This is a post I’ve been thinking about for awhile and hadn’t gotten around to writing. Since I write about new motherhood it’s a topic I needed to tackle at some point, so here we are. I feel like I’m far enough removed from the postpartum phase to write about maternity leave objectively. However, I still remember with enough clarity what it was like to know that it needs to be talked about.
With that said, I may smack the next person who calls maternity leave a vacation. To all my new mammas out there, I know you’re in the trenches. Every other person who has birthed (or adopted) a child knows how hard it is. And we’ll all stand up behind you to smack the next person who asks about your “vacation.”
Why is calling maternity leave a vacation infuriating?
The fact that some people refer to maternity leave as a vacation is particularly infuriating since raising an infant is probably the hardest job on the planet. Yes, you don’t have to go into an office. Yes, you don’t have any deadlines or deliverables. No, you probably aren’t very productive in the traditional sense. That’s because you’re raising a TINY HUMAN. One who hasn’t quite gotten this whole eating/sleeping/being alive thing down quite yet. The fact that you can do anything at all immediately after giving birth and then moving directly into a state of sleeplessness is nothing short of heroic. Maternity leave and the fourth trimester are a huge transition for both you and your baby.
Until you’ve been home with a new baby, you really can’t explain the inability to get anything done. Feeding, changing, and nap time become your 24/7 universe in those early weeks. Combined with the literal mountains of laundry it can feel like time is moving and yet you’re getting absolutely nothing accomplished. Mamma – nothing is farther from the truth. Although your life looks different at this moment, you’re doing the most important work in the world.
Ok – but I still feel bad
I get it. For all my type A personalities out there, being home with a newborn can wreak havoc on your self-esteem and sense of accomplishment. I remember being unable to even feed myself or take a shower in the morning. My husband was a saint and came home almost every day to help me on his lunch break. I’d tearfully hand off the baby so I could eat, and he would put her down for a nap. The laundry was piled up. The house was a mess of baby items, and I felt like I’d “done nothing.” If this was a vacation, it was literally the most exhausting and upsetting one I’d ever been on.
Take a look at what you’re actually doing
I know you don’t feel productive. But sometimes you need to re-frame your reality and give yourself a little grace. Take a look at what you actually ARE accomplishing. Let some of the other burdens go.
- You’ve probably fed your baby 8-12 times today
- There have been at least 10-12 diapers
- Your baby has gone through 8-10 sleep cycles
- You’re teaching your baby that the world is a safe place, and how to live outside of your body
Yes, the laundry is still in the dryer, or on the couch. The dishes may still be in the sink. There may be toys on the floor or bottles on the counter you just didn’t have the heart to scrub yet. That’s ok.
Mamma, it’s hard to be with a new baby in the early weeks. I understand how difficult it is to imagine yourself in this new role and life. It’s ok to be a little sad and to mourn the freedom you had pre-baby. What’s not ok is to let your self-esteem drop or to second guess your worth or contributions. And if anyone belittles you or the job that you’re doing – at home or at work – you have an entire force of mommies ready to rise up on your behalf. Maternity leave is your transition into life as a mamma, and it’s prepping you for your new reality as a juggler of all the things. What it isn’t is a vacation 🙂
Take a deep breath and go day by day. You’ll get through this, and all of a sudden one day you’ll wake up and it won’t be quite so hard.