The other day I discharged one of my women on day 23. This may sound quite late to still be visiting women after they’ve had a baby but personally I feel that day 14 is too soon. Most women’s partners are back at work after 2 weeks and that first week flying solo is really tough. You feel like you are constantly breastfeeding and the thought of even getting dressed and leaving the house is too much to cope with. So you stay in your pj’s watching day time tv and eating chocolate biscuits, checking Facebook, taking selfies of you and your new baby and using those amazing Instagram filters to hide your bags.
I gave my usual schpeel about seeing your GP at 6 weeks, contraception, pelvic floor exercises, baby clinic and asked what her support network like. She rolled off all the classes her and her pals she’d met at NTC are going to do. Baby massage, baby sensory, baby yoga, swimming, power pramming, baby cinema. I was exhausted just thinking about all of that. I can barely fit in the 3 runs a week I am trying to do as part of my get fit routine this year. But I smiled a knowing smile and walked away thinking she will be just fine. It’s all a big learning curve.
Because all that stuff you throw yourself into during maternity leave is really to keep you sane and get you out of the house. And you don’t want to feel like you’re missing out or that you’re a bad mother for depriving your baby of any of those classes which are scientifically proven to increase their IQ (ahem).
So as a mother of 2 having gone through maternity leave twice and hated some days so much I wanted to scream and run back to work, I want to share with you the truth with some tips thrown in too, for your own sanity.
Maternity leave is expensive. Once your mat pay starts to dwindle, all those coffees and lunches out start eating a hole in your purse. But where’s the pleasure in sitting at home drinking a Nescafe? Think wisely to saying yes to meeting friends for lunch. If you’re meeting work pals in town during their lunch break they should really offer to pay as they’re on a full time salary. If some of your new ‘mum mates’ live locally, take it in turns to host coffee mornings at each other’s houses. Offer to make a cake or if you’re living in the real world and have been up all night with your baby take a packet of chocolate Hobnobs. Chocolate always makes things better.
Baby classes are great but again so expensive. I paid for 10 mother and baby yoga classes at a local private gym. Total waste of money. My baby screamed during every position the teacher got us to do, even bouncing her on an exercise ball whilst singing ‘Row Row Row Your Boat’ didn’t end her screams. I ended up sitting on the side breastfeeding her for the rest of the class and lying when the teacher asked me if I was doing my pelvic floor exercises. And you know what I learnt? I learnt that my baby was highly strung and hated the echo and noise of that place and at that time of the morning she wanted to be fed and then sleep in her sling. Lessons learnt.
Maternity leave is a competitive game. It’s a constant battle of who’s losing their baby weight quicker, whose baby is playing with what toy, who’s getting more sleep, whose baby is reaching the next milestone. With my first baby I joined a postnatal already established group of 7 Mums. You know the saying ‘too many cooks?’ Well it was a bit like that. To this day 2 of them are still my really close friends but I found the big group meet ups stressful and one girl far too controlling and bitchy. It was like being back at school. With my second baby I already had friends with babies so I saw them separately and it was perfect. Everyone was a little more chilled and more into meeting up and swapping gossip rather than weaning tips.
Sleep deprivation pushes you to the lowest of lows. And once the night is over the day comes and babies don’t sleep for long in the day unless they’re being constantly pushed in their pram. This is tough. There were days were I wanted to be at home, getting house holds chores done, maybe do some cooking but my daughter like all babies wanted to be held, CONSTANTLY. Because that’s what babies do. They don’t really like those bouncer chairs for more than 2 minutes 24 seconds and no one can shower and wash their hair that quickly, never mind shave their legs. So my advice is get a sling if you have shit to do, or leave the washing and watch box sets whilst breastfeeding on the sofa. Stock up on loads of them now if you’re pregnant and reading this. Ask for them if your friends want to buy you presents for your baby shower. Breaking Bad and Mad Men are my top recommendations.
Self help books made me feel like an idiot. ‘How to get your baby to sleep through the night’ books and ‘How to get your baby into a routine’ are more challenging that the task itself. Don’t get me wrong, I know and have heard of many babies who have been trained to do this but not without a lot of stress and tears. A vivid memory of this was when my first baby was 6 weeks old and I was reading a certain book to try and established a routine to our misery. I was holding her in one arm as she screamed and scanning the pages of the book in the other trying to find the bit that said what I should be doing at mid day with her. The book clearly states that she can’t be hungry as I had fed her only an hour ago and she needs some ‘tummy time’ on her play gym. It was mid day, she was screaming and screaming on her tummy under her horrible garish play gym. I looked at this hideously stressful situation I was putting her and myself in. So what did I do? I listened to my maternal instincts, picked her up cuddled her and fed her. And I promised her that I would throw that stupid book away and never do that to her again. We made it through the rest of the day just fine.
You will feel like a failure and that you can’t do it. You know in labour when you said ‘I can’t do this is’ and your partner and midwife said ‘You can and you are doing this’, well remember that. Because all over the country and the world other mothers are thinking the same thing. You’re not depressed, you are just climbing the huge mountain of motherhood. And no one said it was easy, and maternity leave is on some days boring, and lonely and unfulfilling. And you crave your old life, and the job you left behind because you used your intelligent brain and felt stimulated and had proper lunch breaks and went for a wee without having a baby attached to your nipple. But you are doing just fine. Who cares if your baby is wearing a stained baby grow and you haven’t done the baby massage your were taught in those stupidly expensive classes today. All your baby knows and needs is you. And that can feel overwhelming in itself. And the sleep does get better, and adjusting to motherhood takes time, plenty of time. Mine are 6 and 3 and I’m still adjusting. Share your fears and anxieties with your mum mates because we need to be sisterly in all of this and be honest with one another.
And just when you’ve got into the swing of it all and your baby is eating solids, and sleeping better and holding toys and actually enjoying going to play groups, your maternity leave is almost up. And you can’t believe how fast the past 11 months has gone and you’ll be riddled with guilt and questioning everything. ‘Why did I complain that it was so awful, I’m going to miss my baby so much. Will my baby be happy at nursery/the childminder? Did I do enough? The answer is yes you will miss that small human you have spent every second of the day with for the past year and yes your child will be happy with the new routine of nursery/the childminder. And yes you did enough you survived, you will get a piece of your life back. And you will be a stronger human for it.