Grappling with Maternity Leave
Let me start by saying that I feel enormously grateful to be able to stay home with and nurture my baby for his first year of life. I'm privileged to live in a country that offers one year of maternity leave (as well as generous opportunities for paternity leave) to its citizens. But, five months in, I can say with confidence that staying home with my baby each day is the toughest job I've had thus far in life.
As I neared the end of my pregnancy and geared up to take a leave of absence from my job and studies, I was excited for a break from the daily grind. I looked forward to putting my hour-long daily commute on hold, to slow mornings spent at home with a cup of coffee while the baby played contentedly beside me, and having the time to try new dinner recipes while the baby napped (I know, I know, I can hear you veteran mamas chuckling to you yourselves at my naivety)!
And then the baby arrived, and I was jolted into reality.
It immediately became clear that my fantasies were terribly misguided. After two weeks of being blessed with a sleepy, content newborn, reflux struck. Luke became extremely fussy due to gas pain, and as a result it was difficult to soothe him. He was rarely content for more than a few minutes at time and preferred to carried around upright, as I imagine it felt better for his little tummy. For several weeks, I had a baby attached to me for the majority of the day. As much as I love cuddling with him, it was physically and emotionally draining. There were times when I thought I couldn't handle the constant fussing for the remainder of my maternity leave. Though I felt guilty, I dreamed of the peace and quiet of my office at work. In actuality, I never would have returned to work early, but the near-24/7 demand was wearing me thin.
Thankfully, the worst of Luke's reflux seems to have passed. He's napping much better and we've settled into a relatively predictable routine, which makes our days together less stressful for both of us. While he still fusses at times (what baby doesn't?!), he's a much happier baby overall.
But, although we're in a much better place and I genuinely enjoy his company, the days can still be long and lonely. My love for Luke is overwhelming, yet talking to a baby all day without other adults around is tougher than I imagined. My husband is a loving, hands-on father and an attentive, helpful husband, but sometimes his work hours can be long, leaving me to solo parent much of the time.
This leaves me feeling full of contradictions: grateful to have the opportunity to spend my days with my baby boy and witness all his "firsts," yet craving adult company; proud that my baby knows me as his primary caregiver, yet yearning for a break now and then; content to be in this temporary baby bubble, yet feeling disconnected from the outside world.
However, the adage, "the days are long, but the years are short" has never rang truer since I've become a mother. Watching Luke grow is bittersweet. I feel ambivalent about my maternity leave, and I'd be lying if I said I'm enjoying every single minute, but I'm careful not to wish it away. After all, Luke has grown and changed so much in just five months. He'll be walking and talking in the blink of eye. Before I know it, I'll be back to work and our routine will change once again. In due course, perhaps we'll even add another baby into the mix, throwing us for yet another loop.
Yes, maternity leave can be tough, but a big part of me doesn't want it to end. I'm certain I'll remember these days spent with just my firstborn as a busy, unpredictable, but oh-so-fulfilling season - because it already is.
Brittany Van Den Brink is a PhD Candidate and freelance writer living in small-town Ontario with her husband, baby son, and their Golden Retriever, Chevy. She founded Motherhood Her Way to collaborate with other moms as they go through the ups and downs of motherhood. Say hi on Instagram @brittanyvandenbrink.