If I could come up with one word to describe maternity leave, it might be “bittersweet.” It also might be “lovely," “cuddly," “difficult," “overwhelming,” or “a-super-special-time-for-mom-and-dad-and-baby,” too. It was a significant time for me as a new mom, but it was also a very sensitive time, too, and I’d venture to say that other moms may have similar experiences. I’m not suggesting we need "special treatment," it's just that things that seem simple might actually strike a cord and be among the cruelest things done to a mom on maternity leave. That’s why I think the word “bittersweet” covers the entire experience rather well.
The “sweet” part is perhaps more obvious, given the fact that there’s a new baby in the picture and you're either taking the time or have been afforded the time to bond with that precious newborn. The “bitter” part, however, definitely has its place, too. It encompasses the challenges, like the fact that maternity leave is temporary and involved a very unforgiving learning curve and the end is almost always in sight (at least, for most Americans). Plus, maternity leave means you're recovering from childbirth too and, well, that's no walk in the park, my friend.
I had my own share of struggles while adjusting to life with a newborn (many of which involved breastfeeding) but the ticking timeline and inevitable transition were always in the back of my mind, too. Like everyone’s favorite Facebook relationship status says, “It’s complicated.” So, allow me to share a few things that you might want to rethink doing when it comes to the newest mom in your life:
Invite Her To Happy Hour (With The Expectation That She’ll Actually Come)
To be totally clear, the invite to happy hour is a nice gesture and one that will probably be appreciated. However, the expectation that she’ll shower and get dressed and make arrangements for someone to care for her weeks-old young baby is a little ambitious. In my experience, some moms may be ready (and itching) for such an adventure, but many moms won’t be and the added pressure is probably something she'd be happier without.
Tell Her About The Amazing Work Project Happening Without Her
There’s a chance she can totally brush this one off and it won’t phase her at all. Or, she could also get all kinds of feels about what’s happening to her job and whether or not she’s still needed and OMG what should she do if they don’t even need her to come back? Or worse, if they don’t want her to come back?
Ask Her To Be Somewhere At A Specific Time
In my son’s first week of life we had multiple check-ups that almost all stemmed from the breastfeeding struggles we were dealing with. The problems weren’t so much related to going somewhere (we had a car and a diaper bag) or from the appointments themselves (they were quick and important, so we were fine) it was getting ourselves and our son out the door and somewhere else at a specific time. The less you can ask of her, the better.
Call Her With Questions About Work
She may welcome the opportunity to talk about something other than her child. But even so, do not call a mom on maternity leave. You have no idea who is trying to sleep and what the ring tone is interrupting. Just text or email her. Please trust me.
Try To Talk To Her About Returning To Work…
If she’s anything like me, she’ll bring it up when and if she wants to talk about it. Otherwise, there’s a good chance she’s got lots on her mind around the subject, so it’s best to give her space to process it accordingly.
...And Make Predictions About What She’ll Do
You might have an idea, or a guess, or an inkling, about her potential return to work, and that’s totally fine. However, unless you have a BFF-level relationship, I’d recommend holding off on projecting any of those ideas onto her. She’s already got enough things to consider.
Bring Up The Social And Political Implications Of Maternity Leave Policies
She’s aware of them, I promise. She probably doesn’t want to be reminded of how someone you know had a much better arrangement thanks to her employer, or how other countries have much more generous leave packages in general. That’s like rubbing salt in an open, childbirth-related wound.
Imply That She’s On Some Sort Of Vacation
Unless, of course, your definition of vacation involves sleep deprivation, tears, poop explosions, a healing and very sore body, and learning an entirely new vocabulary of words. Actually, wait, now that I read that back, I realize that some adventurous travelings probably experience that on most of their trips.
However, just trust me when I say maternity leave is no picnic. There are moments of extreme fatigue, fear, frustration, and confusion. Thankfully, there are moments of bliss to balance it all out. Let her tell you about those instead.