this. I’m going to be so energized, I’m going to write more articles,” Shihab told Business Insider in a call.

“And I didn’t get a chance to do any of that,” she added.

‘This is much harder work than analyzing Excel spreadsheets’

On the eve of her return to work after 90 days of maternity leave, Shihab wrote a LinkedIn post about her experience.

“First off, we need to recognize maternity leave for what it is: a vital period of adjustment and bonding. It’s not a vacation; it’s a crucial chapter for all working moms,” Shihab wrote on LinkedIn on February 12.

Before going on maternity leave, Shihab thought it would be a time for relaxation. But it was anything but a holiday: Taking care of a newborn meant constantly being at her demand, feeding her, changing her, all while not getting a lot of sleep.

“I was thinking to myself the first week: Oh my God, this is true physical labor. I’m in a leadership position — I do mostly strategy and managing different teams. But I should get paid more for doing this. This is much harder work than analyzing Excel spreadsheets,” she told BI, referring to caring for her newborn.

Shihab with her three daughters, who are 12, 8 and 3 months old.
Samira Shihab

Shihab also said her new list of tasks as a working mother was a wakeup call: “You’re not really going back to your old life. You’re kind of going back to an updated life in which you need to then juggle.”

Shihab is in good company when it comes to women discovering and defining what maternity leave means for them.

Anarghya Vardhana, a Bay Area-based venture capitalist, had just given birth, when one of the companies in her portfolio found itself in an emergency situation. So she cradled her newborn and logged on to a Zoom video call to help the company navigate an acquisition offer, BI previously reported.

“I have biological children and my portfolio companies, which are also children,” Vardhana told BI.

Saira Taneja is another business leader who balanced career growth and motherhood, BI reported.

Taneja was pregnant during her job interviews and went on maternity leave two months after joining her new company, where she was the highest-ranking woman. She says was able to bond with her baby without compromising her duties as an employee because the company gave her time and resources from the start.

Women in male-dominated fields such as venture capitalism are also taking it upon themselves to spearhead maternity policies.

Allison Baum Gates previously told BI that she was the first pregnant person and the only female general partner at her firm, which meant the company had no policy for maternity leave. After talking to other women in the industry, Baum Gates put together her own proposal of five months leave.

Parental leave policies

The majority of Asian countries offer a minimum of 12 weeks of paid maternity leave, with countries such as Vietnam mandating six months of leave, according to the World Policy Analysis Center.

In Indonesia, maternity leave is 90 days and most startups and smaller companies abide by that, said Shihab.

Employees in the US are not guaranteed any paid maternity leave, making it one of seven countries with no paid leave policies.

Mothers with full-time jobs in America work an average of 14 hours a day or 98 hours a week between child and home duties and their actual jobs, BI previously reported.

Shihab said she took maternity leave on her own definition.

She went back to work three weeks after having her second child, because her ecommerce startup was new and needed her: “I wasn’t replaceable and I knew it.”

And with her third child, the lines between parenting and working were also blurred.

“I was always on Slack and plugged into my email, so not a hundred percent checked out. But that’s not the company to blame – that’s the person I am,” Shihab said about her maternity leave.

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