I’m a person who likes to be as prepared as possible and took this approach when it came to preparing to go on maternity leave. I did just about anything and everything I could to get my team squared away, smoothly transition, and ensure I had a solid understanding of my benefits. Then came hours of labor, finally delivery, and ultimately the most beautiful baby boy and I found myself actually on maternity leave, completely unprepared… because I couldn’t prepare. Maternity leave was hard for me to wrap my head around in general and even though I thought I had figured out what it would mean for me… I hadn’t. Once I was finally on maternity leave I’m 100% positive that I never actually wrapped my head around it nor did I fully understand it.
I am (and will always be) grateful for maternity leave. It was time for me to heal my body, get to know our child, and learn how to be a mom while going at my own pace. At the same time I found myself anxious, bored, and often generally frustrated on maternity leave. I had a hard time figuring out how to spend my time, yet Hudson accounted for 24 hours of my day. I found myself wondering what was going on at work and if certain initiatives I had been leading were going ok. How was my team? How’s the client? Thoughts about work would race through my mind. I also found myself without purpose, even though I knew that Hudson and motherhood were my purpose. My days would fly by in an exhausted whirlwind and I would have no idea what happened that day.
After about a month of dealing with the ups and downs, I finally allowed myself to find a balance between maternity leave, staying on top of work, and having structure back in my life. I didn’t dive back into work by any means, but I did slowly reach out to co-workers and had structured conversations around specific topics. I also allowed myself to scan email once or twice a week. Getting bits and pieces of work back in my life combined with a schedule for Hudson, which allowed me to have one, too put me back in control and had hugely positive impacts for the weeks that remained.
There’s no right or wrong way to be on maternity leave and there’s no list or book that tells you what to do on maternity leave. However, these are the things that worked really well for me and hopefully they’ll provide some guidance (possibly even comfort) for you, too.
This might not be for everyone, but for me, finding a spot for work during maternity leave was necessary. It eased my anxiety about coming back to work later on and gave me an outlet that I needed desperately.
- Create Boundaries. I have to give credit to my coworkers for this first and foremost. When I reached out to them about work to check-in, they were very careful to ask me specifically what I wanted to know and be informed of. This created an open door for me to define exactly how, what, and when I was going to let work into my maternity leave. Before reaching out to my team I made sure to have a specific purpose and a specific question or two to ask. This ensured I got what I needed to feel secure while simultaneously ensuring the conversation couldn’t derail.
- Initiate the conversation by reaching out. While it’s true that in case of emergency I gave certain people permission to reach out to me while I was on leave, for the most part I instituted the “don’t call me, I’ll call you” philosophy. This allowed me to control who I spoke to and when ensuring the boundary couldn’t be crossed and I was in control.
- Define a timeframe. Maternity leave is precious in and of itself. But the time that you’re not holding, playing with, feeding, or doing some general care for your child may be even more precious because it’s short and far and few between. So when I had “me time,” I was careful to define a clear portion of that time for work conversation about once a week, maximum, for about 30 minutes at a time.
I’m certain that there are parents out there who will disagree with me on this, but I’m going to say it anyways. Schedules are everything when you have a baby. Turning the unpredictability of your sweet little newborn into a semi-predictable schedule is life changing. It creates an opportunity for you to accomplish tasks, do things (albeit small things) for yourself (like a shower), and most importantly gives you a sense of control over the day.
- Create a to-do list. The sense of feeling accomplished at the end of a day is a huge trigger for us as humans. I’d venture to say it creates a bit of an endorphin rush knowing that we completed critical tasks. Creating a to-do-list for myself each day was key to me doing two things: 1) Sticking to the baby schedule, which also helped Hudson start to sleep independently and better and 2) Ensuring I completed at least one thing that was important to me. I’m not saying you should have a 20-item to-do-list, but one that is three to five items long is just right. Some days it was very practical: laundry, put dinner in the crockpot, exercise, wash my hair. Other days it was more fun: blog post, FaceTime Mom, make birthday wishlist, exercise.
- Choose a Baby Schedule. When Hudson was about 2.5 weeks old we spent a night together that was one for the books! He slept maybe three hours that whole night, was cluster feeding, and refused to let me put him in any sort of sleep apparatus; only my arms would do. After that night, I decided we were going on a schedule and I’ve never looked back. It was not sunshine and roses in the beginning. Ask my husband… I cried… a lot. Regardless, it gave me something to work toward and helped me understand approximately how much he should be eating, when, and about how long he should be sleeping. Our days went from a free frawl to having some structure that was meaningful and helpful. Babies crave routine and I wouldn’t have known how to create it for him without the help of the schedule.
Everything changes when you have a baby. Nothing is the same. The extreme amount of change and the fact that you are spending all day, everyday adjusting to it makes it easy to forget about you and what you need.
- Make a promise to yourself. In her book Girl, Wash Your Face, Rachel Hollis poses this question: What if you never break a promise to yourself? I ask myself this question daily and maternity leave was no different. Yes, maternity leave is all about being with your baby, but it’s also about you, your recovery, and your motherhood journey. So make a promise to yourself and stick with it during this time (and hopefully beyond). Mine was to get 30 minutes of exercise daily. Maybe yours is to end each day writing down five memories (good or bad). Whatever it is, make a promise to yourself that will enhance your journey.
- Only do it if you want to do it. You will find a million things that you think you should be doing while on maternity leave. You should clean your house. You should invite people over to see the baby. You should shower. You should cook dinner. If you want to do those things, great, do them. If you don’t, do not do them… because you don’t have to do them. It took me a long time to come to terms with this and by the time I did my maternity leave was almost over. Do what you want to do and only what you want to do. If that all you want to do is hold your sweet baby then that’s all you need to do.
Above all maternity leave is a growing experience. It’s one you’ll never get back and never have again so make the most of it. Find balance. Give yourself grace. Do the things that make you feel amazing during this time. Everything else will be waiting for you.