A year off from work probably seemed like an amazing idea when you were pregnant. But six months into mat leave, you realize that you haven’t gone to the washroom by yourself in weeks, and you’re yearning to drink a cup of coffee while it is still actually hot. You long for adult conversation, an hour without anyone spitting up on you and wearing something other than yoga pants. Maternity leave can cause some women to go absolutely stir crazy. Here’s how to survive your “vacation”.
Adjust Your Expectations
Melissa Godsoe is a human resources professional in Hamilton, Ont. She has two boys – Macabe, four and Crosby, 20 months. “I had some pretty great ideas of what I would do while on leave. The trips I would take, the socializing I would do and the hobbies I would pick up along the way. It’s not that I forgot to factor in the baby, it was really that I didn’t know how to. How can anyone prepare you for motherhood and all that it entails? I kind of think of it as a snow globe: A baby takes your pristine world and shakes it and really turns it upside down. In a truly beautiful way, of course, but upside down none-the-less.”
This is Not a Vacation
Chances are you’ve already been warned about the lack of sleep, but maybe you thought you would get a break when the baby naps. They are supposed to sleep for, like, 18 hours, right? Or perhaps you expected to catch up on your daytime television or read that novel you’ve been planning to pick up for the past couple of months. “I helped drywall studio space until the day my water broke,” says Celeste Pinder, a designer for Ta Vie Children’s Wear and mom to 11-month-old Lydia in Regina, Sask. “It was much different taking care of a baby than it was to work the physical jobs I was used to. My body was now doing different tasks – healing, producing milk, caring for a little person – and I felt drained, yet at the same time I felt a little stir-crazy.”
Give Yourself a Break
But remember, these breaks might not look exactly the way you imagined. Melissa recalls her maternity leave family vacation; “Lounging poolside happened. It just happened with plenty of baby toys and a bunch of time spent chasing my toddling boy around the chaise lounges while trying to steer him clear of the pool.”
Develop a Support System
Tammy Sudds is a sales and marketing professional in Darmouth, N.S. with three girls under five – Chloe, five, Cassidy, three, and Charlotte, 10 weeks. “I joined mommy groups, library programs and mom-and-me exercise classes. This gave me outlets to have some time to spend with adults, which is something I think you need while you are off.” Celeste developed her own support network. “I didn’t have much support around me (both sets of grandparents live in different cities). Friends with babies slightly older than Lydia became my support group.” And don’t forget to go solo once in a while. Having a sitter for an hour or two is a great idea. Get to the gym, have coffee with a friend or enjoy a massage. Being baby-free for a short period of time can really energize you.
Ask for Help
Melissa re-worked her plan when dealing with her active toddler during the day and newborn at night left her exhausted. “We quickly realized something needed to give and so for the first month, Macabe went back to daycare full-time. I got to sleep when Crosby did and Macabe got the structure and socialization he was accustomed to. It worked for us.” Though the colic, tantrums and refusal to sleep can leave you ready to run back to your workdays, Tammy reminds us, “Being a mom is the most difficult and rewarding job I will ever have. Even though I enjoy my work, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to spend some time with each of my girls.”
Paul Farrance is a social worker from Pickering, Ont. He took paternity leave when each of his daughters, Maggie (nine) and Mollie (seven) were born. “Your opportunity to grow as a person and a parent is priceless. It’s not all dirty diapers and throw-up. The possibilities are endless. We had fun on trips to the zoo, play dates, daddy/mommy-and-me classes, movie days for parents with babies. I feel it was a true test of my parenting and showed me what kind of dad I really am and want to be.”
Ryan Clusiau of Kawartha Lakes, Ont. works in accounting and is father to three boys – Oliver (five), Charlie (three), and Griffin (four months). “After struggling with the notion of taking time off and not working, it turned out to be a fantastic experience and one that was completely worth doing. I expected it to be good, but there was so much more to gain with the bonding, the interaction and getting the perspective of what it takes to raise and care for a child at home.”