Maternity leave – a hot topic or not? While we hear about it a lot, I think it is one that is completely misunderstood. Here’s my two cents on why.
Let’s start with some things I heard before I popped (usually from moms!)
“Do you get any vacation after your baby is born?”
*Hello! Recovering from major surgery with a needy toddler, a screaming, pooping, suckling, tiny creature, sore nipples and LOTS of bleeding is NOT vacation. Beach with my husband, champagne and no alarm clock – that is vacation.*
“You get three months. That’s awesome!”
*Three months without a salary, with new expenses, husband needing to work long days and nights with above toddler and adorable creature at home, who mind you, most likely will not be sleeping through the night until at least four months, if ever, is NOT awesome, but I’m glad I have it. Thank you.*
You are expected to smile in a agreement and be gracious for what you get.
It is impossible to understand maternity leave until you are in the thick of it. Before I had Ava, I thought I was going to back to work in four weeks, no problem. Turned out, I wasn’t medically cleared for ten weeks and at four weeks I couldn’t even walk across the street faster than the signals changed. You aren’t supposed to pump until three to four weeks postpartum. Managing a busy inpatient service in a huge hospital would have been impossible, and I would have had to resort to formula.
Then there’s the sleep deprivation. No matter how smart and strong you are, chronic sleep deprivation is unhealthy and bad for brain function. At four months of Ava, I truly feared accidentally harming patients. Here’s a glimpse on why:
Started with mild headache from lack of sleep in the previous 24 hours
9-10:30p: Sri ate, pooped, slept
11:40p (2h 40 min feed interval – appropriate): Sri wide awake, ate, pooped
12a: diaper change
12:15a: Sri wide awake, still eating, pooped
12:30a: diaper change
1a: still eating, pooped
1:30a: diaper change, still wide awake, put down, screamed with no end in sight, so held him
2:15a: tried to put him down, more screaming
2:25a: raging migraine, attempted to wake sleeping husband (for the first time in three weeks), unresponsive, sat on said husband and slapped his back and face, still unresponsive
2:30a: sat in bed and cried (as loudly as possible) while holding baby, husband still unresponsive
2:45a: put swaddled baby on nipple – fell asleep within 10 seconds (WTF?!), put down in crib without taking migraine meds in fear of not being able to wake up to feed baby (husband clearly would not wake)
Baby finally slept until 4:30a, feed cycle went a little more smoothly this time, took migraine med, because hopefully hubby would be up by next feed.
Sri up for the day at 7:30a. Hubby at gym 😒
*I absolutely adore my loving husband who works long days and nights to provide for our family so that I can have time off with our babes. Nonetheless, this is true and more amusing to me than anything.
This was a particularly bad night for Sri. It would’ve been a great night for Ava (goodness, I love her, though!), but think about it. For the first *at least* four weeks if you are breastfeeding, baby will be sleeping four hours max at night. This means, baby eats and poops, which takes about an hour and then *max* 3 hours until the next feed – baby may sleep or may not during this stretch so sleep is not guaranteed. This is the most ideal situation. I have rarely gotten more than 2.5 hours of sleep at a stretch. The idea of dad giving a bottle so you can get more zzz’s is great, but bad for milk supply. Also, you may have to deal with dad complaining about how tired he is the next day because he only got seven hours, and you might kill him. You will be chronically sleep deprived.
So what’s the deal with breastfeeding if it makes life with baby all the more complicated? Everyone agrees that breastmilk is superior to formula. You may not think you want to breastfeed for long – I certainly did not plan to. It is a personal choice and not the best for every family. But when you become a mom, you start to have crazy mom thoughts, “If my child does poorly in school, will I feel guilty that I gave up breastfeeding early?” “What about if my child is overweight? I’ll never be able to forgive myself.” Then there’s also the pressure from everyone around you. Mom guilt is real, man.
I’m not even going to start on how jumping back into work is detrimental to postpartum weight loss – that’ll be for another day.
Before leave with Ava, my plan to return to work at four weeks was touted as a show of strength by my superiors. We see things thing like, “Beyoncé went on tour two weeks after giving birth! #momgoals” Yahoo’s CEO publicly went back to work super soon and recently Kate Middleton looked perfect hours after delivery. I love these women, too, so no hate, but we have got to have some realistic expectations. If every woman had the resources these women have, their need for public figure status and an image created by a few snapshots circulating on Instagram and mainstream media, things would be different for us.
For all we know, Kate and Will had a huge fight with Charles and the Queen about that media appearance because her breasts were engorged and she was constipated during those photos and she cried for an hour after those photos were taken – but who wants to hear about that?
The challenges of postpartum recovery and adjusting to life with baby cannot be understood by anyone who has never gone through it. Sorry, dads, you will never get it. Further, I believe that we forget its intricacies soon after we move on from those initial postpartum months – the pain, the sleep deprivation, the confusion, the crazy emotions, the unpredictablity, the breastfeeding struggle. I did. Perhaps it’s nature’s way of blocking the trauma from our memory to prevent the end of the human race.
That’s why I’m writing this now.
This post is getting long, so more to come on confusing topics like FMLA, paid maternity leave, short term disability and maternity leave during medical training.