I’m expecting a baby at the end of June, which means that I’ll be on maternity leave for the majority of the summer. I’m looking forward to this, since I was on maternity leave for most of the winter with my first baby. But, I know that maternity leave is not the same as an easy, breezy summer vacation.
Before I had my first baby, I imagined that maternity leave would be a well-deserved vacation from my job. At the time, I worked long hours, sometimes staying at the office late in the evening. When I told my boss I was pregnant, she hoped that maternity leave would be a mental break for me.
My Maternity Leave Fantasy
In my maternity leave fantasy, I thought I’d have so much time to do everything I always wanted to do. My baby and I would wake up together at the crack of dawn, and I would drink my coffee and maybe even read the newspaper. We’d go to story hour at a local library and spend the rest of the afternoon strolling around town.
When we returned home, I’d clean while the baby napped. (My house was spotless and totally organized in my fantasy.) Then I’d craft, making something for my angelic little one and all his friends. After putting my angel to bed at 6 pm, I’d make something amazing for dinner. Finally, my husband and I would have a glass of wine together before heading to bed.
Permission for all moms everywhere to laugh at my delusion.
Here’s how I really spent my first maternity leave:
Week 1: Keeping the baby alive + recovering from labor.
When I boiled down my to-do list for week one of motherhood, the priorities became keeping the baby alive and trying to feel better. I spent that first week adjusting to being home from the hospital and figuring out how to feed my baby. I honestly hadn’t thought about either of these things before heading into maternity leave. It was very hard for me to wrap my head around how I was going to accomplish both. The hospital gave me a million things to read on how to care for my baby in that first week, and I spent most of that first week reading those papers.
Week 2: Keeping the baby alive + entertaining visitors.
I spent the second week finally understanding just how often I had to feed the baby after a jaundice scare. Also, my in-laws came to help us with the baby. I had planned for my husband and I to spend the first three weeks bonding with our baby alone. But as soon as I held my baby in my arms, I wanted to share him with everybody. Having my in-laws with us that second week was really great. While they held him for the hour-long breaks in between feedings, I showered and read more about how to keep the baby alive.
Week 3: ROAD TRIP!
We were CRAZY enough to take a nine hour road trip when my son was three weeks old. I really needed to get out of the house, and I wanted my parents who couldn’t travel to meet the baby. The trip pushed me into breastfeeding publicly. I was super terrible at this, but I’m so glad I pushed myself into the experience. It made breastfeeding much easier.
Week 4: RECOVERY.
While the road trip experience was amazing, it was also a lot on my body. I didn’t realize that recovery is no joke, and traveling really took a toll on my ability to recover quickly. Everything hurt. Tears flowed. But friends came through and told me that they experienced this pain too. I devoured all posts on the new mom Facebook groups my mom friends invited me to join. Best. Ever. It was so nice to know I wasn’t alone!
Week 5: Visiting with friends.
FINALLY! Wasn’t I supposed to be meeting friends out for lunch and drinks with my newborn all along? My baby was a month old when I met a friend out for a drink at a quiet happy hour. It was heaven. I was still super awkward at breastfeeding in public, but at least I had a drink in my hand and a friend by my side.
Week 6: Exercise?
Most women think about week six as the week the doctor says you’re fit for sex and exercise. I was so looking forward to my doctor giving me the OK for both, but what an anti-climatic appointment. She said I had healed up fine and everything seemed normal, but there was no “Go do it all!” approval from my doctor. I was so disappointed. I was expecting more fanfare, maybe confetti or a parade. At least a certificate or a sticker. Instead, it was a humbling moment. I realized that millions of strong women had come before me, recovered from giving birth, and had to return to normal life without a celebration.
Week 7: Daycare panic.
In the DC area, it’s recommended that you get on daycare waiting lists a year (or more!) before you need the service. So basically as soon as you know you’re pregnant. And actually, my husband and I did get on most waitlists about a year before we needed it. But seven weeks after having the baby, we still didn’t have a daycare lined up! I panicked and got us on other waitlists. What the heck were we going to do?
Week 8 through 12: Enjoying baby.
Finally. I spent the last weeks of my maternity leave enjoying my baby and adding my normal activities into my life one day at a time. I cleaned my house. I ran errands. I visited with friends. I essentially worked on being a normal person again. It was during these last weeks when we finally found a daycare through a neighbor and friend. I could start thinking about returning to work without panicking.
Maternity leave is definitely not a vacation. It was a humbling experience, and I felt lucky to take as much time off as I did to adjust to being a new mom. I learned how to accept help, take things day by day, and prioritize better. I’m still working on all of these things. While I continue to fantasize about what motherhood can look like (thanks, Instagram!), I have a greater perspective on why maternity leave is so important: healing, survival, and bonding with your new baby!
As I prepare for the arrival of my second baby, I have fewer expectations. I plan to prioritize recovery, getting to know my new baby, and figuring out how to be a mother of two. And that’s really enough.