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6 Things Maternity Leave Definitely Isn’t

Jill Devine

I’ve been back at work for about a month now and I’m slowly getting the hang of my new routine now that I have a baby. I actually still can’t believe I’m a mom!  At times, I will look into Lu’s eyes and I will tell myself, “She’s yours! You and Brian created this beautiful baby girl!” It’s surreal and one of the best things that has happened to me!

Between my sister and my best friends, I had some experience with kids, but it’s true what they say… you don’t really know what it’s like until you have your own child. I definitely didn’t know how hard it would be or the crazy things I would obsess over (more on that in a minute).  So I decided to write down my thoughts to provide a little insight and maybe a little help to future moms-to-be.

IT’S NOT A VACATION

I will admit – and I feel a little guilty about this – I thought maternity leave would be like an extended vacation. Of course I knew it wasn’t like a beach vacation, but I thought it was a long period of time off where you would be able to do all sorts of things for yourself and your baby. If you’re a mom and that last line made you laugh so hard you spit your drink out, I get it. I absolutely, 100% get it! Maternity leave is most definitely not a vacation!!!! But I had no clue what to expect. People would make comments about me being on the go with Lu, saying that we were having such a good time shopping, eating out, catching up with friends, etc. Yes, we did have the opportunity to go out to lunch and/or dinner, but many times I wanted to stay at home because it was (still is) such a process to get Lu and myself ready (don’t send me your “first-world problems” comments. This is something I wasn’t prepared for and it should be discussed). I worried about how she would act at a restaurant. If she cried, would people be upset? Would I be the reason they didn’t enjoy their meal??!?!  Then I would get anxiety about going, but for my own sanity (and Lu’s), we had to get out of the house and be humans.  I had to learn what it was like to be out in the real world with a baby because the day to go back to work was knocking on my door.

IT’S NOT FOR TACKLING THE TO-DO’S

I also thought I would be able to tackle my “to-do” list while I was on maternity leave. You know how you take a day off here and there to get caught up on things around the house? I thought I would get caught up on EVERYTHING! Let me just say that the “to-do” list is growing by the second and not getting touched anytime soon. Do not, let me repeat, DO NOT put together a list of projects you plan to tackle because you will not get to it. Don’t even waste your time putting the list together.

IT’S NOT GUILT’S TIME TO SHINE

Thankfully, a friend of mine had her baby 4 weeks before me and she has been a huge help (and continues to be – I go to her with lots of questions). She would always remind me, “It gets easier.” I didn’t believe her. On my darkest days, I was emotionally drained and in physical pain. I would cry and cry and cry and cry. I wanted to throw in the towel. Then I would feel guilty for wanting to throw in the towel because to me, it meant giving up on Lu. I couldn’t understand how I would want to walk away from my child for a brief moment of time and then bawl because I didn’t want to leave her. New moms, you HAVE to know that it’s ok to want to walk away from your baby and be by yourself. It was a hard lesson to learn and it’s still a lesson I have not mastered, but I’m not sure I ever will.

IT’S NOT A MOMMY-FINAL EXAM

When I was pregnant, I was very much one of those people who read every book that was given to me. It’s my personality! While I have no regrets about reading those books (because I did learn a lot of valuable information), you can never truly be prepared. No matter how many books you read or how much advice you receive, you learn as you go. Every child is different and I think it’s great to ask for advice and see what others are doing, but you can’t beat yourself up if it’s not what your child is doing. I had a hard time with that. I had/have to realize, Lu is her own person and she will do things her way.

IT’S NOT RELAXING

Something else happened while I was on maternity leave – I obsessed over everything! I would question everything I was doing for Lu. I kept saying I wanted to set her up for success and I never knew if I was. I obsessed (still do) over her breathing because I couldn’t hear her breathe when she was sleeping. I would think she was going to suffocate and I would not be able to save her. I obsessed over the time. When was her last bottle? How long has she been asleep? How long have I slept? Did she poop today?  What color was it?  What was the consistency?  Yes, you will obsess over poop and talk about poop more than you ever have in your life!  All of this obsessing became a mind game and quite honestly, it still is.

IT’S NOT A SOLO JOURNEY

There’s no way I could have gotten through maternity leave without my amazing and loving support system.  From Brian, to my family, to my dear friends … each one of these people saw me at my worst.  Each one of these people never left my side.  Each one of these people provided me with positive and uplifting words and never let me sink into a dark place.  I’m forever grateful for each one of them and thank you isn’t enough.

IT IS A TIME FOR LEARNING

You truly learn the meaning of unconditional love on maternity leave. When you accidentally touch baby poop and it just slightly grosses you out, but you just move on. Or when a little bit of spit up got in your food, but you don’t care because you’re so hungry that you eat it anyway. I think it’s one of the initiations to parenthood!

So maternity leave really isn’t a vacation. It’s a time for adjustment and learning, but it’s also filled with some of the best cuddles in the whole wide world. All I want is to be the best mom to Lu. Providing her with love is one of the ways I can be the best mom. I know one thing that I’m doing right and that’s giving her more love than you will ever know.

And my friend was actually right, it does get easier.

Oh, one last comment to parents with multiple children: If you ask if I did/bought X, Y, or Z for Lu and then respond with, “typical first child situation” (or something along those lines) just remember that you once were a first time mom. Maybe I did buy something elaborate, but I didn’t know any better and honestly, I’m ok with figuring it out on my own. AND if you give me trouble for wanting to go home to see my daughter after work instead of going to a happy hour and you tell me that eventually I will want to go to happy hour instead of cuddling with my child, don’t be offended if I walk away from the conversation :).

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