The Highs and Lows of Maternity Leave

For many women maternity leave is that wonderful time we get to put our working lives on hold for a bit and stay at home, learning the ins and outs of our brand new job- motherhood. There are some wonderful perks to maternity leave. There are also some less than wonderful aspects to time at home with little more than a baby for company. These are some of the highs and lows from my experience.

High: Baby Groups

  • A chance to watch as your little one looks in fascination at the sea of unfamiliar faces in the circle around him. To see his face light up at the lights in sensory group. To let him experience new things.
  • The opportunity to get out of the house and mingle with other mums (and occasionally dads!) who are sporting just as big eye bags as you are.
  • A way to ensure you see someone over the age of 6 months during the daytime hours!

Low: Baby Groups

You may also find a number of negatives to the baby group experience as well though…

  • You will probably have bad days at group. You will most probably have at least one session where your baby cries like he’s never cried before. It will be relentless and you will work up such a sweat trying to rock and swing and bounce your baby out of his stupor that you could quite easily be mistaken for someone who has just completed a marathon. Other mothers at group will understand so you won’t be judged, but if we’re all honest everybody there will be sat there thinking exactly the same thing: “thank f@*k that’s not me today.” And who can blame them? You’d be thinking exactly that if you were in their shoes. (Unexpected high to add to the previous list – one day YOU will be the one thinking “thank f@*k that’s not me”, and the relief will be epic.)
  • You may have the misfortune of picking a baby group that doesn’t quite fit with your baby’s agenda. The best group I have come across unfortunately falls at around about the time my little boy usually has a morning nap, so whilst the group itself is great and I like going there have been several weeks when at least half of the session has been based around me trying to placate an over tired baby until it’s time to leave. Not exactly a relaxing experience.
  • At some point you’ll probably start up a conversation with someone before quickly realising they’re not your cup of tea. Too polite to say ‘see ya later’, you’ll find yourself feeling trapped and forced into a 20 minute conversation about eco-liberal parenting, organic, meditative, greens-only weaning, or some other thing that you’re really not into but this person clearly lives for. You’ll come away thinking, ‘well that is 20 minutes of my life that I can never get back’.
  • Even worse than the previous point – ending up in conversation with a mother who says things like “my little Micky never cries”, “our Teddy has never had any trouble taking his milk”, “you’re baby DOESN’T sleep through the night yet? How strange!” (Insert your own personal gripe here – everyone’s is different but you can always guarantee there will be someone you come across who has had the exact opposite experience to you and will appear to flaunt it in your face.) These kind of conversations can lead to anger, confusion and an unctrollable urge to hit said stranger on the head with the nearest sensory ball, tambourine or talking dinosaur toy. You must not succumb to this urge. Just smile politely, bite your tongue and move away as quickly as you can. Then next week sit right over the other side from her. (Also see Sleep Envy for more on this.)

High: No Routine

There is no need to follow a routine. (Let’s face it, in the early days you couldn’t even if you wanted to!) You might find that transitioning from a life of alarm clocks, rushing and schedules to a life where pretty much anything goes is liberating for you!

Low: No Routine

On the other hand, you may actually miss the ability to have a routine. I definitely did in the first couple of months. Days that followed nights where there had been no sleep often meant catching up on a few more z’s in the morning when I would otherwise have been up and about. This led to very rarely being dressed and functioning before the early afternoon. This in turn made me feel like nothing more than a big fat slob. As someone who naturally thrives on routine and order this was, at times, stressful to say the least. Thank goodness it got easier as time passed.

High: Watching Baby Grow

You get to be there to see your little baby grow and change and do new things that will genuinely amaze you day by day. How did you create such a little miracle?! Enjoy watching that little baba grow into a proper little person while you have the chance!

Low: The Countdown

It goes so much quicker than you expect it will and before you know it you’re on countdown to your return to work date, looking at your baby thinking how can I possibly hand you over to strangers for 10 hours a day several days a week in just 10 weeks time. (That’s right where I’m at now. *Sigh*)

High: Your Rules

You can pretty much do what you want, when you want. If you want to sit and watch trashy daytime TV in your pants all day you can. Just remember to throw something else on before you answer the door to the postman / DPD driver / Sainsburys delivery man. Unless of course you’re comfortable with public exposure. Whatever floats your boat!

Low: No Money

There’s no positive angle to paint this one with, it’s just s#*t! Maternity pay doesn’t stretch very far. And what’s more, the harsh reality is that when you do go back to work you’re probably looking at being even worse off unless you’re fortunate enough to earn a super duper wage or to have free childcare in place with a kind relative, etc. I won’t dwell on this one too long or it may lead to me having some kind of stress attack!

High: TV Competitions

You can enter all those daytime TV competitions that promise you the opportunity to win hundreds or thousands or millions of pounds! And if you win you might never have to go back to work!

Low: TV Competitions

A few months in you will realise you are still not a millionaire, thousandaire or even a hundredaire… and somehow you’ve spent £20 a month on TV competitions in the last quarter. Oops.

High: No More Mondays!

No more Monday Blues. Every day is your Friday! Hurrah!

Low: Being the Rookie

This one is true for the arrival of your first child at least. Overnight you will most likely go from being someone who is accomplished at their job to suddenly being thrown into a new, vastly different job that it turns out you have no idea how to do and there is nobody there to show you the ropes. This is a learning on the job situation and it may take longer than you anticipated to get yourself up to an acceptable level. All the books you read before starting the job appear to have taught you f@*k all other than the stuff you kind of knew already. You still have these books on the shelf and at times you think about reaching for them when you have no idea what the hell’s going on but then you remember you are too tired to think let alone navigate a baby manual the size of the Old Testament. Google it is instead. (Just avoid all the haters on those forum threads.)

Thank god your new boss is easy going at least. Well… other than all the crying and demanding attention and insisting upon milk as and when they wish. They don’t do performance reviews though, so your shortcomings won’t be marked down forever and you can just forget about it all when you finally do start to feel that you’ve found your feet.

High: Making New Friends

Other than new situations like beginning a new job, starting university, etc, I think it’s fair to say as adults we don’t often get the opportunity to make new friends. By this stage in life we’ve often got our established group of friends and we’re pretty set with it. But then suddenly you have a baby and all your existing friends are on a slightly different planet to you. They work during the day and do their socialising at night; you are free in the day but tied to your house when the sun goes down. Your life revolves around milk and poo and sick and growth charts and baby milestones; your friends lives still revolve around work and socialising and watching the latest gripping crime drama that you’ve tried to watch twice this week but both times had to abandon as you couldn’t concentrate over the sound of a crying baby. And thus there opens up a space for new friends – parent friends – who are going through the same things you are. They never could (or would) replace your awesome existing friends, but it’s nice to have someone to relate to about all things baby related while you’re stuck in this bubble of maternity leave. Someone you can talk to about leaky nipples, pooey nappies and coping strategies for sleep-deprivation. Whether you find them at a baby group, in an NCT class or on one of the new Mum friend ‘dating’ apps (as I like to call them) you may find yourself one or two really cool new friends to help you enjoy maternity leave even more.

Low: Lonely Days

Whether or not you have made new friends (as above) there will undoubtedly be some days when your partner is at work, so are your friends and family, and the only company you have is your bubba and Holly and Phil on the TV. Too many of these days in a row can take their toll, leaving you feeling a bit fed up and lonely. Lovely as your little one is he or she is not exactly the best conversationalist at this stage. Try your best to make sure you get out and about (even if it’s just for a walk) to lift your spirits.

High: Making the Most of your TV Subscription

You can finally make a dent in all those TV series you have had bookmarked on Netflix (or another subscription service of your choice). 6 months in and I’ve managed to work my way through The Good Wife, The Tudors, Orange is the New Black, The Good Place, and Seven Seconds. I’m also nearly through with re-watching Friends now that’s finally on there. And that’s without all the films I’ve finally checked off my list too. Screw you Netflix, I have got my money’s worth and then some while I’ve been at home!

Low: Feeling Like ‘Just a Mother’.

Of course there is no such thing as ‘just a mother’ – it’s probably the most important and fulfilling role you’ve taken on in your life to date. But you are first and foremost a person in your own right and it can be horrible feeling like you never have the space to just be that person from time to time, away from being your baby’s mama. I’ve been very lucky to have the opportunity to do things for me fairly regularly as my husband works shifts (leaving him free during the daytime a few days a week) and has often held the fort while I go to the gym, pop to the shops or go to get my hair done. I’ve also managed a couple of girly nights, one of which was overnight. I cannot overstate how good these times have been to me. I love being a mother but I also don’t want to lose sight of who I am as an individual. My advice would be to seize any opportunity you can to get a bit of you time!

High: This Time is Precious

The closer I get to the end of my maternity leave the more I become acutely aware of how precious this time is with my gorgeous little man and how much I am going to miss it when it’s over. I fully intend to enjoy every moment until I have to go back to work and find our new kind of normal routine. So enjoy it while it lasts!

Those are the highs and lows as I’ve found them in my time on maternity leave. Yours may differ! If you have any others feel free to share them in the comments.

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