My maternity leave is coming to an end next week. This has me thinking that I am likely as grossly ill prepared for the return to work as I was for the reality of maternity leave. In my pre-baby ignorance I remember wistfully looking at the women who headed out of office on maternity leave thinking how lucky they were to be away from office politics, work shoes and traffic filled commutes for a blissful 90 days. They always seemed ‘on their game’ when they returned. Not to mention how awesome they looked when they came back to work too – hair & nails on point and so on…In my ignorance I somehow but not quite pictured maternity leave as a 3 month vacation dotted with the odd spa day and blissfully rife with baby cuteness.
I was so clueless.
Today, I can tell you, not only was I ignorant, I was stupid. Here are 5 ways maternity leave is certainly not vacation:
- Near dangerous levels of sleep deprivation: Babies don’t sleep through the nights. This means parents don’t sleep. You probably know that BUT unless you have been through it, you likely won’t understand that this results in parents walking around in near catatonic states all day because – babies also don’t sleep all day and, even worse, in those first few weeks, you check on sleeping babies every 5 seconds to ensure they are breathing. Vacation = no set wake up time and relaxed sleep time. Sure, there’s no set wake up time – but you are semi awake all the time on maternity leave. I have not slept comfortably since my son was born.
- Maternity leave is clothing optional: Ok. If you are a nudist, you may see this as a similarity when you read that subtitle. Its not. My maternity leave “clothing” is so far from a vacation wardrobe it is really quite sad. Don’t have kids? Think of your three oldest, most shapeless T-shirts. Now picture them stained with grease, urine, poo, and something from every meal you ate for the past few days. That image = my good maternity leave clothing. I lived in my husband’s t-shirts and maternity tops that lost their cuteness at month 8 of pregnancy. My hair lived in a satin cap (yes, a gross brown satin cap) because the thought of it touching my skin would only add to the endless heat that plagued me throughout my totally not spa experience of maternity leave. Breastfeeding = near nudity ALL THE TIME. Literally clothes rubbing on my nipples would feel like torture so tops often were not worn. hence the view that the maternity leave experience was clothing optional. Now, we new moms clean up nice (real nice) when people come over BUT for the majority of those all alone mat leave days, you look like a sleep deprived homeless person.
- Mood swings: The first day we brought my son home, I think I cried every ten minutes. The mix of emotions is overwhelming. Your life has changed. You are in charge of a WHOLE PERSON. You are someone’s meal source. BUT you’re a mom! You are finally a family and oh my goodness look at those feet!. Yeah, mood swings are likely a major reason companies don’t let mommies back to work quickly. Its been more than three months and I am still a passenger on the emotional roller coaster of new mommy-hood.
- No Phone Zone: I remember when my friends had kids suddenly you could never reach them by phone. The first time the phone rang when I was putting my son to sleep, I put him down and ripped out the battery. i get it now. my friends were not dodging me – they were avoiding baby cries. No landline phones are plugged in as I type this. I don’t even remember what my mobile phone’s ring tone is. My Whatsapp message says “responses will be VERY delayed”. You get the picture. On vacation you have the luxury of time and space you use your phone to be social. Since I became a new mom my phone is a glorified camera.
- Work work work work work work: Working on vacation is for crazy, OCD people. On maternity leave you are CONSTANTLY working. Even if you have help, your mind is constantly in work mode as questions like “are the bottles sterilized” and “when last did baby eat/ nap/ poo” dominate your mind usually as you are washing dishes, wiping a cute bum or even walking down stairs. This leads to exhaustion and accidents. I don’t know a mom that survived maternity leave without a small mishap of some sort. I fell down a ten foot flight of stairs – running to my child. I have never run in panic on vacation.
Maternity leave is NOT vacation. When its coming to an end though, its emotional and you must begin to practice leaving your gift from GOD with a caretaker for periods of time. This is why those mommies came back from maternity leave with hair all done and nails looking tight. You leave baby and fight back tears as you realize those short trips to the spa/ grocery will soon be replaced by entire days of missed firsts with your little one. But..if you do find yourself having those moments of sadness as I have been, console yourself by knowing that if you did have paid maternity leave, you were lucky. Swaziland, Lesotho, Papua New Guinea and the United States of America do NOT have paid maternity leave.
Do your thing mommies. We’re blessed to have maternity leave at all!