All things considered, my postpartum recovery period was actually perfectly lovely. But we don't know what we don't know and there are a whole bunch of ways I set myself up for disappointment during maternity leave, chiefly by imagining it as a far less stressful, strenuous, and demanding period of time than it, of course, turned out to be.
For what it's worth, my first maternity leave was what really threw me for a loop. The second time around I went in with eyes wide open and mostly didn't place unrealistic expectations on myself... for the most part. (I'm human and, perhaps, overly optimistic by nature.) But the first time, I was so brimming with excitement to meet my baby boy that I thought to myself: "I already love him so much that from here on out life with him is going to be as beautiful as my feelings for him."
Folks, this is not how babies work. Like, at all. Their poops alone render this completely false and, frankly, poops are very often the least of your problems. We love them very much, so we want to care for and nurture them even when it's hard we are filled to them brim with love (often if not always)... but life with them is far from the sunny, filtered paradise of Instagram.
So with that in mind, here are just some of the things I thought that wound up leaving me a bit deflated:
I Thought It Would Be Fun
It's not that I didn't enjoy my maternity leave, because I did. But it wasn't fun. At all. It was a lot of work, and when it wasn't work it was sort of dull because you can't really do anything. You don't want to wake the baby, you don't want to disrupt the baby's schedule, and you can't get too wrapped up in anything you're doing because you don't know when the baby is going to wake up, need something, and interrupt you.
Also, you're healing, uncomfortable, and straddling a dictionary-sized pad for, well, months. So, it's often the polar opposite of fun.
I Thought I'd Get Out Of My Apartment More
Babies need access to a home-base... constantly. It's super inconvenient to take a baby out because the world is really not set up for them (or postpartum you, for that matter). You need space to feed them, change them, and handle them when they cry.
And, of course, there's the germs issue, because you really don't want to risk a sick newborn, especially one who hasn't been fully vaccinated yet (or who hasn't received any vaccines yet at all). So while I made it a point to pop out at least once a day when I could, it was only for, like, an hour or so tops. For a social butterfly like me, that's tough.
I Thought I'd Be A Pumping Superhero
I was all convinced that I'd be a power pumper. I would be one of those women who would have to buy a deep freezer to contain her treasure trove of liquid gold. I would not only have enough breast milk to feed my baby while I was at work, but I would ultimately donate thousands of ounces to baby charities.
Guess whose body really didn't respond well to a pump and, moreover, hated pumping with the fire of a thousand suns?
I think the most I ever had in my freezer was, like, 35 ounces? Maybe? My son nursed so frequently that unless I had something attached to my nipples basically 24 hours a day, seven days a week, I wasn't going to be able to fill a freezer... or even part of one. So I had to let that dream die fairly quick.
I Thought I'd Accomplish Something Non-Baby Related
Back before I actually had a baby, I was full of bright-eyed ambition about maternity leave. "Oh sure it'll be hard," said I, "but there's going to be a lot of downtime. I can get so much writing done! I might even be able to make a dent in that novel I've been toying with but have just never really found the time for!"
Ha. Ha ha. Ha.
I Thought I'd Be Out Of Maternity Pants
I happen to be one of those women who loses baby weight fast and with nothing but pure genetic luck, which was a pleasant and unexpected surprise. That didn't mean that the maternity pants were going anywhere, though. First of all, just because I lost weight didn't mean everything was where it had been before I got pregnant.
And also, why are all pants not maternity pants, though? Seriously. They look just like normal pants, only they have an amazing stretchy compartment that allows you to gain and lose weight without having to spend money on new pants. Real pants are a sham, people. A callous fraud preventing us from living our best lives.
I Didn't Want To Baby To Be Exposed To TV
Yeah, I was one of those people. I was all, "I read this one study that said babies that are within a mile of a TV that's turned on are going to drop out of school and live in a van down by the river by the time they're 15. I love my baby, so I'm never going to let them be exposed to television."
Except, yeah, when you're stuck under a baby for the vast majority of your day, with nothing else to do (I had my first before I got my first smart phone, people, so I couldn't even just fool around on the internet all day to pass time!) that rule is going to go out the window if you want to maintain any level of sanity.
I Had Planned To Develop Awesome Habits
I guess I saw having a baby as a new chapter in my life, so I figured a new chapter meant new rules and routines. So I somehow got it into my head that starting regularly exercising and eating a particular way would be easier to do with a newborn.
Yeah, it went about as well you'd expect.
I Was *So* Excited For Postpartum Sex
OK, this is more personal than usually like to get, but the people need to know.
Pregnancy sex was not everything I dreamed it would be, and I was thrilled to get back to "the way things were." But not only are postpartum women recovering from childbirth (which, no matter what way your baby exited, is a damn ordeal) but if you're breastfeeding your hormones are raging and changing and that has an effect on la vagine.
Postpartum sex is not good. Not at first. Very likely not for the duration of maternity leave (not that you'll be having all that much of it anyway).
I Thought I Was Going To Feel "Normal" Again
Nope, and my recovery went well! But the idea that nine months of growing a human plus childbirth is only going to take a few weeks to "bounce back" from is, really, sort of absurd if you think about it in those terms. Granted, I felt basically back to normal pretty quickly, but it took a while before I settled back into my new "normal."
I thought I'd Use All My Baby Stuff
Not during maternity leave, anyway. So all the stuff I had to entertain the baby? Toys, play mats, books? Completely useless in those first couple months. You know what entertains a baby? Looking at your face. And, in time, their own toes. Newborns don't need toys.
I also didn't need a lot of the supplies I'd purchased or that had been gifted to me. Economy-sized diaper creams, stroller accessories, the baby bath I'd purchased (that I didn't think to measure for the space I had), half the adorable blankets I had... it was all a bit excessive. Fortunately, I kept receipts.
I Thought The Baby Would Be More Interesting
I loved my baby and I loved being with him, but he didn't do anything. It was just kind of staring at each other day after day and, frankly, it could get a little... dull. It's not that I had anticipated lively debates about Nietzsche and Marx, but I had expected a little more than, well, what I got.
I Thought It Would Be Enough Time
For an American mom, I had an extremely generous maternity leave (12 fully-paid weeks) and I thought I'd be climbing the walls to go back. Yeah, it still wasn't quite enough to get fully into the swing of things before I had to learn a new way of operating. Every mom feels differently about this — for some, eight weeks is plenty and for others a year would still not be ideal — but in spite of all my various disappointments, I still found myself disappointed when it was all over.