Maternity leave: you are doing it all wrong
It seems that I, and probably also you, did maternity leave the wrong way. You see, I mistakenly thought that maternity leave was time off work to care for a new baby, you know the ones that just eat, poop and sleep but need constant care through all hours of the day and night? But according to author Meghann Foye, all women should be entitled to ‘me-ternity’ leave, because it’s not just women who deserve a little time off work.
I don’t know about you but my maternity leave, especially in the early stages looked a little something like this…
- 8-10 daily breastfeeds of 30-45 minutes each
- a similar number of nappy changes, not to mention the whole outfit changes, sometimes 3 or more times a day, when a poosplosion strikes
- washing said clothes plus all the rest covered in baby vomit and breastmilk plus my clothes, also covered in baby vomit and breastmilk
- going to bed at 8:30 knowing that I will likely be woken up at least twice through the night for those 30-45 minutes feeds
- spending more time trying to get baby to sleep than they actually sleep
- trying to eat well and look after myself so that I can be healthy for my baby
- carrying a 10kg nappy bag with me everywhere I went with all the “essentials” for the day – i.e. 10 nappies, 3 changes of baby clothes, spare breast pads for when I sprang a leak, muslin wraps, snacks and water for myself and all those other baby things you have to carry just in case
- spending hours on Facebook and Google trying to work out how to actually do this parenting thing by comparing myself to others and relying on Dr Google for information
And then if you have a toddler (or a few of them!) to add into the mix, you can remove the 8:30pm sleep, add a few kg to the nappy bag, up the nappy changes (or perhaps toilet visits) and add cooking meals for the older kids and washing clothes covered in dirt, texta and unknown sticky substances.
The opportunities for me time are endless! Well, that is if you consider passing out in your bed hoping to get a few hours sleep before you are woken again “me time”. Or maybe “me time” for you is lying on a couch with a sleeping baby on top of you, too afraid to move in case they wake up? Or are you one of those women who finds moving the clothes from the washing machine to the dryer a real thrill and a chance for time out?
Now, I am a big advocate for mums finding time for themselves in their day, I even wrote an eBook with lots of tips on how to do it. But the reality of maternity leave, especially with a newborn, is that those opportunities are limited. You might be able to have a shower or take baby for a walk or even meet a friend for coffee but at the end of the day you are responsible for this tiny person, trying to learn how to care for them and that is what matters most, not me time or taking time to reflect, as Foye suggests women could use their “me-ternity” time to do.
The reality for many women who return to work after a maternity leave absence is that there is even less opportunity for “me time”. Sure they may be racing off from work early to pick up the kids or taking days off to look after sick kids but there is generally not time for drinks after work with their colleagues or Sunday sleep ins to prepare them for the week ahead. There are more late, sleepless nights trying to care for the kids, look after themselves and the house and squeeze what can often be a full-time job into part-time hours that often means taking work home to do when the kids have gone to bed.
For those of us mums who leave corporate life to enter the world of entrepreneurship it is really no different. Juggling your own business while looking after kids brings similar challenges to those of our corporate sisters, trying to find a balance and keep everyone happy.
And don’t even get me started on the dads that Foye has left out of her argument. The Dads who are often up with us mums, helping to care for the baby and then waking up each day to go to work, bleary eyed and exhausted to come home to a wife who is over it and just wants a break to maybe have a shower and some me time.
The reality of maternity leave and having a baby is not something you can truly understand until you are standing in the position of taking leave from your job to bring a new person into the world. The sleepless nights are not like those of your youth when you would stay up partying all night, week in, week out. The fear and worry you feel over every decision you make is unlike anything you will ever experience and the love is like no other.
How was your maternity leave? Did you have lots of time for self reflection and relaxation in the wee hours of your sleep deprived mornings?
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