Reflections on Maternity Leave

by - Wednesday, January 17, 2024

After 6 months, my maternity leave is officially over and I'm filled with so many emotions. 

I'm so grateful to have had this time even though it was not what I imagined it would be. There were times when it was so, so hard and days when I so deeply missed talking to another adult during the day. There were times it felt so isolating even though I was lucky enough to have friends on maternity leave at similar times. And there were times when the baby would cry and I just couldn't figure out what he needed and then I'd be crying too.


But as the time draws to a close, I know I will miss the days of getting to spend all our time together. Watching my little boy experience something for the first time or make progress toward a milestone. He's such a serious little boy sometimes, who concentrates so hard on whatever toy he's holding or whatever new thing has caught his attention. 

I'll miss some of the little routines we've fallen into like spending 20 minutes sitting on the porch each morning to get some fresh air and sunshine, while I drink my tea and he either studies the patterns of the bricks in the wall or watches the cars go by or intensely studies one of the electrical outlets covered in a water-proof box. 


I already miss some of the early stages when he was just a few weeks old and would fallen asleep on me easily. So many times when it happened, I remember being frustrated that I was "nap trapped," and couldn't go to the bathroom or get more water or eat some food. I wish I had realized how short that phase was and did a better job just enjoying those very fleeting moments. Now my kiddo pretty much won't sleep anywhere but a crib or if we're lucky a car seat while we're on the road. 

But it's hard when you're in the thick of it, and you just desperately want a minute to yourself to regroup or meet one of your own basic needs. 

Maternity leave for me had a lot of struggles. My initial recovery was hard given all the hemorrhaging I experienced in the hospital. I was lucky to have parents and in-laws who came and helped in the first two weeks after we were home. And my husband was able to take four full weeks off of work right when we got home. 

I had a great support system, and pretty much always had another adult around to chat with when I wasn't napping in those early days. 

As I started to heal more from the C-section and my husband went back to his day job, I found camaraderie with two friends who also had babies over the summer. I started attending a weekly mom and baby yoga class in the neighborhood with one of my friends, and it was so nice to have a sliver of normalcy and a reason to get out of the house once a week. 


I relied heavily on my daily walks, which were such a lifesaver when the baby would nap the entire time. I could put on a podcast and walk for easily an hour or hour and half and feel a bit like my normal active self. 

The news that I'd need another surgery at around 12 weeks postpartum because I wasn't healing well from the C-section was a huge blow -- physically for sure, but mentally more than anything. I know I wrote a whole post on this, so I won't spend too much time here on it, but it was hard to start recovery all over again, and it wasn't until maybe mid-December that I felt like I was maybe, finally full physically recovered from childbirth. For those counting, my child was over five months old at that point. 

Before I gave birth, I had all these visions for fun little outings I wanted to do with the baby while I was on leave -- reasons to get out of the house and also chances to show him new things and have new experiences together. 

Some of these things I eventually got to do -- a short hike in Rock Creek Park with another friend who was also on maternity leave, weekly story time at the library, exploring at the Arboretum, saying goodbye to the pandas at the National Zoo (snuck this one in the day before my second surgery).  


The one outing I was most bummed to have to cancel was apple picking and visiting one of our favorite farms this fall. The timing of my second surgery basically meant I was laid up for the bulk of the picking season. 

As the baby got older it started to become a little harder for him to fall asleep any time, any where, and I spent a lot of time trying to establish a somewhat predictable nap schedule. Figuring out sleep was probably the hardest, but most worthwhile thing (and perhaps the thing I'm most proud of baby-raising wise) from my maternity leave. 

We got very lucky in that our child was always a pretty good night sleeper from the beginning, but we also worked hard to establish good sleep habits. By like week four or five, we'd introduced a "bed time routine" basically just a set of consistent things we did each night to send the message it was time to sleep -- bath, PJs, feeding, book. 

The first time he slept for more than a three hour stretch overnight, I obviously panicked and thought something horrible happened. But by the time he was three-months old, we were fairly consistently getting 8 hours of sleep each night. 

Naps were a different story, and I swore I read to the end of the Internet on how to help get better naps so our kiddo wasn't so overtired all the time. I tried a million different things, that all got disrupted with that second surgery, but eventually, eventually we found a system that worked. I now consider myself a minor expert on baby sleep. Ask me about wake windows, sleepy cues and linking sleep cycles and I can talk your ear off. I was happy when I got us onto a consistent four-nap schedule around 3 or 4-months old, and life has become tons more predictable now that we're on a three-nap schedule. I feel like I can actually plan things that won't totally mess with nap time and I'm not as trapped in the house. 

But boy that feeling of being trapped and isolated really permeated a lot of my leave. I loved getting to spend time with my child. Every time I managed to get a gummy smile or a giggle, my heart would melt. But I missed interacting with adults, and using my brain to solve more complex problems than why is this child crying now. There's only so many times I can do the same activities with the same toys or dream up a new game to play when we're bored after 30 seconds. 

And for all those reasons, I'm sometimes so excited to go back to work. I have a job I really enjoy. It plays to my strengths. It lets me problem solve and be creative. And I work with some of the best people, several of whom I consider friends outside of the office, and I miss them. There have been a handful of times over my leave when I've popped in and looked at a few work emails, and I'm excited to get caught up on everything I've missed the last few months.

But holy heck, the minute I think about being excited to go back to work, I feel slapped down by some major guilt, and then I get nostalgic for this uninterrupted time with my child that I'll never have again, and woof that swirl of emotions is tough. 

I'm grateful that my husband still has some of his paternity leave left and he will be staying home with the baby while I transition back to my salaried job. If I had to juggle my transition back to my day job with a daycare transition too, I'd be emotionally spent. 

Despite the fact that my maternity leave was not a walk in the park, I am so beyond grateful that I had this time. I got so lost, but learned so much and it was messy and hard, but also really beautiful. It's a privilege that many people in the U.S. do not have, and I'll forever be thankful that I had this time, and that as it comes to an end, I'm not feeling forced back to work, but prepared and a little bit nervous to take that next step.

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