While pregnant with my first child, I had visions of a decadent maternity leave. The first week, I imagined, I’d probably be a bit sore and tired, so I’d likely sleep a lot and just chill with my family. After that, since babies sleep all the time, I planned to do All. The. Things. around my house. I was going to separate my wardrobe, mend holes in the wall, touch up the paint.
I was going to run errands I never had time for. My baby would sleep in the car en route to the eye doctor, for instance. Then, he’d sit in his little car seat while I got my eyes examined. Obviously.
I planned a few lunches per week, with baby in tow.
And I was going to read some books.
By the time the academic semester began, I’d return to the classroom refreshed and brimming with abundant joy as a new mom.
I planned to breastfeed my baby, which the books told me should take up to 40 minutes each time, but somehow that didn’t register as time consuming (and, of course, my baby would be efficient and nurse way faster than those book babies).
And how long does it really take to do other things? A few minutes for an outfit change? Slap on a fresh diaper sometimes? Right? Maternity leave is basically a party with a cute baby.
I really thought these things! If you’re expecting for the first time, maybe you think them, too?
I ran into a new mom today, who told me she, too, had really believed her maternity leave would be a vacation. She, like me, was taken aback to discover how truly difficult those early days of motherhood can be. Here is how we spent maternity leave:
1. Recovering physically. Prior to getting pregnant, I played rugby for over a decade. I was used to physical challenges and thought labor would be like a rugby match–I’d limp a little for a few days and then be fit as a fiddle. I was utterly unprepared for the type of recovery my body needed after growing and then expelling a human being. It took a good 10 days until I could walk around the block in one attempt, let alone do anything in addition to that.
2. Recovering mentally. If you’ve never been in charge of a newborn human, you might not know how desperately they depend on adults for survival. It is a big awakening to come into that responsibility, that you are one of two adults solely responsible for helping this wee human do everything from belch to wipe away hourly feces.
3. Trying to sleep. Remember how babies don’t know how to do anything? That includes sleep. They don’t even know nighttime is a thing that happens, so they sure don’t sleep during that stage of the day. Even the very best sleepers still wake up every few hours to eat, and if you’re not used to that sort of sleep interruption, there’s just no way to know how shattering it feels. You won’t have the energy to open the refrigerator, let alone go shopping for spackle.
4. Trying to leave the house. Eventually, you will feel up to venturing out the door, and you will spend three hours attempting to make this happen. By the time you get all your things to the car, your baby will be hungry, and then you’ll wind up having to change both your clothes and suddenly, it will be 3pm and you might give up on lunch with your partner.
5. Relearning how to do everything. Nothing is the same with a baby. Not peeing, not making toast, not folding the laundry. I somehow thought my life would just be my regular life with an additional baby along. It took me…well, I’m still learning how to navigate the world while being “on” all the time, in charge of someone else’s survival in all ways. Everything, everything, everything comes with an opportunity cost. I spent a big chunk of maternity leave figuring out whether it was more important to trim my fingernails or pee during my baby’s brief spurts in between crying jags.
6. Realizing a baby is a person with ideas of his own. Theoretical babies do and don’t do all sorts of things. Actual babies are individual people, and they all have opinions on everything from which type of nipple they’d like to what speed they’d like you to march them up or down the stairs.
7. Adjusting expectations. Because I have a Type A personality, it was very hard for me to realize that unpredictability was part of my life now. It took a very long time to accept that a day where I both got dressed and ate food, all while keeping a tiny human alive, was a very good day.
Perhaps if my maternity leave had been 6 months instead of 6 weeks, I could have done some of the things I’d imagined I would achieve with my maternity. In the end, it was all I could do to locate a pair of clean pants once the time came for me to return to work.
Did your experience of maternity leave match your expectations? Leave us a comment to share your experience!