By: Diana Spalding
Before having a baby, maternity leave as a concept was pretty mysterious. I had many pregnant coworkers who took maternity leave—they’d just leave one day, we’d get word they’d had the baby, and then a few weeks or months later they’d return, looking tired but proud and very excited to show us photos of their new baby. I realized that no one really talked about what that time was really like.
When I got pregnant and started looking forward to my own maternity leave, I came up with my idea of what the experience would be. I got some of it right—the diapers, the milk, the cuddles—but I got a lot wrong, too. So I want to share my learnings with you, in the hopes that you may feel better prepared for what the journey could be like (understanding, of course, that everyone’s experience is different).
Here are the 5 lies I believed about maternity leave.
1. I believed that maternity leave would be a “break.”
I looked forward to my maternity leave much as I looked forward to a vacation. I mean sure, there would be a baby to take care of, but wow, won’t a few weeks off of work be nice? Um…no.
Maternity leave was not a break from work, it was simply a change of where I worked and what that work looked like. I love the newborn stage, but taking care of a newborn is a lot of work—in many ways, more so than my job. There are no days off, my “tiny boss” called on me repeatedly while I was trying to sleep, and all while I was trying to heal from giving birth.
2. I believed I wouldn’t miss my job.
Because I thought maternity leave would feel like a vacation, I also thought I wouldn’t miss my job—I was wrong. I missed my coworkers and having grown-up conversations.
Mostly, I missed the satisfaction of going into work, accomplishing concrete objectives and leaving at night feeling like I was done. One of the hardest adjustments to motherhood for me was how intangible the “successes” were. I mean sure, I was caring for a tiny human, which is the biggest feat of all. But when I was in it, it was hard to feel like I had accomplished anything at the end of the day.
3. I believed that maternity leave was all about taking care of the new baby.
I could not wait to meet and take care of my sweet new baby. I daydreamed about all the time I would spend feeding, holding, changing and just loving her.
But I forgot to think about—and plan for—taking care of myself.
Yes, maternity leave is a time to bond with the baby and attend to all their needs, but also when my body was recovering from birth, the most physically intense thing I had ever done. I wish I had given myself more grace. I wish I had prioritized my healing in a way that honored everything I had just been through, rather than trying to push through it and bounce back. I wish I had planned a little more for my well-being.
4. I believed I would “get my body back.”
I thought that as soon as the baby was out, my body would be mine again—the lie detector determined this that was a lie.
To be honest, I actually felt less comfortable in my own skin during the postpartum period than when I was pregnant. I was healing from birth and pregnancy (which requires that your organs actually move around in your body to their rightful locations), my breasts had minds of their own and there were hormones…so many hormones. I think that if I had prioritized my own needs and healing a little more I would have felt more comfortable, but it’s still a very weird experience to go through.
5. I believed the plan I set forth for my career would go, well, to plan.
Before my baby arrived, I had a very specific plan in mind for what my future would look like, especially as it pertained to my career.
But then she arrived, and goodness did that little girl rock my entire world. It’s been nine years and I now have a completely different job, I live in a new state, and most importantly I have even more kids.
Becoming a mother changed everything, in ways I could never have imagined. And even though the plot twists have been stressful, I am so grateful for the ways that motherhood has shifted and woven my life.