What Maternity Leave is Really Like

This post may be a little overdue. I have back to work full-time since mid-August, and¬†maternity leave seems like a lifetime ago. However, this time of year brings me back to a year ago when I was anticipating the first three months of my baby’s life and thinking ahead to the months I would be off of work. I don’t know if I was one of those women who had unrealistic ideas about what my leave would look like – I knew I would be exhausted and learning how to be a mom, not getting housework done or out getting manicures – but I truly think that the level of exhaustion is understated when it comes to maternity leave. I try to stay as honest as possible on this blog because I wish I had more knowledge going into life after baby. Like most first-time mamas, I was more concerned about labor and delivery than bringing baby home. I was scared of the pain, and all of the things that could go wrong. I was so focused on that one moment in time, that I rarely gave thought to the life beyond it.

I do recall having visions of me and babe, stroller in tow, sitting in coffee shops or wineries during the beautiful Charlottesville summer, enjoying my day. I didn’t realize that just getting out of the house would become something to celebrate.

My sweet Finn. Less than a week old

Full disclosure here – I’m about to get a little personal here. So Dad, stop reading ūüôā

Recovery

In the first few weeks following Finn’s arrival, my body was doing so many funky things that going anywhere sounded like a nightmare. First is the issue of recovery. Without going too¬†much into detail, I’ll just say¬†I needed diaper-like pads for about 1-2¬†weeks after giving birth, and graduated into normal pads after that. In addition, the hospital gave me a little kit of supplies to ensure I was healing correctly. Pushing a baby out of your body isn’t an easy feat and because of this, there are some wounds that need mending. The nurses graciously taught me how to use witch hazel and antibiotic spray to help myself heal.¬†I was also given mesh, disposable underwear to use for the first few days after birth – something I ultimately wish I had more of! Yikes!

The pain level was pretty bearable, especially considering the insanity that is labor pains ūüôā However, it was a¬†must to take it easy. Walking up and down stairs was a lot of work at first, but I managed to take some strolls through our neighborhood by the end of the first week.

Breastfeeding – and all the fun that goes with it

Ahh, breastfeeding.¬†I could write a post on this topic all it’s own. (I did talk here about my emotional decision to stop after 8 months.However, at first, I hardly thought I’d make it past 8 days.) I remember the very moment my milk “came in”. Finn was asleep and I was so uncomfortable¬†that I woke him up (worst idea ever) to try to feed him. He wanted no part of it and was just pissed off at me for even thinking it was okay to wake him.

I can’t really describe the feeling of a let down other than it feels like needles prickling you while also adding a cup size or two in a matter of minutes. (I’d say this happened for the first 2 or 3 weeks, then my milk began to regulate based on Finn’s eating schedule). Breast pads are a¬†must at first, and I would highly suggest buying several bras without underwire to sleep in. Going braless will result in a soaking wet shirt and a lot of wasted milk. For the first few weeks, I was so unsure of when these let downs would happen, that staying inside was the safest bet.

I had the added inconvenience of¬†needing a nipple shield to breastfeed. This is a strange little rubber shield that you place on your breast to help your baby get a good latch. (Without going too much into detail, my chest size was an issue for me and Finn.) In any case, this shield needed to be sterilized between each feeding, which just added another step¬†to the process. I had never heard of these things before, but it was a game-changer! (If you are an expecting mom, ask your pediatrician about these things ahead of time. You ultimately won’t know if your baby is a good eater or not until he/she arrives, but it beats having to drive around town with a 3-day-old trying to hunt down a nipple shield!)

Then, of course, is the insecurity of breastfeeding in public. At first, Finn’s eating schedule was so chaotic and random that it was nearly impossible to leave without having to feed him. Once we realized he ate every three hours or so, David would be packing the bag while I finished up one feeding in order to maximize the amount of time we had before the next. A lot of women are comfortable enough to breastfeed in public, I’m not one of them.

One of Finn’s very first car rides! Later Gator.

What clothes do I wear?

Okay, this is where I get a little vain. I knew my body wouldn’t bounce back overnight, but I sported a nice little pooch for about 5 months after I had Finn. I was no longer in maternity clothing, but my old clothes didn’t fit either. Add on top of that the scorching heat and humidity of Virginia summers, along with the needed accessibility for breastfeeding, and my wardrobe was quite limited. I lived in gym shorts and dresses.

Looking back, I don’t think my body fully recovered until about the 5-6 month mark.¬†Things were starting to feel normal when I went back to work after 10 weeks¬†– even just saying 10 weeks is laughable – but it was still quite a while before I was back to me.¬†For those moms who can take longer leave,¬†take full advantage.¬†That time at home flew by for me and now I’m lucky if I see Finn for 3 hours on work days. ūüôĀ

Bonding with baby

I look back at pictures of Finn in the first few months of his life and hardly remember him that small.¬†Our days were spent relaxing in bed until noon, snoozing on and off, walking Juneau with Finn bundled up in the Baby Bjorn,¬†(btw, a carrier is a MUST HAVE. We love our Bjorn. Finn fit in it when he was a newborn, and still does today at 8 months old. I carried him in it while my parents, David and I toured James Madison’s home, and Finn fell asleep in it!!!!! I almost melted over the cuteness… anyways…),¬†and waiting for Daddy to come home.

Finn used to fit into our bathroom sink to take a bath!

Bonding with David

David spent a week at home after Finn was born. (Like, really. A week. Cause that’s totally enough time to get your shit together after having a baby… but I digress.) When he went back to work, I was spending most of my time alone with Finn. At that point, I was the primary caregiver. I would be exhausted by the end of the day, and want to hand baby off to David as soon as he got home – which wasn’t fair to him after working all day! Like any new parents, exhaustion (and hormones) would get to us. It wasn’t until about three months after Finn was born, when we started getting him¬†on a daily schedule, that David and I got the hang of parenting together. Since then, David has taken a more active role in Finn’s life. He even checks me to keep him on schedule, which I find hysterical and endearing.

David and I have attempted to keep as normal a life as possible since welcoming Finn into our family. We try to get out of the house as much as possible, but some days, especially in those early days, it was just not happening. It took some time to fully accept that life was different – but at the same time, we made an effort to keep true to ourselves. Stay spontaneous, stay full of adventure, continue to make our relationship a priority. Communicating became key – well, even more key – to being successful and happy parents.

What was your maternity leave like?

 

 

 

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