Maternity leave is the ultimate fantasy; a unicorn with gossamer wings, soaring over rainbows and sprinkling the world with golden pixie dust. It is a magical time when women can set aside the cold realities of the workday and spend their moments in a nurturing reverie with their newborn. We dream of using this time to bond with our babies, recover from nasty childbirths, and accomplish some of the thousands of incomplete tasks that have been accumulating since we entered the workforce.
It was, in fact, magical, but many of my bubbles were burst before I headed back to work. Some common myths I wish I’d known beforehand:
1. You will accomplish things during your time off.
Let’s face it, no one still believes that they’ll be able to pen the next great novel while caring for a baby round-the-clock. But considering that was the longest chunk of time I’d ever had off, I’d hoped to accomplish a few things.
My maternity leave to-do list:
- Organize house
- Read “The Happiest Baby on the Block”
- Cook healthier meals
- Lose baby weight
- Binge-watch Friday Night Lights
After a few weeks, I realized that I hadn’t crossed anything off my list. So I added a few items that I would have to eventually check off:
- Brush teeth
- Feed baby
- Clean spit-up off couch
By the end of the day, I saw that I’d only crossed off “feed baby.” At least I crossed it off like, twelve times.
2. You can get to places that are only open during work hours.
Bank, dry-cleaning, spin class that meets at 10 a.m. on Wednesdays. I was going to do it all.
Alas, there was a dent in the right side of the couch where I’d planted myself for 37 days straight. The checks never got deposited, the dry-cleaning sat at the cleaners. And most of the time I couldn’t even tell whether it was day or night (forget knowing what day of the week it was), so I missed that spin class every single time.
3. You will finally have time to see people.
Yes! Twelve weeks without a pesky job to interfere with my hang time. So…anyone want to meet up? Anyone? I have from 4 a.m. to 12 p.m. open. Then from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. slots available. Everyone’s working or sleeping? That’s insane.
Maybe I’ll just hang out with the other mothers on maternity leave. Okay, your son naps from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.? Damn, that’s when mine is awake. Should one of us change our baby’s nap schedule so we can…hahahahahaha. Just kidding. See you never.
4. You will be there for the important moments.
One Thursday, I literally stared at my infant for 18 hours straight. My husband relieved me so I could run to the drugstore for more pain meds. In the 10 minutes I was gone, the baby learned to suck her thumb and giggled for the first time. Lesson learned: never take your eye off the prize.
5. You will take your baby outside more.
Unless your baby was born in the wintertime. Or the blazing heat of summer. Or it’s raining out. Or your neighbor is doing construction on their house and debris is flying. Or Bravo is cycling through all their seasons of Top Chef.
That’s okay; you can always leave the house tomorrow.
6. Your job will miss you.
Somewhere in the back of my head, I came to believe that I was irreplaceable at my job. And then, faster than I could say “cervical dilation,” someone new came in and slipped effortlessly into my vacated shoes. When coworkers visited, I wanted to hear all the missteps, the rookie mistakes, how the workplace wasn’t the same without me. But no, I was replaced by a perfectly competent worker, one who could have easily slid into my position should I have decided to stay home with the baby full time.
Which I’m not doing, so back away, vultures!
7. You will want to return to work.
Wait, what did I do for a living? Something with computers? The Mob? Beekeeping? It’s all a foggy blur. Now, if someone wanted to pay me to play peek-a-boo with my baby for 40 hours a week, I’d be down for that.
8. You will not want to return to work.
Maternity leave is a rare gift made rarer by the fact that it is fleeting. It’s a stretch of time (a few weeks, a few years) where the other aspects of your life fade into the background and you are allowed to be completely consumed by the care of your child. I wanted each second to last forever, because I knew it wouldn’t; I would have to go back to work eventually.
Though after the ninth diaper change in one morning, or that joyous foray into the land of colic, work sounded downright restful.