Pregnancy and childbirth does a number on your body from the moment you get a positive test. And shortly after, it begins to do a number on your mind.
Immediately after giving birth, it feels like you’ve been hit by a train. Nothing fits, your ability to process basic tasks and situations is running in slow-motion, and there’s literally someone screaming in your face around the clock.
So, with all the adjustments and stressors that take place in those first few months after childbirth, why do some folks still consider maternity leave to be some kind of vacation? C’mon, people. Anyone who’s foolish enough to think maternity leave is a walk in the park, especially considering that few folks are lucky enough to have one with full benefits, has clearly never had a child.
Maternity leave is a period of transition and it has obstacles at every stage. If you get to start your leave before the child is born, chances are, your days involve planning out the last details of clothes, hospital funds, and birth plans. You’re so freaking exhausted that you’d sell your right kidney to get that child out of you. When you’re 39 weeks with constant back pain, swollen feet, and a million baby outfits to wash it’s hard to see anything in life as enjoyable, let alone as a vacay. The only silver lining is that the countdown is on to when your bladder will no longer be bounced on like a beachball.
Once the baby (or babies) show up and maternity leave formally kicks off, things get harder, not better.
Sure, they’re cute. But chances are you’re so mentally exhausted from night feedings and time confusion that you don’t know up from down. Not to mention, you’re physically still healing. Vaginal tearing, anyone?
It took several weeks before I was able to walk at a normal pace after giving birth. It’s so easy to think you’ll be able to hit the ground running after baby, but childbirth, regardless of method, is a serious health event. Even if things go perfectly you’ll need lots of time for your body to heal and slowly regain full functioning. Hell, I’m almost six months postpartum and I’m still not back to my former glory.
Not only is walking the opposite of a “walk in the park,” but if you happen to have a vaginal tear — or an episiotomy like I did — you won’t really be able to sit either. Standing hurts since your back and your legs might still be weak, so you can forget that too. Basically, you’re always uncomfortable or in pain.
I’ll never forget how painful it was to pee during the first few weeks post-birth. And the first poop can be even more traumatic. Going through all of that while dealing with the multi-colored discharge and bleeding can sometimes feel like the stuff of nightmares.
After both of my children were born, I was afraid to wear anything other than adult diapers. There I was in my frumpy adult diaper alternating between hobbles and fatigue while trying to soothe a wailing infant who was either hungry, wet, or just plain terrified of life outside of the womb — it was anybody’s guess. Your body hurts, and sleep is so hard to come by you might forget what day it is.
Even if you didn’t physically birth your child, the adjustment period to a new baby is no freaking joke. Everyone is exhausted, there are a ton of pediatrician appointments, and bonding takes time and effort.
If you formula feed, you could have to learn measurements and consider allergies and cost. If you breastfeed, you might have the pain of overstimulated nipples, latch troubles, and potentially clogged ducts. I’ve been on the roller coaster that is breastfeeding twice. It’s gone great for me in the end, but the journey varies from kid to kid.
You’re doing all of this while hoping and praying that your baby is eating enough and that you’re bonding in a way that helps them grow and thrive. It improves with time. But again, those first few months are HARD.
And there will still be idiots who ask “So, when are you having your next one?” Who TF is worried about sex right now?
Remember, if you’re hit with the utter discomfort of not feeling like yourself in your own skin, your mental health will likely suffer too. Postpartum depression and anxiety can be brought on by some of the least expected triggers.
I experienced a mild case of postpartum depression after I had my first child. I didn’t know how I’d learn to be a good mother. Plus, I wasn’t sure what young motherhood would mean for my goals and aspirations. I’ll be the first to tell you that it’s hard gathering the strength to keep pushing for yourself and a child when your mental health is suffering.
Since my second child was born six months ago, I’ve felt like I’m walking on eggshells hoping that I don’t wake up one day battling severe depression or anxiety. It’s something you can anticipate but can never predict. That’s pretty damn scary.
Add in job insecurity, infant (or maternal) health challenges, or any other significant life change to the already difficult cocktail of emotions and your chances of mental health issues skyrocket.
And the above are only some of the many things that parents are dealing with during the maternity leave stage. It’s also before touching on the racial, income, and ability status or other health-related childbirth factors. Maternity leave exists so we can slowly acclimate to life post-baby. But unfortunately, there still are millions of parents who don’t have access to parental leave.
Seeing that transition period as bonus time off is ignorant AF and downplays the significant challenges that happen during the first few months of life with a new baby. It’s a time when there are a million things to do but so little time … and even less sleep.
Maternity leave is not a vacay; it’s a damn necessity.