Over the past few weeks, particularly in the work environment, I’ve had people — both men and women — light-heartedly say something along the lines of, “You’re so lucky, when the baby comes you get a 3 month vacation!” while referring to my upcoming maternity leave. Each time, I’ve been taken aback and honestly haven’t been sure how to react.
Vacation?! Hold up, hold up. Let’s pause right there and set the record straight. Above: One of my first times venturing out with Gracie. I remember being nervous about absolutely everything – even the air!
Above: For the first few months, Grace woke up every 2- 3 hours throughout the night, and it’d sometimes take an equal amount of time to get her back to sleep. We were exhausted. Despite that, I loved moments like this where she’d fall asleep in my arms – I’d stare at her for hours.
What concerns me is the perception that maternity leave is a light-hearted span of time that’s used to seemingly swirl in flower fields with your newborn and catch up on z’s.
Here’s the truth about the first few months of your baby being born: It’s hard. You get nothing done. Zero, zip, nada. Nothing. And that’s okay because you just had a baby and have way more important things to worry about, like keeping this little, fragile human alive. In no way is it a vacation. In fact, many people find it to be one of the most trying times of parenthood.
The best word I can use to describe this time period is “adjustment.” Your baby is adjusting to life outside the womb, you’re adjusting to life with a newborn, and your body is healing from going through birth after nearly a year’s worth of growing that precious life.
Above: Gracie was just days home from the hospital here. Having little naps like this, and embracing skin to skin time, were some of my favorite quiet moments.
I don’t blame people for their misuse in wording. Until you’ve experienced having a newborn, there’s really no way you can know what it’s like. Months of not working would seem like a dream to anyone. In fact, I even remember myself thinking about how much time I’d have to leisurely focus on blogging and creative pursuits while on maternity leave with Gracie. I thought, “She’ll sleep, I’ll work, we’ll hang! It’ll be perfect!” as I proactively built my to-do list for the time period. I was so, so wrong.
It’s a time of unmistakable selflessness. There are sleepless nights where you’re not sure how you will function another minute without some shut-eye, frustrating hours where you can’t think of another possible way to soothe your crying baby, and days in which it’s all you can do to shower, much less go to the grocery store.
Any free moment (to which there are few) is spent cleaning, prepping, or even just laying down because of said sleepless nights. Sometimes you’re a bit bored, though you can’t seem to keep up. It can be lonely and isolating. And yet, every day is a new adventure filled with so much learning. With all those factors, I remember constantly looking at my growing to-do list and thinking, “I just can’t.” (I honestly don’t know how mothers who don’t or can’t take a maternity leave do it. Seriously, you are rockstars.)Above: Up with the rising sun really, really, really early one morning.
Of course, adjustment does happen, and it’s not all difficult. It’s also indescribably wonderful. You bond with your newborn. You experience what it’s like to take time slow. You sing, rock, play, lay together, and soak in the minutes as you watch your baby grow. It’s a truly special time and I consider myself lucky to have a maternity leave on my horizon, and to have had it with Gracie.
Equally as hard? Going back to work. I honestly struggled with it for a long time until our family got into a steady groove. Because, while maternity leave was certainly no vacation, it was still such a wonderful time that I cherished every moment of. Above: Finally getting the hang of things! This was on the lake during the weekend of Grace’s baptism. She was about 2 months old.
So, the next time you’re talking to an expecting or new mother – whether or not she’s working and anticipating a maternity leave – try to remember empathy for what she’s going through. Avoid phrasing that downplays all that she is experiencing, and all that she’s about to experience. Remember that she’s a warrior of sorts – she’s built a life, is about to (or has gone through) the crazy experience of birth, and all the adjustment that comes with it. She should be given respect and appreciation for all that she’s about to endure. “Vacation” certainly doesn’t cut it.
Oh, and to all the new moms out there: Don’t forget to actually take a vacation, once you feel ready. Even if it’s for a day. Even if it’s for an hour. You deserve it.
Did you take a maternity leave? Was your experience similar to mine? If you’ve taken multiple, did they get easier or harder with more kids in tow? I’d love to hear your thoughts!
PPS – Excuse the quality of the photos in this post! They were all taken on our phones, and some are a little grainy. I wanted to share the real, unedited moments with you as opposed to the polished ones.