Maternity vs. 'Meternity' June 16, 2016 08:00
Recently an article was published proposing the idea that people who do not have children should have the equivalent of maternity leave, a twelve week 'vacation' of introspective opportunities. The author cleverly called this 'meternity'. I'm all about this idea, with a catch: this should be offered to everyone regardless of if they have children and take maternity leave or not, because the idea that this could in any way relate to what maternity leave is, or that a woman taking maternity leave really has a 3 month vacation, is laughable.
Now, I really don't blame her for having this thought. She hasn't experienced maternity leave, and she must not know anyone who has taken it, or else she would never be able to compare the two. From an outsiders perspective, it does seem like a vacation - 12 weeks away from work is a good break. In the article she notes that some of her friends made life changes such as ending or switching their careers after taking maternity leave, but this could be for any number of reasons, money being a huge factor. In all honesty - kids are expensive! Newborns go through approximately 47 diapers a day, and don't even get me started on the cost of daycare. I thought college tuition prices were supposed to wait until college! No wonder some of these women made changes... maybe they had to! Back on track, let's talk about what the differences between a vacation and maternity leave actually are. We're all familiar with a vacation, but what is maternity leave?
First, let's clear up a discrepancy. We all call the time taken after giving birth maternity leave, when the fact is that most companies don't offer a true maternity leave... In reality what most new mothers take is FMLA or short term disability, and the terms of these vary. Pay varies as well, but there is only a certain amount of time that pay is accrued, and only at a percentage of full pay. Some people do not have the opportunity to take 12 weeks, and have to go back to work much earlier, while they are still recovering, and while their baby is still very young. And, there is often no leave offered for fathers, who are usually just as sleep deprived as the mother.
But, let's not get caught up in the weeds of how things could be better, let's shift gears to the highlights of a day in the life of a mom home with her new baby (as experienced by me, on any given day these past 4 weeks):
- Wake up at 6:00am after an interrupted night of sleep between hour-long feedings every 3 hours, which means 2 hours of sleep at a time.
- Think about what is going on that day and determine which level of black leggings I should put on (level 1: fresh and clean, level 2: worn for a couple of days, or level 3: worn for several days and nights with several milk stains). Locate a maternity size shirt to wear with black leggings (don't even think about trying to wear your pre-pregnancy clothes again yet, trust me)
- Relocate everything that lives on my nightstand at night (pump and pump supplies, bottle, giant water bottle, phone, diapers, wipes, etc) to set up in the living room for the day. Who would've thought this much stuff would be required to get through one night?
- (unedited photo of my disaster of a nightstand)
- Clean up 2 dog accidents within 15 minutes of each other (Ok not everyday, but this is just to say that regular life still happens with things to be dealt with!)
- Clean up and redress an explosive diaper (Again not everyday, but more often than anyone should have to deal with)
- Help my toddler get ready for school while nursing the newborn (Epitomizing the generation of multitasking! I've learned to hold a nursing baby with one hand while dressing my daughter with the other.)
- Kiss my husband and toddler goodbye for the day.
- (7:00am) Settle in on the couch after another diaper change for an endless nursing session... eat breakfast, and binge watch tv shows that my husband would hate (but that I love!!! Recommendations: Grey's Anatomy, Hart of Dixie, UnREAL, Jane the Virgin) After the baby nurses, I pump breastmilk to make sure she has a good supplement of hind milk if she falls asleep too fast. Sometimes these milk cannons are more than she can handle (Sidebar: breastfeeding is not easy! The first few weeks are especially hard as you and your baby are both learning how to work with each other. Again, I won't go into detail with this, but just think about the sacrifices that moms make next time you see someone nursing their child. My first was a hybrid with breastmilk and formula which worked great for us, and so far we're exclusively nursing with this one, but may have to use formula in the future. There are drawbacks and benefits to each, but bottom line, here's the thing - sometimes one just works better than the other, and that is perfectly fine. In other words, don't judge a fellow mama, she's making her choice for a reason!)
- Do an insane amount of laundry every day. How does one baby go through so many outfits in one day?! (answer: see note above about diapers)
- (the never-ending circle of laundry)
- Lather, rinse, repeat with the possibility of a nap thrown in there. Eat lunch (time varies, but lunch is typically dry Honey Nut Cheerios that I have to fend my dogs off of) then repeat diaper, nurse and if I'm lucky, a nap.
Some days we do get out of the house - the older that she gets (and the more I recover), the more we can handle. We go to Costco (my favorite place ever, but that's another blog post!), Trader Joes, out for long walks, but not all in the same day and not without frequent breaks and sometimes, a lot of tears (from both of us).
And, let's not get too into this, but recovery is hard. I can't be too far from the house for too long until my body can get itself together and stop leaking from every single orifice. Milk, sweat, tears, etc. The female body after giving birth is a hot mess for quite a while. A new mom's center of gravity has changed so quickly that she is often left with extreme back pain from essentially re-learning how to walk. And, sleep. Precious, fleeting sleep. It's amazing how a person can function on so little sleep. I can do the basics - take care of the baby, shower, get groceries, etc. But ask me to have an adult conversation and I'm a fumbling idiot. I can't think of words, can't get sentences out, hear things incorrectly, and sometimes just don't even know what to say. My daily conversations are with a baby, my TV, and in the evenings my husband and my 2 year old. My husband struggles with the same problem and we often laugh about attempted conversations with others. So, that leaves my 2 year old leaving the most impression on my daily speech, so please excuse me if in a conversation I manage to slip in a change of topic to 'talk about snowmans'.
You know though, the author of that article isn't entirely wrong... In the past 4 weeks I have had time to think more, and grow. Even with all of the above wreaking havoc on my ability to be a 'normal' person, I'm evolving to love another human being more than I ever thought I could, with my love increasing for my toddler and husband as well as we spend time together as a family of 4. And that is better than any true vacation.
(Disclaimer - I wrote this post several weeks ago, so now with my youngest at 8 weeks old, things are getting much easier. For all those mama's out there struggling in your first few weeks of having a newborn - and especially if it's your first - just hold on. I promise it gets better! It's a tough journey, but the reward is worth it.)