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The End of Maternity Leave

Blog

The Ups, Downs and Sideways of Working Motherhood

The End of Maternity Leave

Alex Steinman

A friend of mine posted something about your body craving rest. Too often I think of relaxation as "doing nothing." I've never been a good meditator, mostly because I get lonely with my own thoughts and then bored listening to myself think. You'd think an only child would be good at being alone, but nay. Matt's out of town and here I am reading emails outloud to my newborn, and I'll probably crawl into bed with my toddler at some point this evening.

Self-care is something I took very seriously when I was pregnant with Cooper and Zoe because I knew it was good for them, and I physically didn't have a choice. The back and hip pain was something I couldn't avoid, so it was easier for me to surrender to relaxing. I got massages and pedicures, and I sat my ass down. When you can't move, the solution seems obvious. I'm not saying I went down without a little struggle, but at least I knew the physical pain would end eventually.

Mental health is a whole other animal. I don't know if I'm coming down from a postpartum high, headed into a return to work low, or just feeling a bit underwater trying to stay present for my kids while juggling all the things. Mercury is in retrograde, so we're all pretty fucked right now. Also, Trump. I'm a little on edge, a little weepy, and a little worried about pretty much everything lately.

I know a lot of women go through postpartum depression (PPD) and postpartum anxiety (PPA). I don't have a label for what I'm going through, but I wanted to speak up for the other parents out there experiencing real human emotions that you can't explain. I'm a happy person, and we're living such a great life right now, so any feelings other than Disney-level excitement is frustrating. The cycle goes like this: 1. Feel sad 2. Feel grateful for my kick ass life 3. Feel frustrated for being sad 4. Feel sad again. I hear this is normal.

These feelings are valid, but everything is temporary.
— My Mama

Even if I was a person who knew how to ask for help, I wouldn't know what to ask for. Is an all expenses paid trip to Fiji (complete with traveling nanny) on the table? Sometimes taking a mental break is more work than just plowing through life. The preparation, planning, packing and pumping that it takes to get out the door without a kid should require an MBA. There is no off-the-grid for a parent. You never know when there might be an emergency, like your husband can't find the chocolate aisle in the grocery store (true story). Right now, a break is peeing alone. And by alone, I mean without someone touching me.

I can feel the stress of returning to work in two weeks looming like that cloud that follows Eeyore. I can't imagine what this in-between feels like for someone who hates their job. I love my job and fluctuate between excited for adult conversation and dreading leaving my baby. I keep asking myself, "You only get one maternity leave per kid, so did I spend it doing the right things?" There's not really a manual for parenting, but there is plenty of Internet telling you what you SHOULD be doing. Note to self: stop googling.

As a second time mom, I didn't expect to feel this way again. The only thing I know for sure this time around is that I still don't know what I'm doing. I left for this maternity leave with one job and a kid, and I'm going back with three jobs and a family of four. I'll once again leave my nuggets with strangers to pursue my own dreams, so someday my kids will tell a therapist, "at least my mom was pretty badass." The mom guilt is so real. 

What gets me through is something my mama always says: These feelings are valid, but everything is temporary. Someday, I'll transition into a routine that will bring on a whole new set of feelings. Until then, I'll lean on my tribe for support, hugs and wine. And I'm getting a fucking pedicure.

P.S. You might also enjoy A Life in Transition and Bye Bye Baby.