When I came back to work a colleague of mine asked me what I had achieved during my year of maternity leave. This prompted a complete mind blank (but this happens often when you’re sleep-deprived). But she had a point, a whole year had gone by and what did I have to show for it?
Well, firstly there’s a baby who is happy, healthy and loves me – that’s a good start, right?
I finally finished my annoying-never-ending-pain-in-the-ass-bane-of-my-life dissertation and completed my Masters – impressive, I know.
I made it to central London using public transport on my own a few times which was incredibly liberating albeit hair-raising, and we both survived.
I discovered where my kitchen was and cooked new dishes for Mishty – some good, others spat out with venomous force.
I became faster at doing things like applying a full slap of make-up in under five minutes, eating an entire meal without chewing and cramming at least ten household chores during Mishty’s twenty minute power naps.
I finished reading a book [although one in a whole year isn’t a lot, it’s still one more than Hubby over the last five years].
I have learnt how to take Mishty swimming, give baby massages, recite at least fifty nursery rhymes, and multi-task with one hand.
I watched a film once without any interruptions… no actually that was just wishful thinking.
I lost enough baby weight to fool people into thinking I’d gone back to my normal size… just not enough to actually fit into many of my clothes.
I just about managed to keep up with this blog.
We survived a six hour drive to Cornwall and flying with Ryanair to Spain for our first family holidays and despite the initial stress, actually had some fun in the sun.
We impulsively joined the National Trust in order to force ourselves to be more ‘outdoorsy’ and be even more middle-class than we currently are.
And… that seems to be it.
I rack my brains for more ‘achievements’ and feel stumped. What was I supposed to achieve during maternity leave anyway? Non-parents / deluded expectant mothers assume that a year off work must mean that you can do things like learn a new language, take up a hobby or even start a business, all while the baby sleeps most of the day away in his Moses Basket. This could technically happen, but it usually doesn’t happen straightaway.
The massive shock to the system that is having a baby, takes time to get used to. So while you envision swanning off to play groups and coffee mornings with friends, the reality is that sometimes you’re so tired that getting dressed and making it out the door is your biggest achievement of the day. By the time you figure out when the best time to leave would be, you’ve already missed that window because it’s taken you ages to find something that fits and isn’t covered in snot or sick, and inevitably the baby’s nappy has leaked spectacularly and by now he doesn’t want to go to the baby sensory class because he just wants to sleep and somehow it’s got dark already.
Whilst I was no hermit, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I wasn’t doing enough with Mishty. Knowing that you have a finite amount of time with your baby triggers a carpe diem vibe in you to make the most of every day. This can either be really motivating or really burdensome as it pressures you to be as outgoing as possible.
I knew people who attended baby classes/playgroups almost every day just to ensure they got out of the house and had something regular to look forward to. I trialled a few but didn’t commit to anything as I hated the forced cheeriness and constant singing, and they usually clashed with Mishty’s naptime. But no weekly routine meant I could spend the day doing whatever I liked and be spontaneous. Except I wasn’t very spontaneous, so outings usually consisted of a quick trip to Waitrose, the local park or visiting my parents for some respite – not very exciting. I wished I was one of those mothers who would plonk their baby in a sling and go anywhere, anytime, but I was too constrained by my own lack of self-confidence and laziness.
Until you’re on maternity leave, you won’t know what it’s going to be like. Every day is different. Some days are great and others are more… challenging. You may be able to travel the world, climb a mountain and found your own company during this period or do nothing more than waft around the house in your pjs. Either way, who cares, you’ve just had a baby. Ultimately, if you’re happy and the baby’s happy, that’s the biggest achievement of all.