Things I thought I’d be doing during my maternity leave: keeping the house clean, making breakfast, lunch and dinner, getting dressed every day, going for long walks on our local 5K trail, attending playdates, gardening, reading…
Things I have done during my maternity leave: spent inordinate amounts of time attempting to get my daughter to sleep, prevented her from eating the cat hair that has accumulated on the floors, attempted to get to the bottom of Mount Laundry (still hasn’t happened), picked up shirts and sniffed them to see if I could wear them again, went for short walks to the grocery store and back, tried very hard to read a baby sleep help book through lidded eyes.
It’s hard to write about maternity leave being different than what I expected without sounding like a jerk. I’m really grateful to live in Canada, where I’m able to take 52 weeks off, during 50 of which I’m paid at 55% of my prior salary, and know that I will be able to return to my same job with the same pay once my leave is up. But some days, I really miss work.
There was no question that I would be taking leave. My husband makes more than me so it didn’t make sense for him to go down to half-pay, plus I intended to breastfeed and didn’t want to pump for any longer than I had to. Municipal daycare here doesn’t allow for children under the age of 16 months, so even if we both wanted to go back to work we’d have a hard time finding a place to care for our daughter, and besides, we wouldn’t be getting ahead financially, given that daycare will eat up about half of my salary anyway, once she’s there.
I eagerly looked forward to being a stay-at-home mom. I set up my leave to start two weeks before my due date, because everyone and their uncle was telling me I’d go into labour early. You see where this is going, right? Labour didn’t start until I was literally hooked up the to monitors getting my last tests done prior to an induction at 42 weeks. I ended up with an entire month off before the baby arrived, sitting, waiting, and responding to Facebook queries about where, exactly she was. In retrospect it was a bit of an introduction to the boredom awaiting me.
I had a challenging labour and delivery (60 hours of labour with a persistent posterior baby ending in an unplanned C-section) and recovery was not easy. I had envisioned myself cuddled up in bed with baby M, bonding, nursing, enjoying the early days in a fog of maternal bliss. In real life, I awkwardly wheeled myself around our living room in an office chair because I couldn’t get out of bed or off the couch without help. I worried constantly that I hadn’t bonded with M thanks to the circumstances of her arrival. It took me the full six weeks of healing time to feel like I was on an even keel and ready to get out of the house.
Of course, with an entire year off to enjoy not being at work, the weather would not co-operate. It snowed forever. We hit all kinds of new records — highest snowfall, lowest temperatures, you name it. One of our vehicles blew up, leaving me and M housebound, watching the snowdrifts climb higher and higher. She was three months old before I managed to take her to playgroup. She was four months old by the time the sidewalks melted enough for us to stroll to the store (I’m still waiting for the trail to fully melt).
I didn’t really realize how much my job got me out of the house, talking to people and engaging with the world at large. In my non-mom life I’m a reporter for a community newspaper, which means lots of talking on the phone, lots of visiting people, lots of attending events and conducting interviews. I’m simultaneously dreading putting M into care in six months and looking forward to feeling like a professional again.
My husband’s mantra is “she’s alive, you’re alive, you had a good day.” But I have the hardest time dealing with the insanity of a messy house, of undone dishes and piled-up laundry and dusty shelves. It’s getting easier to ignore, though. As cliché as those poems about dishes not resenting you for not being there are, they’re true — my focus is on spending time with M.
As she gets older, she’s sleeping better, so I can get a few tasks crossed off my list during nap time (when I’m not opting to sit on the couch, hah). I try to go to playgroup at least once a month, both for M to socialize and for me to talk to adults. I’m itching for summer to roll around, so we can head outside and tackle the garden. And I enjoy a bit of me time once she’s down for the night, now, even if it’s just hanging out online for an hour before I crash into bed.
I know as soon as I’m back at work I’ll be missing these days with my daughter. I feel like now that I’m a mom, who still has a career that’s on hold, I’m always going to feel a bit of tugging in each direction. All in all I’m glad to have experienced these five months at home, so far, and I’m equally glad that the hardest part seems to be over.
Shayla is a journalist-turned-mom currently willing the snow to melt away from her home in Northwestern Ontario. She writes about life, parenting, and other adventures at Northern Exposure (check it out on Facebook!).
Trust me on this, Shayla is an awesome writer which is why I never miss any of her posts! What is your maternity leave/work situation? I just wanna squeeze M’s little cheeks, don’t you?