My wife spends a lot of time with our newborn. Wait. Make that “spent a lot of time with” him, because last week he turned 3 months old and her maternity leave ended.
For the past three months, she was on maternity leave, spending the entire day with our brand-new little guy as he adjusted to life outside of the womb. It was exhausting and precious and frustrating and emotional and boring and exhilarating and necessary and undervalued, and now it’s over. Because it’s finally time for him to grow up and take care of himself, the lazy little leech.
First things first, she’s lucky she got maternity leave. Despite the fact that the United States’ maternity leave policies lag behind nearly every Western country I can think of (disclaimer: I was educated in that same United States, so there are a lot I can’t think of), having time off to care for, nourish (both with love and affection and with actual caloric sustenance), and get to know your newborn is a blessing.
Second of all, I’m a dad, and I didn’t get any time off!
That’s not entirely true. My company gave me five days, which might—if you consider the fact that I can’t breastfeed and am therefore only half a parent—seem like enough time, unless you also consider the fact that babies don’t sleep, that pregnancy and labor are physically grueling, that I am a supportive partner to my wife and a necessary component of the household, and the fact that my son was in the NICU for two of those five days. Then maybe five days might seem a little short.
Five days for dads is bullshit (and even those five days were a luxury; most guys I know don’t get anything without using their vacation days). But three months for a new mom is arguably worse.
The first three months of a baby’s life are essentially just the last three months of his incubation, aka, the fourth trimester. They’re born, sure, but those first 90 days are spent allowing their bodies to develop and learn to live outside the womb. On top of that, it’s when they hit the three-month mark that things start getting good! (It’s actually more like the six-month mark, or the one-year mark…the three-year mark? How about the five?) Scratch that, things never get good. But they get a little better!
At first, thing that your wife expelled is a blob of uselessness — an immobile parasite draining your sleep, your energy, your patience, your finances. It’s not until the kid has been out and about for three months or so that maybe (emphasis on maybe) he starts to sleep a little better. And maybe he’ll toss an occasional smile your way because — huzzah! — finally some signs of an actual person begin to emerge.
Aaaaand then it’s back to work.
I’m sure some women don’t mind — again, I’m just a dad, but my stint as a stay-at-home parent wasn’t exactly my idea of a good time. Work can be a welcome respite. Besides, a fulfilling career is certainly nothing to feel guilty about, and my wife loves her job; she just wishes she had a little more maternity leave time to bond with the baby before going back to it.
Instead she has no choice. She’s yanked away before either of them are quite ready, forced to leave the kid in the hands of day care, or Grandma, or a nanny. All of which are varying degrees of convenient and expensive, and none of which are the same as Mommy. That’s where we’re at right now, dealing with that difficult choice, a lot sooner than we’d like.
It’s heartbreaking to hear my wife bemoan her newfound lack of time with our baby, but like so many Americans, we can’t afford to live — let alone raise two kids — on one salary, so it’s like GET OVER IT, LADY!
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