Why maternity leave is not a vacation
It drives me absolutely crazy when people make statements implying that maternity leave is like a vacation. With my children, I took a combination of short-term disability and what was left of my sick leave to amount to a total six weeks of maternity leave for each of them. Yes, it was pitiful, but I digress. Just know that the recommended six weeks is not nearly enough time to bond with a new baby, and other countries are running laps around the U.S. with this. I could have taken the allotted 12 weeks, but the latter 6 weeks would have been without pay (a no-go for me and many others)
Some women are fortunate enough to have significantly more leave saved up to spend more time with their new babies. Thankfully, many companies are adopting leave donation strategies to aid employees medically. But I still think it's inappropriate to treat women as if they're taking a vacation when they go on maternity leave. Here's why:
The restlessnessThe sleepless nights don't just begin once the baby arrives. In the weeks and days leading up to birth, the parents-to-be will likely be overly anxious and the mom-to-be may or may not get the sudden urge to scrub every window sill in the house with a toothbrush to prepare for the new addition to the family
Is the hospital bag packed? Nursery ready? Bedrest with limited activity allowed? Unable to sleep because a tiny foot is kicking your ribs? Yep, that sounds about right! People say, "Get all the sleep you can before baby arrives," but for some there is still much to do, making it very difficult to get a good night's rest. Plus, by that point, momma is really uncomfortable with Braxton Hicks contractions, restless leg syndrome and more!
The hospitalSo, you won't be getting much rest at the hospital either. Once you're all ready to head there to deliver your bundle of joy, the nurses and doctors will consistently check your vitals throughout your stay. By the time you think you might have a moment to close your eyes, here comes someone else needing a blood pressure reading
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Once the baby is born, forget about closing your eyes. Your newborn will be so adorable that you will literally stay up all night looking at them. Many hospitals now require that the newborn stay in the room with the parents at night, rather than keeping them in the nursery. The nurses and doctors will also be in and out throughout the stay to check on baby as well. This is where it starts to get semi-real with the diaper changes, feedings and wakings
Home sweet homeHooray, it's time to head home! This is where parenthood gets extremely real. You'll be happy to know that some companies offer paternity leave to men to assist and bond with their babies in the first couple of weeks
You will be tired and snappy. You will watch the baby to make sure their chest rises and falls. People will want to come over – announced and unannounced — to see your bundle of joy. Your house will be a mess. The phone or doorbell WILL ring when you have finally gotten the baby to sleep. You will feel as though you can barely get a shower in. Once the mother's milk comes in, her boobs will feel like hard rocks. Rinse and repeat. Also, for the record, the whole "sleep while baby sleeps" thing is a joke. And first pediatrician visits will be during this time as well
It's quite a ride. But a beautiful ride nonetheless
The juggling actHere is where the grumbling lies. It will seem that just as you begin to get into the swing of things and finally bonding with the baby, it will be time to head back to work. You will need to find a licensed daycare. Breastfeeding moms might still be struggling to build up their breastmilk supply for the childcare provider to feed the baby during work hours. Not to mention, is there a place and time to pump milk at work? Quite frankly, many women are still healing and experiencing bleeding at the 6-8 week mark. It's so hard to leave baby to return to the workforce, and the worry never goes away
Did I miss the part with the sand and umbrella drinks? Maternity leave, a vacation? I think not! So let's stop acting like the weeks after childbirth are a walk in the park