If you’ve never had a child, it’s easy to assume that maternity leave is kind of like a vacation. Before I had kids myself, that was my (completely misguided) impression. But you better think twice before you tell your colleague to “enjoy” her break when she heads out for maternity leave.
I get it — from the perspective of those back at the office, it can seem like the mother-to-be is going to have the chance to rest for several weeks. But I’m here to give it to you straight: “rest” is really the opposite of maternity leave.
I learned this the hard way. In fact, just before I had my first child, I put together a long list of projects I planned to complete while I was “on break” for 12 weeks: learning Romanian (really!), cleaning out my closet, reorganizing my digital music, closing a lapsed bank account. Want to know how far I got? That bank account is still open and my son is turning 6 this year.
So, here is my public service announcement so that you don’t have to learn the hard way, too. You and everyone you know should understand that maternity leave is in no way similar to a vacation. What’s it really like? Sit down, and I’ll tell you.
1. You get essentially no break.
During your work day, you probably feel like you can take a few minutes to grab a coffee or... you know... go to the bathroom.
When you’re home alone with a newborn, those kinds of breaks are impossible to come by. I admit there were days when I didn't even get to brush my teeth — and my dentist reassured me that this is actually a common problem he encounters when treating new parents. Time to brush your teeth? I’ve peed while breastfeeding my son. (TMI?)
One more thing: the minute you set out to do something — like take a shower while your baby is sleeping — your baby begins screaming because he/she woke up... and probably pooped.
2. If you're a birth mother, your body is hurting.
You will be sore in ways (and places) you didn’t even realize were possible. And it's even worse if you’ve had a C-Section.
People don’t talk about this much, but birth mothers also bleed for three to six weeks after giving birth (yes, even if you have a C-Section). So, there’s that, too.
Plus: Nipple soreness and even breast infections — yes, really — are highly common. You may even find yourself pressing cabbage leaves on your boobs during your free 60-seconds just to relieve the excruciating pain. (Again: really.)
Even though you are busier than you have ever been, your body very much needs any rest you can give it. And it's truly the "recovery" kind of rest, not the beach vacation kind. But you won't get much because it's probably time to feed the baby. Or change a poopy diaper. And because you're not resting well, it means your recovery takes longer.
3. Newborn work is nonstop.
New parents are on duty 24 hours a day.
Somehow, once this tiny newborn arrives at your home, you are busy in ways you never thought were possible — and the activity never stops. It's especially tricky because usually one parent is home alone with the newborn, but most newborns are easily a two-man (woman?) job. And you have never seen so. Much. Poop.
Imagine this: you finally managed to feed your baby, which took an hour. Then the baby spit up all over themselves and the rug. Now you need to bathe the baby from head to toe, clean the carpet, and do the laundry. As soon as you are done with that project, you'll need to start feeding the baby all over again. Getting the idea?
4. Your learning curve is high.
Everything is new. If you haven’t had a kid yet, how experienced are you with warming a bottle, changing a diaper or pumping breast milk? Almost everything you’re doing is something you’ll have to learn. And you are learning, like, 1,000 things a day while trying to figure out how to execute them all in the most effective way. That alone is exhausting, but it's especially bad in your viciously sleep-deprived, body-aching state.
5. You get basically no sleep.
Your baby doesn't know or care what time it is. And as a matter of fact, they are usually more wakeful and active at night. So you will probably end up like me, looking longingly out my window at the hundreds of apartments around me where people were sleeping. Because you will not be. A new parent is probably getting three to four hours per night — and they will definitely be interrupted. Probably by poop.
So please, world, take note: Next time you talk to a woman who is about to take maternity leave, do NOT say, "Enjoy your break!" Instead, you might try, "May the Force be with you."
Note to expectant mothers: In case I've just scared the poop out of you, please understand that the newborn phase is truly just a phase. It passes quickly and one day (eventually) you will sleep and get breaks again. Just make sure you have a strong support network and a good sense of humor. You will love your baby so, so much that it will all be worth it.
Before you take your maternity leave, check out our maternity leave checklist to help make the process smoother.
A version of this article was originally published on PopSugar.
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