Saturday, September 22, 2012

Staying Sane & Other Stories from Maternity Leave

Maternity leave is weird. You know that it’s not going to be vacation, but another part of you is so f-ing over being huge and tired and pregnant and working that you can’t wait for the “break.” Turns out that work is far easier than taking care of an infant. At least for me.

I’m five weeks away from returning to work. This still sounds sort of far away, and yet, I can’t believe I’m past the halfway mark. In many ways, Emme and I are just getting into the swing of things. After a rough first six weeks, leave has become more enjoyable. This is at least partially because it’s become more predictable. I’m not naive enough to assume that our precious babe won’t change things up (for better or worse), but for now, I’m enjoying a little bit more of a routine than we had, say, two weeks ago.

Our days kind of look like this: Wake up sometime between 6 and 7:30 a.m. Put Em in bed with me and nurse. Attempt to put her down for a morning nap approximately an hour after she wakes up. This is starting to actually work, and she usually sleeps for 45 minutes. I eat and get dressed. Em wakes up and nurses. We head out for our morning walk, or we leave for an outing. Depending on which it is, we get home sometime between an hour and several hours later. I try to eat lunch somewhere in there, which tends to be one of the more difficult and frustrating parts of my day. More nursing. Sometimes she will go down in her crib for another nap. Sometimes she sleeps while we’re out. If we don’t have an outing planned, we’ll go on another walk or run errands in the afternoon. More nursing. MM comes home sometime late afternoon to early evening. I hand her off and typically leave to workout (read: get a break). Once I’m home there’s more nursing, and MM and I tag team on making and eating dinner. Fussiness (Em’s) ensues. The bedtime routine starts sometime after 8 p.m., and Em is starting to go to sleep around 9pm... sometimes a little before, sometimes later.

Do you notice a pattern here?

We LEAVE the house. I learned pretty quickly that staying at home 24/7 was not going to work for us. Not for her and not for me. Em is a baby that likes to keep moving--in her stroller, in the car, in my arms. When we’re out, it’s easier for me to not get stressed out attending to these needs. When I’m at home, I feel frustrated that I can’t get shit done, and I try to put her down more than she wants to be put down. It’s hard to shove food in my face, much less do laundry, clean, cook, or chat with folks on the Internet (you know, the stuff I did before I had a kid). Leaving the house allows me to let go of this and keeping her moving becomes more interesting for me.

Though I get “nothing” done, our time together has become more fun. Four weeks ago, I was thinking about going back to work after six weeks of leave instead of 12 (and the only reason I didn’t explore it more seriously is that I knew if I went back my coworkers would think I had totally lost my mind). Four weeks ago, I was practically be running out the door to get some alone time, and I would think, “back to prison,” as I slowly made my way home after working out. Now, I miss my baby when I spend an hour and a half at yoga.

I look forward to our walks around the neighborhood (we’re even starting to find walking buddies); we’ve been to the zoo and the Chicago Botanic Garden; we visit friends; and we have all kinds of fun things on the calendar in October: more visits and lunches with friends, baby and mom yoga, an infant massage class, and accompanying MM on a very short business trip to Wisconsin.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s still difficult, I still feel like I'm on the edge of losing my mind sometimes, and I’m pretty sure I’m a poor to average excuse for a mom (though I have very little guilt about that). But I think the worst is behind us, and not so much because Em has changed--though she has and that’s been amazing--but because I have changed. I think I needed to grapple with letting go of my old life, mourn it a bit, before I could really dive into this mess.

It’s true what they say... nothing can really prepare you for parenthood. I think part of the reason why the sleep deprivation was/is “easier” for me was because I was expecting it. Everyone tells you about the sleep deprivation, and in some ways, that’s a very real thing that pre-baby, you can wrap your head around. The other stuff, the constant, intense infantness that happens... there’s no way to explain it to those standing on the edge of parenthood. It’s just really hard in a way that, from the outside looking in, seems like it shouldn’t be that hard. How can a thing this small and seemingly portable demand that the entire universe revolve around it?

Seven and a half weeks is not enough time to answer that question.

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