Contrary to popular belief or your own unrealistic expectations, maternity leave isn't just a few weeks (or months, if you're lucky) of snuggling with a sleeping baby. Recovering after childbirth and getting to know a tiny human is a huge deal, and there are a few things that are bound to happen during your first day of maternity leave, some of which are no fun at all.
While I had thought they would be full of magical moments, in reality, my maternity leaves were fraught with worry, anxiety, and too little sleep, compounded by my challenges recovering after childbirth and trying to manage postpartum depression. My babies also had challenges breastfeeding, which meant re-admission to the NICU for one of them, home care with a biliblanket, and a home health nurse visit every day. I can't tell you how many hours of sleep were lost worrying about how much my babies were or weren't eating, monitoring the contents of their diapers and keeping myself from calling the hospital. Again.
I am not saying that my maternity leaves were no fun at all. I loved the quiet moments snuggling alone with my newborns, getting to learn their cries and the needs they were communicating, first smiles, baths, and taking a million pictures. I also loved binge watching shows on Netflix and actually getting some sleep.
So, whether your leave is too short (like mine) or you're able to stay at home for your baby's first year, there are so many things that are likely to happen your first day of maternity leave. As I prepare for my next (and hopefully final) maternity leave, I have found myself making plans that I will in all likelihood not see come to fruition. Time for a dose of reality, friend.
You will worry, but don't worry about it. It's completely normal. You just brought a new human home. Now you have to learn about your baby and figure out who your baby is and what your baby needs. That's a tall order, dear reader.
You may make mistakes, but remember: you are just learning, too. Figure things out and try not to worry about living up to others' expectations. Follow your health care providers' advice about infant care and what to watch for. You'll do fine. You've got this. And for goodness sake, you have enough to worry about, don't worry about work on top of it. They will be fine without you.
Your Baby Will Cry (And You Will, Too)
They say that, over time, mothers learn to translate their baby's cries, but this doesn't happen your first day home on leave.
Does this particular cry mean your baby is hungry or wet, tired or over-stimulated, has gas or is in pain, or worst of all, crying for no reason at all or all of the above? Well, it'll take time for you to figure out the answer. As a result, you'll probably go through a check list of checking every single possible reason why your baby may or may not be crying. You may feel overwhelmed and frustrated. You may cry, too. Hang in there.
Give yourself time to learn your baby's language, and get help if your baby won't stop crying or your instincts tell you something is seriously wrong. You'll figure it out.
You Won't Get Anything Done (And That's OK)
I had such unrealistic plans for maternity leave the first time.
Plans: I was going to work out every day, keep the house pristine, read a list of books, and go to mommy groups and lunch dates.
Reality: I often stayed in bed, forgot to shower, and used all of the pain meds my midwife prescribed, because I was in so much pain. Add postpartum depression to the mix, and many days I seriously didn't want to leave the house.
You'll Feel Isolated
I both craved being alone with my new babies and felt desperately sad and alone, especially during my first day of leave. I went from interacting with other adults in a professional setting, to binge-watching Top Chef and making conversation with a newborn and my cats.
It Will Hurt To Pee And Laugh
If you have a vaginal birth, it may seriously hurt to pee. Regardless of your mode of delivery, it may seriously hurt to poop, and laughter might be no fun at all. Take care of yourself. Use the peri bottle they give you at the hospital to shower your vulva with warm water to ease the sting. Get a bidet (seriously). Take pain meds if you need them. With any luck you won't feel like laughing. Kidding.
You'll Freak Out
There will inevitably come a time during your first day home on leave, when you freak out. It may be about your baby, yourself, your home, your other kids, or even things falling apart at work. Try to stay calm, get help when you need it, and laugh a little, unless it hurts to laugh, that is.
You'll End Up Covered In Bodily Fluids
You'll Compulsively Count Dirty Diapers
Speaking of diapers, your obstetrics provider will probably have you keep track of wet and poopy diapers, to ensure that baby is getting enough to eat. You should totally do that. You should not create a spreadsheet on your laptop and check their diaper compulsively every five minutes. Relax. Remember, help is a phone call away. You've got this.
You Will Fall Asleep While Doing Something Else
As much as you try to follow the bulls*t "sleep when the baby sleeps" advice everyone seems to give you, it's likely that you will be tired your first day on leave. This may be compounded by a baby who doesn't sleep and/or your inability to sleep from worry, late night feedings, and unexplained insomnia.
On that first day home, I caught myself falling asleep when feeding the baby, talking on the phone, and even while sitting on the toilet. Never, of course, when in bed at night. Go figure.
You'll Obsessively Check Your Work Email Or Get A Call From Work
If you are like me, you will probably make some excuse, like, "I'm just going to send a birth announcement," or, "I just want to delete spam." Don't let yourself fall prey to this thinly veiled attempt to find out just how much work needs you or how they are screwing things up without you.
Try to relax and enjoy this time away from work. If work calls or emails, consider letting it go to your mailbox. It can wait. You have more important things to do than your job (which you aren't being paid to do right now, anyway). You'll have plenty of time to fix their mistakes and delete old emails about office donuts when you return to work.