Thursday, August 6, 2009

Highlights and Lowlights of Mat Leave

This post is part of the Carnival of Maternity Leave over at Visit for more posts on maternity leave from August 3- 15th.

As I sit here trying to look back at my maternity leave I realize it has been almost a year since it ended. I tried to find one theme that ran throughout but then realized it was a year full of interesting highs and lows. There wasn't just one idea. So I thought I'd talk about memorable parts that still resonate with me today a year later - both high and low.

1. Do you thank him or hurt him

My hubbie took 5 weeks off when our son was born. We both felt strongly that this would allow both of us to bond with our new son. And we were right.

I also thought his time off would be a big help to me. He could make sure I ate, help with diapers, take the baby off my hands once in a while, manage all the family coming from all over to visit, etc. I thought he'd take over running of the household so I could focus on the little man. That was what we had discussed anyways. And while he loved analysing the best way to put on a cloth diaper to minimize blow outs. The reality was that most of this still fell to me. He was there when I needed him to help me, and he did stuff when I asked him. But he wasn't the forward thinking hubbie I dreamt he'd magically become. When given clear instructions he took care of it, otherwise he used his 'downtime' to rebuild the engine in his MG.

What was true was that I had support when I needed it. He was just a walkie-talkie radio call and a hand washing away. And this was very important as I had a really hard time with breastfeeding.

2. Milk stains don't always come out

They said if it was natural and if it hurt you were doing it wrong. So I never expected the pain and conflict in the early days of breastfeeding. And was a bit angry actually when friends told me afterwards that they had had problems too. This is the type of info that is helpful at a baby shower, NOT tasting different canned baby foods. If I had known earlier I would have researched support options before I had problems.

We had problems getting the little guy's latch right early on. And even after we got it right it took a long time for the damage to heal and for nursing not to hurt me. So I spent probably the first 2 months of my son's life walking around the house topless (to let the damaged area be open to the air as much as possible). And we had milk stains everywhere... and I mean everywhere...

I also couldn't wear anything touching my breasts. So I had these little plastic cup like shields that let me put clothes on without actually having anything against my breast. Worked well for when we had guests and to go out on short outings, but it left too long the cups would overflow with milk - usually at the most inappropriate time (like at IKEA where I had to run to the bathroom and empty my cups).

I was so very thankful for having my hubbie around to help me through this stage. In order to help give me a bit of a break we did the late night/early am feeding by bottle. I would pump in the other room while Daddy had some nice one-on-one time with the boy.

Hubbie also held my hand through my cry fests and near panic attacks before feedings. It was an emotional roller coaster for sure. And I'm so glad he had that time to help me through it. Breastfeeding was an important choice to me, and without hubbie having taken those 5 weeks off I know I would have given up.

3. Sleep is NOT overrated

Our guy was always a good night sleeper when he got to sleep. But we would spend hours some nights trying to get him down. He wanted to be held to go to sleep. For naps I'd sometimes be walking/rocking him for close to an hour for him to go to sleep for 20 minutes. My whole world seemed to be about getting him to sleep. I was tired and my knees were killing me. Sleep issues caused more stress and arguments than anything else ever has in our marriage. So we hired a sleep consultant when the little guy was about 5 months old.

After that it was like I had been liberated. Sure I had a schedule to follow, but I knew what to expect on a given day. So I could plan outings for us. And most importantly it gave hubbie and I some time back to ourselves.

4. Wish I had found twitter earlier

I found my mat leave very isolating. Sure the first few months were busy with visitors, but they eventually stop, and your hubbie goes back to work. Then you are alone, with sore boobs, little sleep and very few people to talk to. I went to my local community health nurse group (was the BIG outing in my world for a long time). I spent a lot of time online researching breastfeeding resources, strollers and slings. And of course updating my facebook with pictures of the little man. But I wish I had found twitter and the great group of Mom's I have found there earlier. It would have been so helpful at 3am while I was pumping and hubbie was feeding the baby.

5. Transition to NOT going back to work

This time last year I was organizing daycare and planning my transition back to work. I was looking forward to the adult company and to use my brain in my chosen field again. Unfortunately my position had been eliminated in a re-org and they couldn't find another place for me. So my mat leave was unexpectedly extended. This was a tough emotional pill to swallow. While I loved my son and the time I had with him. I had not enjoyed the isolating, tiring, housework filled day-in day-out rhythm of being at home with my son. I had really been looking forward to going back to work.

The second real hit was the timing of my layoff just weeks before the economy tanked. So a year later I find myself still not working. I have grown a lot as a person in the year since my mat leave ended - but that is another story.

What does this all mean?

The biggest surprise to me as I wrote this, was that I still don't seem to have a sense of humour around most of it. I can usually find something funny to say about myself, but I found little of that in my story above. Okay yeah the idea of me walking around half naked for months or emptying my cups at Ikea is kind of funny. But I had to work to add the humour there.


  1. It sounds like the early days were really rough for you, I can understand how you still feel emotional about it. I'm still sideswiped from time to time with the emotions of giving birth prematurely. These things can shape you and scar you in a way few other things can.

    And I can't believe your husband rebuilt his MG. Crazy!

  2. That was me who commented. Someone else logged into Google on my computer and so it was momentarily confused. Gotta love technology!

  3. Thanks 'C' aka Amber. Yeah the MG is a bit of a sore point. But I decided not to dwell on it to much.

  4. Thanks for sharing your story Tracey - I'm loving all the different perspectives as I sit on the cusp of my mat leave!

  5. Man, that sounds like a rough year. A tiring year. I am going to take a look around your blog now and see how your year since then has been.
    I think what people really need to tell new moms at baby showers is "it's hard. call me".

  6. Capital Mom - I totally agree about baby showers. It is the perfect time to let people know it will be harder or at least different than they expect. It isn't like they can change their mind at that point. :)

  7. Tracey I really appreciate the honesty in your post. I agree that moms don't tend to share the hard stuff and I wish we could all be as open as you have been. I struggled for months with breastfeeding and honestly felt like the first few months of my son's life were more bad than good. Life is much better now - except for the challenge of finding a good daycare!

  8. Mlle_s - it took me a year to be able to write about that time in our lives. Life is much better today for us too. Good luck with finding a good daycare.

  9. Sounds like we had similar starts to breastfeeding. What saved me was 2 things:

    -My daughter's tongue was clipped at 6wks. She appeared to be slightly tongue-tied but managed to eat at the expense of me.

    -Dr. Jack Newman's APNO (All Purpose Nipple Ointment) I took the prescription to my doctor and she wrote it up for me. Felt relief from the very first application and was totally healed in a matter of days. Wish more people knew about this stuff!