If you're anything like me, you want to take the maximum amount of time your employer allows to bond with your baby, recover from childbirth, and learn how to be a mom. Sadly, however, the reality of maternity leave won't meet your expectations. I spent my leave battling postpartum depression, struggling to breastfeed, trying to be a "perfect mom," and fielding calls from work, sometimes all simultaneously. This was made worse by the numerous things I wanted during maternity leave, but was totally and completely afraid to ask for.
Our culture generally views maternity leave as a privilege us moms should be grateful for. And, look, I am thankful for the time I was able to take away from work and spend with my child, because I'm fully aware that so many people don't get the same chance. But here's the thing: recovering from childbirth and adjusting to life as a parent shouldn't be a privilege. It should be a right. And because it's not, at least in the United States, people expect postpartum women to love every moment of new motherhood and do it all perfectly and effortlessly and without complaint. Most of us expect the newborn phase to be amazing, and it totally is, but it is also really difficult and not as beautiful and effortless as people on social media, and those pictured in stock photos, make it out to be.
There were so many things I needed — like sleep, support, my coworkers to leave me the hell alone, and more sleep — that I was afraid to ask for, as if admitting that I wasn't able to immediately "do it all" on my own meant I wasn't a good mom. There are so many things I wished I had asked for during maternity leave that I seriously needed, included the following. Guys, don't be like me. Ask for help.
I miss sleep. I don't think I have slept longer than two or three hours in over a year. Maternity leave was supposed to be a chance to sleep, right? I thought I would get what I needed to recover physically and mentally from childbirth and the stress of being a new mom, but instead I got seriously sleep deprived and a raging case of mommy brain.
To Be Left Alone
When you have a new baby everyone wants to come over and hold them and stare at them and visit. It's so hard, because then you have to clean your house, put on pants, and speak in complete sentences.
During my maternity leave I totally didn't want or need company. Well, at least not most of the time. When people would come over and immediately ask to hold my baby, or worse, expect to hold the baby while I cooked or cleaned, it made me feel like they didn't care about me. I wish they had left Starbucks on the porch and waited for me to call them.
To Take Things Slowly
I wish people stopped asking new moms on maternity leave if they've lost the baby weight. Better yet, how about never asking anyone, ever, about their bodies, diets, or weight loss plans? Can well just agree, right here and now, to avoid intrusive questions? OK, cool.
I mean, you guys: it's so rude. During maternity leave I needed to take things slow and recover from, you know, growing humans in my body and pushing that human out of my vagina. I needed to take things slowly, but felt pressure from everyone to hit the gym and "get my body back" as quickly as possible.
For People To Stop Asking Questions
I was so fed up with people's unrealistic expectations and incessant questions about my body, my birth, and my baby. Here are some answers to the questions I was asked during my last maternity leave:
No, I am not breastfeeding. No, my baby is not sleeping through the night. Yes, I got an epidural and it was magical. Yes, I have stitches and my vagina is fine. No, I haven't lost the weight, yet, but have you lost your filter? Because that was freaking rude.
None of the aforementioned answers are anyone's freaking business and the questions that people felt entitled to ask me made it so hard for me to feel anything other than self-conscious.
Getting support as a new mom on maternity leave is tricky. My co-workers were happy for me, but simultaneously annoyed that my maternity leave made their work lives difficult. Everyone expects you to "enjoy every moment" and admitting you need support, empathy, or help with your baby feels like admitting you aren't a good mom.
A Break From Work
I didn't need or want my co-workers to call me daily with questions or requests for help, and legally, since I was on disability for my first two maternity leaves, I wasn't supposed to freaking work. That didn't stop them from calling or emailing me, though, saying, "I hesitate to bother you..." and following up that "hesitation" with some time-consuming request. Ugh.
I was afraid to ask my coworkers to stop, though, because I thought it would negatively impact my career. It was so messed up.
Going to the doctor is hard, especially when you have a newborn. If you make it — after an hour or two of prepping and planning — you'll probably realize that it's difficult to ask for help or care or advice once you're there.
For me, telling my doctor that my body is sick is no big deal, but talking about my mental health is another story entirely.
For People To Trust Me
I seriously contemplated buying a sign for my baby that read, "my mommy doesn't need your advice." Everyone, from friends and family to strangers in the check out aisle, will give you baby-rearing advice when you're on maternity leave. Yes, this advice will be conflicting in nature and completely confusing.
I just wish people would trust me to make the best decisions I could for my baby, without criticism or unsolicited advice.
A Break From Baby
All parents need a break once in a while, especially parents who are recovering from childbirth. I wish I had asked for a break more often, but I was afraid that people would judge me for not being able to "do it all."
Did I Mention Sleep?
Did I mention sleep already? I can't remember. I'm so tired. God, I miss sleep.
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