A Real Look at Maternity Leave

Before I left work for maternity leave, a couple of my co-workers made comments that they wished they could have 12 weeks off of work. They meant well, but I had to comment back that some days, my maternity leave is harder than the job I get paid for.

To be honest, I probably thought the same thing before I had kids and experienced maternity leave myself. I had images of relaxing on the couch and cuddling with my newborn while he or she slept. I’d be getting things done around the house that had been put off and binging on Netflix shows.

I quickly learned after having my first child that this was not the reality.

I recently had my second child and went in to my maternity leave with a whole new set of expectations. If I was able to take a shower, then I considered it a win for the day. Don’t get me wrong, the baby snuggles are amazing, but my time off is no vacation. Yet for some reason, I have to take personal days and sick days for maternity…but I digress.

Allow me to take off the Instagram filter and show you the true picture of maternity leave:

maternityleave

Hot coffee, a warm meal, and a shower feel like a vacation.

My daughter was almost 7 weeks old until I successfully showered several days in a row along with blow dry my hair, and have breakfast. Most days, I had to choose which one I was going to have and forget about the others. I usually am not able to eat lunch unless I go through a drive-through and eat the food on the way home. Warm dinners rarely happen because I’m usually nursing the baby when the other members of my family are eating. When I get the chance to drink a cup of coffee without constantly popping it in the microwave to warm it up, it feels like I’ve won the lottery.

The True Picture of Maternity Leave
Warm coffee, but no make up or shower and still in pjs.

So much pee, poop, and spit up.

The average newborn goes through 10-12 diapers in a day. This equals close to 320 diapers just in the first month! This number doesn’t account for putting a clean diaper on your child only to have them poop immediately after and having to change them again. Or when they poop or pee without even having a diaper on.

My second daughter had an awful diaper rash that started at two weeks and would not go away easily. We had to constantly make sure her little bum was dry before we could put her diaper rash medicine on. Without fail, at every diaper change, she peed or pooped when we were trying to dry her out. When little boys pee without a diaper on it sprays, but people don’t realize that little girls’ pee pools all over. This results in pee up the back, on clothes, and sometimes even up to the hair. What a huge mess with a lot of clean up!

My first daughter rarely spit up during her first year of life. I realize now how lucky we were, because my second spits up. We constantly have to have a burp rag around in case she spits up on us.

Constant Wardrobe Rotation

My wardrobe consists of a constant rotation of yoga pants, a nursing tank, and a zip-up sweatshirts. I don’t even attempt to wear a shirt that doesn’t allow me to quickly access the girls at a moment’s notice. It’s also a miracle if I can get out of my pajamas before 10 o’clock…or even get out of them at all. My non-maternity-leave self would never go out in public in sweatpants (it’s just not my style).  But, I have no issues with it when jeans aren’t comfortable and I’m guaranteed to have spit up on them by the end of the day.

The True Picture of Maternity Leave
Zip up sweatshirt, nursing tank and glasses with a naked three day old in a milk coma.

Laundry, endless amounts of laundry

I forgot how much laundry needs to be done with a newborn. They constantly are spitting up, peeing or blowing out on to their clothes. These stains often can’t sit for long or the clothes will be ruined, so you are constantly throwing laundry in the washer and folding it. I’m pretty sure our water bill has gone up since we added a fourth member to our family.

Amazon purchases/Target trips

This might be one positive (or maybe in my husband’s eyes, a negative) of maternity leave. Amazon is tempting in general, but something about maternity leave makes the instant gratification of Prime shipping that much more appealing  It’s all too easy to swipe the BUY NOW at 3 a.m. This addiction isn’t a good thing with the unpaid maternity leave I’m taking, but I can’t help it. There have been a couple of times that packages have shown up at my door and I can’t even remember what’s inside them. I’ll be checking in to Amazon Anonymous after my leave is over.

Also, Target is a women’s playground when they are on maternity leave, especially when you have a winter baby. Target was tempting before, but when you have an endless amount of hours in your day to wander the aisles, it is dangerous. There isn’t a new and expecting mothers parking spot at Target because almost every parking spot would need that designation. Target’s business thrives on women being on maternity leave. When you have to stop in to Target for another box of diapers or package of wipes, they entice you with the cutest outfit for your newborn or a new shirt for you.  Just stay away or be prepared to pay the $100 exit fee.

Swaddling, Shushing, & Swaying

The first six to eight weeks of leave are spent feeding the baby or trying to get the baby asleep. Before having my first child, I just assumed that when babies are tired, they fall asleep. Some amazing babies do this, but most babies after the first couple of weeks need help falling asleep before they get overtired. An overtired baby equals lots of crying and it becomes even harder for them to fall asleep. Swaddling, shushing, and swaying become your best friends to help get them into dreamland.

I joke that both my daughters have FOMO (fear of missing out). They both fought sleep as newborns like it was their job. I think I have gotten them to sleep and then two seconds later, their eyes pop wide open. There have been days where I spend the majority of my day standing up and swaying my daughter, praying that her eyes will close soon and I can sit down. Often by the time you get the baby to sleep, they wake up to eat. It’s a vicious cycle that can sometimes make you feel like you are going crazy!

The True Picture of Maternity Leave
Sleeping baby…do not move!

Nap? What Nap?

You know the saying, “Nap when the baby naps.” Lies! All lies! I would get so mad when I heard this on leave with my first. I’m pretty sure I have taken a total of three naps my entire maternity leave.  It only because I had my mom over to hold the baby, or my husband was home. It just doesn’t happen often. The baby eats every two to three hours and can take 30 to 40 minutes to eat at the beginning. An hour later, and they are hungry again.

When you’re breastfeeding, you are the only one that can provide that food. When you are finally able to get the baby asleep, and try to set them down, they usually wake up. I don’t know how they know when they aren’t in your arms anymore, but they do!  It’s so frustrating, especially when you are running on two hour chunks of sleep. It’s not worth the process of repeating the shushing, swaddling and swaying, so instead you choose to hold them and forgo your own nap.

The True Picture of Maternity Leave
This makes it all worth it!

While maternity leave isn’t glamorous, I wouldn’t trade the time I have off for anything. Getting through the first six to eight weeks is the hardest. Once you exit the newborn fog, get in to a semi-routine, and see your baby’s sweet smile for the first time, it makes it all worth it.

What do you think is important for people to know about maternity leave?


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Elizabeth is a personable, outgoing mom living in Cedar Rapids and working as a high school counselor. She met her husband, Ryan, in high school, but were friends for several years. They started dating while they were both at the University of Iowa and have been married since 2009. After enjoying 5.5 years as a married couple with only a dog to be responsible for, they added to their family in November 2014 when their daughter Elin was born. They welcomed their second daughter, Myla, in October 2016. In her free time, Elizabeth enjoys being outside, reading, traveling, attempting to be crafty, running, cheering on the Hawkeyes and spending time with family and friends. She’s loved seeing Cedar Rapids through the lens of a mom and all our city has to offer for families.

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