Today is my last day of maternity leave. Unexpectedly so, as I have taken on a couple of freelance projects sooner than I intended to go back to work. I did have 6 more weeks – more time to become accustomed to the huge change which is coming to our lives tomorrow. I mean, I am sure I would start thinking about it and mentally preparing myself sooner, rather than burying my head in the sand until the night before if I had more time, right?
Maybe not. Because the truth is I don’t really want to think about it too much, because it makes me incredibly sad. Being home alone with my baby has been one of the hardest things I have ever done – endless days of crying when she had tongue tie issues, long afternoons desperately trying for naps, sleepless nights and hours and hours of breastfeeds. Mostly alone while my husband went to the office. I always liked to think I would be supermum, getting shit done while simultaneously raising my perfectly well-adjusted baby, and some days I really did feel like it. When the house was clean, supper prepped, we’d been out for a lovely long walk with the dogs, had fun playing together, and I’d had a bit of time to myself while she napped. Or we made it out of the house to a baby group, or just braved running errands in town. Those days I felt like I could conquer the world. But those days were more of the exception than the rule. Most days something went ‘wrong’ or was hard, even if not everything, and some days everything went to hell in a handcart and I would find myself sobbing on the sofa, leaking milk on my pyjamas and begging my baby to stop crying. Being a stay-at-home-Mum, on maternity leave or more permanently, is hard, and I hadn’t fully appreciated that before I did it, and I don’t think you really can.
The photos in this post sum up my ‘everyday’ maternity leave experience – frustration, tiredness, simple excursions like a food shop requiring military planning, spending far too much time in cafes just to be out of the house, and lots and lots of walks with the dogs, mostly with her in a wrap though sometimes with the pram, especially at the beginning when I couldn’t easily carry her because of the c-section. But also lovely moments, snuggles, baby classes (even if she did either cry or sleep through baby massage every week!), and just spending time together.
Because at the same time as being incredibly tough, maternity leave is absolutely wonderful. You can be at the bottom of a pit of despair, clock-watching until your other half gets home, and suddenly your baby will laugh, or sit up by themselves, or some equally simple thing that somehow has the ability to fill you with joy and love like you could never believe, and suddenly it’s all okay again. Over the days and weeks and months of maternity leave you get to see your tiny little squish of a newborn (or not so tiny in Emilia’s case) turn into a little person with their own character and likes and dislikes, and watch their every developmental step up close, and share in it with them. Just today Emilia figured out how to drink from her 360° water cup by sucking at it, and I teared up with pride. In such a small thing. The importance of moments like these is huge. They are the links that bind you together and form the basis of your relationship. They are the moments that count. And if Emilia had waited until tomorrow to figure out her cup, I’d have missed it. Someone else would have been there to congratulate her and share in the moment and return her beaming smile. Not me.
I am devastated to think of all the moments in Emilia’s childhood that will happen from now on that I will miss, because I am working. I wish I could be there to watch her take her first steps unaided (I selfishly hope that she saves that for us), to hear her begin to talk, to watch her figure out how to put the blocks into the right holes on the shape sorter. I think of all the times she will need help, or someone to be there for her to mend a grazed knee or hurt pride, that I won’t be there. Someone else will. Maybe over time that someone will be the person she wants in a moment of sadness. I cannot bear that thought.
There is a part of me that is eager to ‘get back’ to my past life. It’s not the escape that going to an office everyday would provide, with all the social interaction that brings, because I work from home. It’s still just me and the pets. But I will be able to get on with things without watching the monitor hoping she won’t wake until I’ve finished. Actually achieving stuff. That’s what I am looking forward to. I may even find the time to get on with some of the millions of jobs around the house that need doing. Life will move on again, I will no longer feel as though I am ‘on pause’.
Parenting really does seem to be series of phases, and me starting back at work is our next one. I have a feeling it is going to be the biggest change to our lives since Emilia was born, and I really hope it turns out to be a positive one. I am very hopeful it will be – we have found her the most wonderful childminder who only looks after one other child (her own), so she can take them both to baby groups and out and about and can spend time with and enjoy her son as well as Emilia, who she wants to become ‘part of the family’. Could that sound any more perfect? I don’t think so. And Emilia seems to adore her, so perhaps the end of maternity leave transition won’t prove to be the huge wrench it is feeling like right now. I’ll let you know.