Mat Leave Wasn’t the Experience I Thought It’d Be
By Julia Lipscombe
PHOTO © Ekaterina Pokrovsky/123RF
Nov 28, 2017
When you have a baby, everyone will tell you how hard the first few weeks and months are going to be: the sleep deprivation; the potential trials of breastfeeding; the sudden mood swings; the sharp, unsteadying learning curve.
It gets better, they say.
The idea is that after a few months, once your baby has mastered eating, their nighttime sleep schedule is consistent and they start interacting with you. Life, they will say, becomes easier. And that by the time your mat leave is ending, you won’t even want to go back to work.
...I look back fondly on our first few months together.
This might be many parents’ experience, but it wasn’t mine.
Mostly, I enjoyed all of my mat leave. But it did not get “easier” as it went along. In many ways, I enjoy my son Indiana so much more as he gets older. But, despite the sleepless nights, despite the physical healing, despite the maternal uncertainty, I look back fondly on our first few months together. Here’s why:
Is there anything better than a sleeping baby? Indy is a baby who sleeps a lot. Not necessarily through the night every night, but, at 13 months, he’ll still usually have two naps a day, bringing his combined sleep total to around 13-14 hours per day. But in the beginning, he slept 21 hours a day, usually on our big brown sectional downstairs in our cozy living room.
He was born at the end of October, meaning that the first five months of our life were hibernation mode. We got out every single day for at least an hour, and an outing was usually walking to the nearby brewery district to grocery shop or get a coffee. But often, we just hunkered down, and I watched too much television and even read a couple of books. I napped almost every day.
My mom group in the first few months of Indy’s life was glorious. We would meet, lay the babies on the floor or put them in swings, and drink cups and cups of coffee and talk for hours. Outside of our weekly get-togethers, we would often link up for long walks, coffee dates or to vent after a tough night. I haven’t had that much female camaraderie in years.
I freelanced during my mat leave, and had lots of time to write. Indy slept for three-hour chunks at a time between feedings and, although there were always a million things to do (laundry, food prep, caring for my step-sons), I did manage to find time to open my laptop and write. Furthermore, Indy would sit or sleep happily in his stroller for at least an hour if I wanted to work at a cafe.
In the first few months of his life, my husband and I took Indy on a road trip to Whistler, to a movie premiere, to nice restaurants and many parties. He was happy to snooze on Jesse’s shoulder. At family gatherings, he could be passed around to any warm body, totally unphased. He loved everyone, and we could take him anywhere. He went to child-minding at the gym with a smile on his face.
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But as he grew up, all of those things changed. Indy eventually went from sleeping all day long to taking three naps a day. Eventually, that number became two. And he’d be very cranky if he missed them, making it tricky (though not impossible) to schedule getting out of the house.
Our mom groups were considerably shortened and less relaxed when the babies started crawling and grabbing every coffee cup in sight. Now they got cranky if they missed naps, and we all became more beholden to their ever-more-important schedules.
I suddenly had no time to work, except after 8:30 p.m. when all three kids were in bed. I don’t like working at night, but did it anyway, exhausted and sacrificing my own sleep. I didn’t have time to nap during the day anymore.
But even as I relished every new development, I found the second half of mat leave considerably more exhausting than the first.
At eight or nine months old, it was becoming more difficult to take my busy boy anywhere. He wanted up and out of his stroller so he could explore everything. At ten or 11 months, he’d cry for babysitters. Or if he was around strangers. Or when I dropped him at child-minding so I could get in a workout at the gym.
Don’t get me wrong: we all want our children to grow up, and I loved watching my boy progress. But even as I relished every new development, I found the second half of mat leave considerably more exhausting than the first — despite the fact that I was sometimes getting seven hours of uninterrupted sleep.
At the beginning of summer I had thought mat leave could go on forever, but by the end of it I was ready for a change and a return to work.
I don’t want anyone to fear the second half of mat leave. Seeing your baby roll over, hearing their babbles turn into words, and watching them learn new things everyday — it’s amazing. But there’s something beautiful and special about that first six months, too. If I could go back, I wouldn’t be so quick to wish them away.
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