I’ve been back to work for about a month after a whole year off from work while I was on maternity leave. After returning to work I was asked what I did while on vacation. After laughing a little too loudly, I was able to compose myself and answer his question. “Let me tell you this: maternity leave is no vacation.”
The first three months are kind of a blur. I don’t quite remember what we did because my world had just been turned on its head. We welcomed a beautiful, healthy and happy little boy into our lives and for three months, we just tried to stay afloat as we adjusted to this new life. It’s a blur of sleeplessness, a constant state of being frazzled, and a haze of lactation consultants, poopy diapers, and two-minute showers while seeing a pudgy, haggard woman in the mirror who just happened to be me. There were also the crippling fears: Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, strapping him into his car seat correctly, the is he eating enough worries, and a little voice inside my head constantly asking if I’m doing things right because my son’s life could literally depend on it. No pressure.
After those few months, though, we (sort of) found our footing: baby and I starting going out to socialize with other babies and moms. I made a whole new set of friends: the kind that don’t look back at me blankly when I talk about my baby and the kind who could sympathize when I expressed my first-time mom fears because they’d been there. But it wasn’t easy. It was like being back in high school – and I hated high school. Back then, I was the nerdy kid who was awkward and unsure of herself. I had a dry sense of humour but failed miserably with delivery, which resulted in my being cast out into the jungle of rag tag cliques consisting of the remnants of the other, more popular ones. There was the one jock, the one Dungeons and Dragons player, the one drama nerd, the rebel smoker and the debate team/band geek (me). Seriously, making mom friends is just weird, with its own set of rules, politics and rituals.
I also started getting used to this new post-baby body. And by “getting used to” I mean, stoically accepted the wibbly-wobbly hips, the wider frame and all of the other fun bits. I picked up playing on my work’s ultimate Frisbee team, despite the awkward sideline feedings and occasional blood-curdling fear as a wayward Frisbee flew in my son’s general direction. I signed up for a (short) triathlon out of nowhere because it meant I’d be able to get out of the house and swim laps where I wouldn’t have to talk to anyone and just try to make my body feel like my own again, even if only for an hour here and there every week.
And of course, I took care of my new family. I brought the little guy to play groups where uncomfortable social interactions abound. I started going to the Mommy and Me movies. I got to go for walks while wearing my baby. I joined a baby yoga class where I paid an unreasonable amount of money to contort myself and my son into weird positions for five minutes and feed him or watch him sleep the rest of the time. I took him to the pool. I organized play dates. I changed diapers, then more diapers, and then even more diapers. I did all this while dressed in slimy, ill-fitting t-shirts and perpetually food-stained yoga pants.
My schedule revolved around keeping this little person happy, entertained and healthy. I started cooking more – a special kind of torture I inflicted on my talented cook of a husband who gracefully ate every morsel of burnt and/or bland food I placed in front of him.
He and I explored this new world together, silently renegotiating our relationship as we made room in our hearts for this chubby baby that pooped more than I ever thought was humanly possible.
I learned that in the end, my identity had changed. As much as I’d sworn up and down that I would still be the old me after having a baby, I came to terms with the realization that I was, just like many other moms out there, a new person after giving life. I was a mom. A MOM, a MOM. It’s still a little weird, but I’m coming around to the title.
Maternity leave was no vacation, trust me. But you know what? I’d be willing to bet any mom would be happy to do it all over again. I know I would.
Let me know what you think. Do you have children? What did maternity leave look like for you? No children? Do you think maternity leave is just one long extended vacay? Comment below!