Maternity leave is one of those things you have to experience for yourself before you can truly understand it.
If you’re currently pregnant, you can be excused for thinking maternity leave is going to be like one long holiday.
After all, before you’ve had a baby, how can you be expected to know just how much of your time and energy they really need?
Maternity leave, no matter how long you are able to take, is guaranteed to be a life changing experience.
So, if you’re about to start your maternity leave, this article should go some way towards preparing you for the time off work.
10 Matenity Leave Surprises
Here are 10 things that might surprise you about maternity leave:
#1: Just How Much Of It You’ll Spend Awake
“Look at her sleeping like a baby,” said no parent ever.
Every parent knows that babies don’t sleep. Well, actually, they do sleep. A lot. In fact they sleep for about 18 hours a day at first, and tend to be awake when you're keen for some sleep at night. Somehow though, you’ll still feel sleep deprived and exhausted.
Your baby will sleep 18 hours a day in 45 minute stretches designed to torture and exhaust you – and then they start the downhill run of sleeping less than that as they get older.
If you get nine months off work, you should expect to be awake for about eight of them.
#2: How Few Languages You’ll Learn
I know, you were planning on learning Mandarin during your maternity leave, weren’t you? After all, it would be pretty cool to have a bilingual baby.
Plus it would look great on your resume and, well, it’d keep your brain busy whilst you’re on leave.
Well, downloading Duolingo is probably as far as you’re going to get with this pipe dream. Babies are pretty time consuming and you might find you struggle to find the time (and energy) to dedicate to learning a new tongue. Even if you do manage to make time for this venture, you might find baby brain gets in the way.
#3: It’ll Be Harder Work Than Work
You’re probably really looking forward to a few months off work, aren’t you? A break from the mundane office tasks, stressful meetings and endless stream of fast approaching deadlines. Ah yes, a break sounds good. A nice break would give you time to relax, to recharge your batteries and to really take time for yourself.
Obviously, maternity leave is not that break.
Nope, whilst on maternity leave you’ll simply be swapping mundane admin for mundane laundry duties. You’ll be swapping the boardroom with the baby group (equally as nerve wracking and a much higher chance of meltdown). And those stressful deadlines you used to dread? Yeah, they’re much worse when poop is involved.
#4: You’ll Find Your People
In a desperate bid to secure your baby some friends, you’ll meet some amazing women who will become your people. Perhaps even lifelong best friends.
These women will be the only friends you can text at 2am, friends who can talk you down from a mastitis-related breakdown and the friends who will always listen to your detailed analysis of the contents of your baby’s nappy. These women will inspire, entertain and soothe you every step of the way. You’ll spend a lot of your maternity leave wondering how on earth you’d get through it without them.
#5: You’ll Be Able To Slow Down
For the first time in a long time, you’ll have the chance to really slow down. You won’t be rushing in the morning to start your morning commute. You won’t be trying to fit a million hours of work into an eight hour day and you won’t be racing home at the end of it to see your loved ones.
Instead, you’ll have all day to just be with the most important (and high maintenance) person in your world. You’ll be able to slow down and simply enjoy being together, without worrying about getting places on time or meeting deadlines. Enjoy it while it lasts.
#6: It Won’t Feel Like A Gap Year
You might be about to take a few months off work, but it’s unlikely to feel much like a gap year. You won’t be the carefree young woman you once were. You (probably) won’t be trekking across deserts, exploring new lands and traveling the world like you did on your last gap year.
Instead you’ll be learning how to do everything with only one hand. This is actually a very good skill so don’t knock it.
#7: How Good It Sounds When You Hear Your Partner’s Key In The Front Door
Not every day, but some days you will be desperately waiting for your partner to return home from work.
After a long day of changing nappies, breastfeeding and generally being touched, it can be nice to just have a little bit of time to yourself. On those days, you will probably start watching the clock at about 3pm.
By the time you actually hear the key in the door, you’ll weep tears of joy. As soon as your partner walks in, you’ll thrust a baby into his arms and skip off upstairs to enjoy some time to yourself. Sometimes, it’s just nice to not be touched for a little while.
#8: You Won’t Write That Novel
Wouldn’t it be great to just have a year off where you could really focus on your writing?
You could write that book you always dream about, become a best selling author and spend the next five years traveling round book fairs giving readings. It would be amazing.
It’s also very unlikely to happen when you’re on maternity leave. Why?
Because babies and novel writing don’t mix. Sorry. You won’t have the time, energy or brainpower to write a novel when you’re in the midst of new motherhood. Most days you won’t be able to remember your own phone number or where you put your phone (whoops, it's right in your hand there), never mind bang out a few hundreds pages of literary gold.
#9: You’ll Learn New Skills
Don’t get disheartened, just because you won’t be writing books or learning to speak Spanish, it doesn’t mean you’ll be stagnating while you’re on maternity leave.
In fact, you’ll be adding all kinds of amazing skills to your repertoire. You’ll be learning all kinds of weird things about what poop should look like, how to administer first aid and what baby products are best.
You’ll be multi-tasking the hell out of life. You’ll be honing your empathy skills like there’s no tomorrow. And, most importantly, you’ll be learning about what it’s really like to be a mama. There is no greater lesson than that.
#10: It Will Fly By
The days are long, but the maternity leave is short. It’s not a famous saying, but it is true.
Before you know it, the weeks will have turned to months and it will be time for you to return to the workforce. Or not, if that’s what you decide.
On the more difficult days of maternity leave, it might feel like this stage is going to last forever. But it isn’t. Your baby will change and grow, and before you know it you’ll be facing a whole new problem. Babies grow up fast. And so do mamas. In what feels like only seconds since you waved goodbye to your colleagues, you’ll be getting ready to return to work again. This time, with a new perspective and a whole new motivation.
So, for those of you not yet at that stage, make the most of your leave while you can.
Recommended Reading: If you’re new to motherhood, make sure you check out the New Mama Code to find out how you can encourage and support the new mamas around you.