To My Baby On My Last Week Of Maternity Leave

by Carrie O'Maley Voliva
A mother holding her baby and smiling while on her last week of maternity leave
monkeybusinessimages / Getty

I dropped off your daycare enrollment packet today. It’s official—you’ll join your big brother at “school” next week. I felt guilty at first for keeping your brother in school while I was home from work, but I soon learned how important our exclusive time has been. He got me all to himself for 20 months, and my life revolved completely around him for the 10 weeks I took off from work when he was born. You deserved your dedicated time, and I needed this time to focus on you.

Your birth was “easy” in the scheme of things. We were out of the hospital in 48 hours, and I was out and about running errands in my stretchy pants within a week. Unlike your brother, you were content to be put down and I was able to catch a few hours of sleep each night because I didn’t feel compelled to monitor every breath you took. (And don’t tell the pediatrician, but I allowed myself to fall asleep with you in my arms more than a few times.) Nursing also came easily for us and I didn’t spend the first few weeks intermittently crying from pain and talking to lactation consultants and fellow new moms at breastfeeding support group like I did with your brother.

Whilst checking in with work and reading and replying to emails (despite the fact that my PTO hours ran out in just eight days and I was essentially working for free), I wrote myself a maternity leave to-do list with items like “clean out closets” (done!), “learn to cook” (I used the oven and not the microwave to prepare the majority of meals and called out for pizza less often than usual so it’s a win), “finally create a will” (with the help of Uncle Terry, an attorney, this was accomplished fairly easily), and “write a novel” (not done; some of my goals were loftier than others ).

What wasn’t on the list? Enjoy my time with you. I don’t know if it’s because I didn’t realize this was possible because maternity leave went by in such a sleep-deprived, anxiety-ridden blur with big brother or my Type A personality just doesn’t allow for such things to go on to-do lists. Either way, I’m afraid I forgot the most important task and now it’s too late to go back and get it done.

You see, for the first month, you really did sleep most of the time. I could have laid back and enjoyed the snuggles for most of the day, but I didn’t allow myself (I finally had time to deep clean the bathrooms!). And then big brother was sick and home from daycare, I fought off sore throats and sinus congestion for the better part of a month, and you came down with RSV (cold and flu season was rough this year). When we weren’t in the hospital for two of the scariest days of my life (you were a trooper), we were at home sleeping and blowing our noses (me) and having our nose sucked out with a bulb syringe (you). The to-do list sat unchecked but we weren’t exactly enjoying our sick family time.

You finished your antibiotics, March came in like a lamb and left the illnesses we’d all been passing back and forth with it, and I realized I had less than four weeks left before returning to work. I should have propped you down for tummy time and played with you all afternoon. But I had a desk to clear out and files to organize, a family budget to create, and hours of pushing you through the aisles of Home Goods and Target until we’d spent every dollar on said budget and I was re-decorating the house and organizing yours and your brother’s closets with the bargains I’d procured.

And just like that, 11 weeks came and went and I’m staring at a calendar that’s not on my side. You are lying on my lap and cooing with that big gummy smile that is now bringing tears to my eyes in my perhaps still hormonal state. And all I want to do is sit like this with you, shake the rattle you’ve been tracking with your now-alert eyes, and read every book in your library to you and not think about work or anything else. Just you.

And while I’m now okay with leaving an unfinished to-do list and focusing on you, I’m also anxiety-ridden about going back to work and leaving you in the care of others for the vast majority of the day. One week. I have one week to soak up those gummy smiles, enjoy the heat of your body as you snuggle up and fall asleep on my chest, and to introduce you to Brown Bear, Brown Bear and Guess How Much I Love You.

One day I’ll expound upon how inadequate maternity leave is in our country, and my theory that new mothers need six months of time off work with new babies. But for now, I apologize for squandering our first few weeks together. I mistook it as “free time” to accomplish all the tasks that usually go undone when it’s now clear that the only important task I’ve had these past few 11 weeks was loving you.