What You Think Maternity Leave Will Be Like Vs. What It's Actually Like

I’m not sure about you guys, but a lot of my friends have had some pretty fancy newborn photography done when they first became parents. I understand that of course these shoots were staged, and that life with a newborn could involve lots of crying and spit-up, but I still thought that maybe some elements of these shoots were inspired by regular life, or you know, what maternity leave is actually like. I thought that, perhaps there'd be the occasional moment when my new family of three would snuggle on the bed and my partner and I would stare lovingly at the sleeping baby in our laps, or that he would doze off majestically on a picnic blanket in our lush, green backyard (ha!). And while we had some beautiful moments with our little, I can’t recall a single time when he slept on me while I had perfect hair and make-up done, with impeccably flattering lighting. So, it’s no wonder that those photo sessions can be so expensive.

This wasn’t the only thing I had wrong about the first couple months of life with our little. When it came to maternity leave, my imagination steered me astray in more than a couple ways. Allow me to share my mistakes, in hopes that perhaps someone out there can learn from them (or at least have a good laugh):

Expectation: I Thought I Would Be More Secure In My Role As A Mom By The End Of Leave

Reality: Sure, I'd come a long, looong way, but I still felt like I had a lot to learn (I did. I still do, technically). People asked questions about how I thought it would go, or about how I planned to manage pumping, or my lack of sleep, and my first instinct would be to think, "I don't know, I've never done this before."

Expectation: I Thought It Would Go Quickly

Reality: I blinked, then it was over. I was warned many times that my parental leave would go quickly, so I’d say that, yes, I understood that the time would fly. However, I completely underestimated it. I was lucky enough to be on leave during the summer, at the same time that my husband was on break from teaching classes. We had some blissful weeks together as a new family, but they were sadly over just as I was starting to get used to them.

Expectation: I Thought I Would Regret My Decision To Start Leave Before The Baby Came

Reality: This one was actually a pleasant surprise for me. I feared that I’d regret using up some of my precious days of leave before the baby arrived (five days, to be exact). I went back and forth on the idea of working up until my due date, or taking time off beforehand. With my due date falling on a Friday, I ultimately started my leave that Monday, which turned out to be a great decision that I never looked back on. By the time I went into labor, I’d been able to let go of work responsibilities and have a few final precious hours to myself. I realize that I’m lucky that our circumstances allowed for this, and I’m thankful for it.

Expectation: Healing? What Healing? Time For Me?

Reality: I had no idea what my own body would need to recover from childbirth. Like many new moms, during my pregnancy I almost exclusively focused on readying myself for the new life my partner and I would have with our baby. We painted our spare bedroom and converted it to a nursery, we read books about baby’s first year, we accepted boxes of hand-me-downs from our friends. However, I never really stopped to think about the fact that I would need time to recover from the physical toll pregnancy and birth would have on me.

Expectation: It Would Be Challenging In Very Specific, Predictable Ways

Reality: Well, yes, it was challenging in some predictable ways, but also some unpredictable ways, too. Breastfeeding, for example, threw me for a much bigger loop than I expected it to, as it does to many new moms. Figuring out a balance of responsibility with my partner, who was on summer break from his teaching job, was tricky. Plus, I didn’t realize how shaky my confidence would be in the early weeks as my hormones fluctuated.

Expectation: I Would Have No Time Or Energy For Anything Except My Baby

Reality: Right around the two-month mark, I was pleasantly surprised to find myself able to start carving out short windows of time to work on some personal projects while our little napped next to me. With each week that passed, my partner and I grew slightly more settled in our new life.. These small chunks of time reminded me that I was still the same person I was before I became a mom, and gave me hope that I’d still be myself during the rest of motherhood, too.

Expectation: I'd Only Pay Attention To What Was Happening In My House, Not Outside Of It

Reality: I didn’t realize how defined it would be by the season. I was on leave from early May until mid-August, so much of the experience was influenced by the summer season. I can't think of maternity leave without remembering sunny walks, iced coffee, relaxing with my son on the bed when the morning sun came in through the window, and the tiny shorts we'd pull over his onesies.

Expectation: Maternity Leave Would Set The Tone For My Entire Motherhood Experience

Reality: I also didn’t realize how quickly we’d break the habits that had been established. Seemingly overnight, our routine changed and the patterns I'd seen my son adapt to over weeks and weeks seemed to completely went away. Just the other day he pointed to an activity mat in a catalogue, and I found myself getting nostalgic for the hours he used to spend on his. He's already a different person than he was back then, and my parenting has changed along with him.