I had some pretty big plans for my maternity leave. I started mine early due to back problems and all I remember from those first weeks is frantically cleaning the house in between watching Dawson Creek re-runs. I had no idea what to expect when my baby arrived but I suspected my days of lying on the couch lusting after Joshua Jackson were coming to an end. So I allowed myself the luxury of some time off….in between the crazy cleaning. However, I had a whole list of things I planned to do along with taking care of my new baby. You probably won’t be surprised to hear that those plans pretty much fell apart in the weeks following my daughter’s birth.
Here are just some of the things I promised myself that I would do while on maternity leave. Life was probably rubbing its hands with glee all through my pregnancy!
1. I’d always make an effort with my appearance
I actually planned the outfit I would leave the hospital in after my c-section. Both daughter and mama would look the business. Daughter looked an adorable snuggly bundle….mama not so much. The dress that had looked great with my snug bump now looked less than flattering with a slightly saggy, post-baby middle, my shoes barely fit thanks to my trés attractive swollen feet and my hair ….well the less said the better. Time went on and I spent too many minutes stressing about how I looked. I think I subconsciously believed that if I looked less than perfect I would be losing a part of myself forever; pre-baby me having far too much time to obsess over matching clothes combinations.
Nowadays I have a crazy toddler and don’t have much time for the worries that used to plague me. So some days I might take my time getting ready in the mornings….others (most days) I grab my trusty jeans, pull on a comfy top, apply concealer (otherwise I make small children scream) and go! I have realised there is more to life and more to living than worrying about how I look. Oh I’m not completely cured of my insecurities by any means but I am a lot more realistic.
2. I’d lose all the baby-weight before I returned to work (what was I thinking?)
I somehow assumed the baby weight would fall off me without a whole lot of effort on my part. Not sure where I picked up that nonsensical gem. As maternity leave progressed I realised the weight was falling off but not quite at the rate I expected. After having a section you are given a leaflet with gentle exercises to help with healing so I did those….for a few days. During a house move, a few months later, I found that leaflet covered in dust under my bed.
I walked quite a bit with my baby girl in her buggy but strolling probably doesn’t burn that many calories. And, quite often, I stopped off in the shop for a treat on the way home; lack of sleep making me crave sugary goodies. This meant I ended maternity leave carrying rather more weight than I had hoped. The photos from my daughter’s christening still haunt me but now I look at weight loss as more of a marathon rather than a sprint and to be honest I’m too busy to start training for it yet.
3. I would finish my novel
Ah yes my novel…I had such high hopes. Again I started off working away with a determination during nap-times and then…well then I really don’t know what happened! Perhaps it was the hideous laundry explosion that seemed to take place in my house everyday. Perhaps it was the fact that my baby went through a phase of cat-napping for 20 minutes before waking again. Perhaps it was the lack of sleep draining away all my energy so finally when I had time to myself all I wanted to do was watch sitcom re-runs on TV. It could have been any of those things.
I have such respect for (and severe envy of) women who manage to write a book or start their own business while on maternity leave. Can I please borrow your energy and will-power next time around?
4. I would do an evening course
An evening course…ha! Come evening time I was usually too worn out from the day to do anything except pray my baby would sleep for a few hours so I could lapse into a sleep coma of my own and finally feel somewhat human again. I believe I did browse a catalogue or two with the best of intentions and I remember emailing someone about art classes but it came to nothing in the end.
Having time to myself to just do nothing became my priority. I never realised how much joy there is in even having just five minutes to yourself for a cup of tea and a brief (very brief) read of a magazine.
5. Most importantly I would stay true to myself, I’d be a mum but not a mum thank you very much
Confession time I was scared of becoming mum; that all knowing, all powerful entity who magically knows where every single item in the house is and can wipe away tears while working and cooking dinner. I think the real worry I had was that I wouldn’t be up to the challenge, that I’d fall at the first hurdle. So I wanted to stay the me that I knew, the me that rang her own mother every time life became a little too bumpy.
It’s scary becoming a mother. It’s such a big thing you can’t even grasp the enormity of it until it happens. I worried I would lose my sense of self amidst the nappies and laundry…and perhaps I did for a while. I worried I would suddenly morph into someone I didn’t recognise or even have anything in common with. Now that I am at the other side of it all, I am perfectly happy to be ‘mummy’; the one who comes running in the night when she hears those first whimpers and the one who knows exactly where that tiny toy dinosaur got to.
My plans may all have come to nothing but I did learn one important thing, I learned how to be a mother.
So if, like me, you find maternity leave isn’t exactly what you signed up for, take heart. You might get lost for a little while, maternity leave might seem a strange and sometimes lonely place. You might have days where you feel like running away from it all. But you will get through it. Keep talking to people. Don’t be afraid to admit you are having a bad day. And don’t stress about all those plans pregnant you made; she had no idea what she was talking about!