The Truth About Maternity Leave (Hint: It’s Not A “Vacation”)

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!

PS – Returning To Work After Maternity Leave, The Story of Grace’s Delivery + Perils of a Pregnant Woman in Heels.

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.


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13 thoughts on “The Truth About Maternity Leave (Hint: It’s Not A “Vacation”)

  1. Maya

    Although I don’t know what it’s like to have a kid, I definitely know it’s not even close to being a vacation – I learned that from watching you after Gracie! I’m excited for little girl #2, even though I know it’s going to be crazy for a few months! xx

  2. Daly

    Love this Em! Beautifully written and so important for those of us who don’t always know the right words to say to our friends who are going through this!

  3. Kailey

    Maternity leave, and motherhood in general, is misunderstood by so many people. Thank you for being real, and putting it out there how hard it can be. XOXO

  4. Katie

    My sweet little girl was born in September and I just started back to work a few weeks ago. My favorite line from a co-worker thus far, “Wow. You’ve been gone so long! I bet you feel super rested!” Uh huh… those are the exact words I would use to describe how I’m feeling these days. 🙂

  5. Adi

    Such beautiful shots!! Also an interesting read, thanks!
    Adi xx

  6. Rachel Ziehnert

    Love this!! How true it is. I think maternity leave should be 6 months long because let’s be real, there are still SO MANY adjustments happening months 3-6, and many many sleepless nights still. I didn’t get any maternity leave, and while I don’t work a “normal” 9-5 job, I was constantly consumed with work and when and how I was going to get it done. It was the only option for us, and by God’s grace we managed to make it work, but I look back on those months and truly hate how divided I always felt and how there was never hope of any rest. It was true survival mode, and I wish more than anything that I didn’t have to juggle both during that time. Those first few months are so precious and any “down” time should be spent resting and enjoying our babies!!

    1. Emily | Isn't That Charming Post author

      Totally agree, Rachel! 6 months would be amazing. Major kuddos to you for working throughout that adjustment phase, I give you so much credit. It’s amazing how it goes by so fast, isn’t it?! The days feel long but all of a sudden months have gone by and you’re left wondering where the time went. Even more of a reason to enjoy every second with our kiddos!


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