Maternity leave – The reality of the situation!

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“How many times in your life do you get to take time out of work?”, I asked myself. Once the pregnancy was public knowledge, and after all the usual questions about ‘Do you know what you’re having?’ ‘Have you got any names?’ and so on, came the next question ‘How much time are you taking off for maternity leave?’ Well I can’t say I had ever spent much time thinking about the answer to this before last October time. Having spent many years at school, six years at university and five years in a training scheme, I felt like I had stepped on a conveyor belt at age 4 and hopped off aged 29 with a qualification and the shock of finally having to get a permanent job – with a C.V. and everything. Now don’t get me wrong I’d had a C.V. before this but it was always more of a ‘for information’ only. It never needed to get me a job before! Anyway jump to last October and I was at another point in my life where I actually had to make another decision – how much time should I take off as maternity leave? So we talked about it and, being in a fortunate enough position to make such a decision, agreed I’d take a year out. Or at least aim for a year. I also had to decide when to finish work. Lots of people seemed to stop at 39 or 40 weeks, or use up some annual leave to finish a little earlier. Most people’s rationale was that they wanted to have the maximum time off with their baby. A colleague was just about to finish for maternity leave just as I was making the decision. With holiday to use she was finishing at 37 weeks. She sat with me one lunch and explained just how glad to finish she was. She was tired and struggling to get through a day of seeing 30-40 patients. With this advice I made a decision that I would finish at 37 weeks. I didn’t have annual leave to take.

Then came my husband’s jokes about me spending a year watching daytime television, whilst I explained how busy I would be with the baby (though secretly imagining days of meeting people for coffee and gardening).  I spent many times feeling like I was required to justify finishing at 37 weeks. I almost felt ashamed to say that I preferred to have 3 weeks to myself rather than an extra 3 weeks at home with the baby. I made many plans as to what I would do before Amelia arrived, what we would do together, and all of the tasks around the house that I should aim to do before the end of the maternity leave.

Fast-forward to March 2015. Having had exactly one week of maternity leave (just enough time for an eye check, dental check-up and a haircut) Amelia arrived at 38 weeks. Well that put paid to a spa day I had planned for the following week as last minute relaxation! I could only be thankful that I’d at least had one week off to run last minute errands because her arrival was a whirlwind. I had not packed snacks in my maternity bag. In fact I hadn’t even done any shopping. So for the first week parents and local takeaways mostly provided our meals! I can probably count on one hand the number of times I left the house in the first couple of weeks. I had a baby attached to my breast for half the day (more on that another time)! If I wasn’t feeding her I was feeding myself. I hadn’t really had many preconceptions of what maternity leave might be like to start with, but I guessed it would be tiring. I really didn’t appreciate how full on the day would be with such an intense feeding regime. The concept of ‘you sleep when the baby sleeps’ was mystifying since if I did literally that then I would not have eaten or washed for some time.

I wouldn’t say the first three months went by in haze as I can recall a lot of events and days vividly. But they certainly sped by. I really did spend quite a lot of time in front of the T.V. In fact I knew the daytime schedule like the back of my hand. Amelia also used to have the best and most sustained sleep of the day between 8am and 11-11.30 am. So generally I was not out of bed until late morning/lunchtime on most days. I was so lucky in the first three months to have relatives around for much of the time. My younger sister spent some time staying with us to help out, my dad would come over at the drop of a hat after calls to say I was just exhausted after a bad night, and my older sister, in total, must have spent probably a month on and off staying with us and helping out. In fact – my sisters, and my 15 year-old niece provided respite and undertook night feeds, giving myself and Daddy a chance to have some restful sleep.

When we got to three months I couldn’t believe just how quickly the time had gone. It was a quarter of the way through my maternity leave and I had really not achieved much. I had been a fool and decided to continue a Diploma I was undertaking so in this time I had sat and written two 1500 word reports. I cannot say for certain how this happened (I was supposed to do them before she arrived). I also had an exam to sit when she was 3.5months old. This really just highlighted the lack of insight into what it would be like. I think I thought that with all the time off I’d have time to sit and revise. I just hadn’t realised that my brain would be like mush. I have no more to say on this error in judgment! I have made other sleep deprived errors of judgment, for example buying nearly 150 plug plants (not that I knew exactly what this meant) when she was two months old and having to pot them up, and agreeing to undertake my annual appraisal when she was three months old.

Somehow, by around four months old, Amelia started to need me a little less. She was feeding less regularly and able to entertain herself a bit more. She didn’t need to lie on me to nap in the day, and the number of times I have been stranded on the sofa for an hour or two while she sleeps on me is such that I can count them on one hand. So we’ve been out and about more. I have done four mornings of work (though I don’t think I’d manage a full day until she can manage a full night of sleeping through), we’ve been to visit friends, and stayed over places. In the last month I have even managed to get out in the garden, with her taking her afternoon nap in her pram, and do some gardening. She’s now at an age where she’s far more interactive so we have signed up to some mother and baby sessions for the autumn term. It just feels like it’s taken a long time to get to this stage, and now we are nearly halfway through my planned time off.

I must admit I have enjoyed the mornings that I have been to work. My brain has been used in a way that it is used to. I have challenged it and ensure it still works (I sometimes have serious doubts about this when I realized I have left the washing powder on top of the washer, carried the T.V. remote to bed with me and told the same story several times to the same person). Yet I also really enjoy the days when we don’t get dressed and have a lazy day at home! So, as I enter month seven of maternity leave I look forward to our jam-packed schedule of baby groups and meeting friends and family for lunch or tea!