MAternity Leave vs. MEternity Leave

I have about two weeks left of maternity leave, and with it a mix of emotions. Growing up, I was lucky to have my mom at home with my brother and I full time. As an adolescent dreaming about my adulthood, I always imagined I would do the same. As an adult in the working world (including my stint teaching kids ranging in age from Kindergarten to 5th grade,) I REALLY mentally committed to being a stay-at-home-mom myself. I met a ton of great kids during that time, but I could also visibly see a difference in the attitudes and values of many kids who weren’t getting that same consistency and support I had. Eventually, I started to realize that husband and I weren’t on a financial path that would allow for such a dream to come true. We’ve chosen the path of “travel, live, experience now- plan, save, settle later.” That lifestyle has its benefits, but as we are digging into the settle chapter, we’re experiencing the immense hardships as a consequence of those past choices. Long story short, I have to return to work because I have to support my family.

What surprises me most about this is how it doesn’t totally feel like the end of the world to me. Don’t get me wrong, I am dreading it and am devastated by the thought of dropping my daughter at daycare with strangers who don’t know her, don’t love her like I do. The thought of pretending that Subarus are more important to me than whether or not she took her bottle or laughed during the day is heartbreaking. But I don’t have a choice. Luckily, I have learned during my 12 weeks of being a stay-at-home-mom that it’s not all I thought it would be, and for God’s sake, this shit is hard. The knowledge makes it slightly more bearable to return to “normal” life.

I’ll admit, when I was about to embark on maternity leave, I was excited. I was also a mountain of 2 humans, and eager to get the show on the road. I knew it would be mostly work taking care of a newborn and sleepless nights, etc., but I also secretly believed it would be at least 50% fun and vacation-like. Having a baby in the spring? Can you ask for anything better? We will navigate the first weeks together and in no time be out enjoying Canalside as a family, dining al fresco, staying up late watching new Netflix shows and generally enjoying quality time together, I thought. I truly thought this. I would rate my actual enjoyment of maternity leave at a solid 22%. Don’t take that the wrong way- I silently thank the universe for allowing me to spend this time with Lily as I rock her to sleep, feed her, bathe her, and snuggle her. I physically feel the gratitude that she’s here with me, happy and healthy, and how lucky I am. Did I do everything I wanted to during my time away from full time work? Hell no.

A few months ago, I remember hearing a big hullabaloo about some idiot a woman who wrote a book stating she wanted “all the benefits of maternity leave, without having kids.” I was into my second week of life with a newborn when the article was printed, and decided I wanted to punch her in the face. Then I realized I used to (sort of) be that lady. I mean, I always wanted kids and certainly never felt entitled to a “free” three months off from work (NOTE: MATERNITY LEAVE IS FAR FROM FREE AND IT WILL POTENTIALLY RUIN YOUR LIFE SAVINGS.) I did, however think people in America should have and enjoy more vacation time from work. I still feel that way. A major downside of our society is how most of us have very little time off to be with our families and recharge, and when we do have the time, we feel guilty about taking it. I am a huge proponent of work/life balance. Still, this Meghann Foye character clearly has no real idea what maternity leave is like. MEternity leave, it is not (example: I still have the same pedicure from a week before I gave birth.) MAternity leave shocked me to the core of my being, and lead me to realize that even if I was financially able to be home with Lily full time, I would probably still choose to work part time or freelance.

So again, MEternity leave = three months to explore Europe, lose 15-20 lbs, write a (short) novel, frequent coffee shops and brunches, catch up on the latest Shonda Rhimes creation, watch late night talk shows, and make pancakes every morning around 9am. MAternity leave = 5 loads of laundry/day, planning a shower for the next day IF your dad stops by after work to visit the baby, eating 4 granola bars (3 meals + snack), watching the nicest days of the year from inside your house, wondering if it’s Wednesday or Thursday, canceling dinner plans with friends, wearing exclusively stretchy activewear, and praying for 3-4 hours of consecutive sleep at night. Not even close. Be careful what you wish for.

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