I’m currently about half way through my second maternity leave and I am here to tell you that maternity leave does not a vacation make. But that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy your time off of work despite the sleepless nights and constant demands of a newborn.
When my first son was born I had no clue what I was doing. I worried constantly – was he too hot or too cold? Did that cry mean he was hungry? (But I just fed him!) Was his diaper too tight on his skin? Should I wake him up to eat since three hours had passed since his last feeding? (Answer: no!) All my energy went into one goal and one goal only: Keeping the baby alive. A good goal, for sure, but I wish I could’ve just relaxed a little bit. That’s something I’ve been able to do this second time around and, as a result, have really enjoyed my time with my new baby.
The first few weeks with a newborn are difficult, there’s just no way around it. You’re lucky to sleep more than three hours at a time, and you and your baby are learning about each other, so you have to simply survive that time. Don’t set any expectations for yourself and enjoy lazing in your pajamas and watching daytime TV while tending to your baby. If you can, sleep when the baby sleeps, or use nap time to take a shower and put on a clean pair of pajamas. Let others help you and don’t fret about keeping the house clean or cooking dinner.
Once those first few weeks are over, the enjoyment phase of maternity leave can begin if you make a little effort. I have two goals for every day and they seem to make all the difference. Step one: Shower and get dressed for the day! Maybe even throw on a little makeup (mascara and lip gloss go a long way to make you feel pretty at this point!). Just feeling clean and getting out of my pajamas makes me feel 100% better. Step two: Get out of the house at least once per day, or cabin fever will set in (something I learned around week six of my first maternity leave when I called my own mom in tears because the four walls of my house were closing in on me – I was so fearful of taking my newborn out of the house, but I shouldn’t have been, newborns are extremely portable). Go for a walk around your neighborhood. Meet a stay-at-home-mom friend for coffee. Meet a friend for lunch in the middle of her workday. Stop by your husband’s office to show off the baby. Go to the mall to buy some clothes that fit your postpartum body AND make you feel pretty. Pack up your baby and spend the day at a relative’s house. Just get out! I even count picking up my son from preschool as my one outing on those days when I just can’t muster the energy to “do” anything. Hey, I’m still out of the house and interacting with other people for a bit!
And if you really want to get the most out of your maternity leave, you can take it a step further. Go for a week-long vacation while you have the “free” time off. Tackle those house projects you never have time to complete – you’re home all day so you can meet the flooring contractor, or put pictures in an album. And build in some “me” time – put in a workout DVD, have someone you trust watch the baby and go out for a pedicure or to meet a girlfriend for dinner.
But if you do none of the above, don’t sweat it! Give yourself a break and just love on your new baby. This time is so fleeting and goes by in a blur. All you really need to do is take it one day at a time. And if you’re still in those really tough early days, just hold on – your baby will give you his first real smile soon and your heart will melt. And I think there’s a good argument to be made for simply staring at your precious baby all day long.