Tomorrow marks my return to work. It’s been coming for a long time, but only as my six month long maternity leave comes to an end can I truly realize how much I will miss it. I’ll miss the little moments, the fleeting cuddles and the ease of fitting in a stroll around the shops. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, and only now can I look back and be aware of the mistakes I’ve made on my ‘extended holiday’ with Harrison. They are not necessarily mistakes, but choices that I now look back on and kick myself for making them at the time. As cliche as it sounds, each of them taught me a lesson I probably needed to learn going forward, but it doesn’t mean I don’t look back in hindsight and wonder how my time on maternity leave would have spanned if I had done it differently. I have no regrets, but I have a few alterations I’d make if ever I find myself on the ever allusive nine month holiday ever again.
1 // BELIEVING MATERNITY LEAVE WOULD BE AN EXTENDED HOLIDAY
If ever there was a fall from grace, it was my first month as a mother. When the lack of coffee dates, the dire financial situation and the exhaustion, this was nothing like what I had expected for my time off. That was my problem, unfortunately for me, maternity leave wasn’t time off. It was a stark reality that I was not ready for, and if I find myself on a second one, I’ll find it much easier, only because I’ll know what to expect. Maternity leave is what you make it, but it doesn’t mean it is easy. I remember my pregnant friend talking about taking an Open University course during her maternity leave while we were both pregnant. At the time, I almost felt inferior for not having planned to use my ‘time off’ productively. Thank the lord I didn’t, with a baby who didn’t like nap times, or night times, or sleep in general – an extra minute to even have a deep breathe or two was hard to come by, let alone to learn a language. Maternity leave is not a holiday, but it is an amazing time to bond and to really get to grips with parenthood.
2 // EXPECTING PEOPLE TO READ MY MIND (SPECIFICALLY MY PARTNER)
Take a bath for example. I love a good bath. During maternity, I couldn’t have a bath, because I was an idiot. If I wanted a bath, I wouldn’t ask for one. God no. I’d tiptoe round the idea, huffing and puffing about how difficult my life was and how much I smelled like ass. I’d hint so much I may as well have waved a lush bath bomb in my boyfriends face – and yet, he’d never tell me to go for a bath. The reason? Not because he was a selfish arse, as much as that is what I told myself. Men can be blind to the obvious; if I don’t tell him I want a bath, chances are he doesn’t know. This is not limited to the bath, but I wish I’d realized sooner that I can just ask for what I want, but more importantly, for what i need.
3 // LETTING THE FEAR OF LOOKING LIKE A BAD MUM GET IN THE WAY
It was never the fear of being a bad mum that got in my way during maternity leave: I was comfortable in everything (well, comfortable enough) that I was doing, and I knew my child was happy and healthy. What hindered me was the thought of looking like a bad mum, like I didn’t know what I was doing or that I wasn’t in control. Anxiety got the best of me in the first few months, and things that should have been simple like going to the shops, or for coffee or to baby sensory just didn’t happen. Babies cry. They are sick. They can be noisy and people will look. But most won’t judge, and if they do, they are ass-holes and they do not matter. I now know that I am not a bad mum, and my 7 month old having a wail in the middle of nandos does not reflect my parenting ability. A bit of a red face is nothing in the grand scheme of things.
4 // BUYING INTO THE BULL
I may have had little time to learn a language, but I managed to find plenty of time to buy a hell of a lot of shit I didn’t need and never used. The next time I decide to have a child (not anytime soon), my phone will be banned from night feeds, and I will be removing my card details from my auto-fill function on my laptop. Amazon is the devil and it is solely responsible for my garage which is now overflowing with door bouncers, jumparoos, walkers and play mats. You do not need ten different ones. Try before you buy. In the end they’ll always still choose the baby wipe packet over the expensive toys. Save your money for expensive coffee and the rainy day fund.
5 // STRESSING OVER THINGS I NEVER NEEDED TO STRESS OVER
Dare I say this, but I stressed too much over things I didn’t need to stress about. For me, it was a blog. I put too much effort into something less than substantial in the long run. It feels odd calling something ‘less than substantial’ that I have lost sleep over – but a blog is a blog. It may have given me the skills to make money from social media and from freelance work, but the work will always be there, the newborn days will not. It took me four months of time that I now realize was probably as sacred as time comes, but taking the pressure off of myself and focusing on what was important was the best choice I could have made. Next time, less stress, more fun.
Would I change anything? No, probably not (well, maybe the unwanted purchases, because some extra garage space would never go amiss) – I needed to learn everything I did from my time on maternity leave. I needed to learn the hard way that my baby will be sick in public, and it won’t be the end of the world, I needed to learn that communication is key, even if it meant I didn’t get my bath until I reached that conclusion. I needed to work out maternity leave for myself, and I’m now more content than ever with the time I had with my child. Now, back to the big world of work and the early morning rises. If anyone has any tips as to how the hell I’m going to manage to get both myself and a 7 month old dressed, packed and out of the door for half past seven, that would be great.
Wish me luck….