Mat leave: The reality

blog mat leave

Now I’m 9 months into (and nearing the end, sob) of my maternity leave I’ve settled into a regular routine and a new ‘normal’. Recently I was reflecting on the sweet naivety of being pregnant for the first time. The daydreams of spending a summer flouncing around in a maxi dress, reading magazines in the park whilst my newborn napped peacefully beside me. Maybe even baking a cake or two. Yes people tell you it’s hard, but your baby might just be different, right? And I’ve worked plenty of night shifts, how hard could a little sleep deprivation be? Turns about pretty damn hard. A friend of mine likened those early days of motherhood to ‘the nightmare nightshift that never comes to an end’. For unlike the days when you could tag out and hand-over, what follows an exhausting night with a small person is often an exhausting day. But I promise this isn’t a ‘motherhood is crap’ post (there’s enough of those out there to scare the bejesus out of mums-to-be already- and it really isn’t).

I’m the first to admit that I never really ‘got’ what people did all day on maternity leave. I mean, feeding, dressing and changing a child must only take a couple of hours a day- what about the other 12 hours (!) of your waking day? Of course I very quickly learnt what takes up those hours during the steep learning curve of the first few weeks- the endless hours spent breastfeeding on the sofa, the regular outfit changes necessitated by the shower of bodily fluids (for both baby and you), and the lengthy, fruitless attempts at trying to get your baby to nap anywhere but on you so you can finally have a wash. The early days are tough. I was keen to get out and about as soon as possible, and quickly joined several local baby groups. These were both my savior, and my downfall. On the upside, I have met lots of lovely local mummies and developed a nice social network (although I did feel like I’d stepped into some kind of cult during my first experience of the ‘say hello to the sun’ song- baby sensory go-ers will understand!). On the other, in hindsight I did a little too much too quickly, and I really wish I had spent more time doing exactly what me and my baby needed- cuddling on the sofa, sleeping, and maybe going for the odd walk around the park for fresh air.

After the initial whirlwind I have now got into a pretty stable routine. And you know what- it’s not that bad. Sadly I still rarely get a full night sleep, but I’ve made my peace with that. Whether it will be the same when I return to work is a different matter! And when I look out of the window at the morning commuter traffic on a rainy day, knowing I can spend the whole day on the sofa enjoying Netflix and cuddles if I so wish is pretty nice.

Yes, it’s exhausting. But there are parts of it that are even better than you imagined. The newborn snuggles and skin to skin. The times when your little one does something new for the first time, or stares right into your eyes. It’s pretty powerful stuff. And the reason, no doubt, that despite the tough times many of us will do it all over again. But next time, that ‘sweet naivety’ of daydreaming will be gone. And that’s kind of sad.