05 April 2011

Reflections on Maternity Leave

I've been contemplating writing this post for weeks now. As the days of my maternity leave drew to a close, I started reviewing the time that was. This is the second time I have taken a year out of my normal study/work life to do something different. The first time was when I took a year off after my HSC before starting university. On both occasions, the time has yielded a significant change in me - mentally, emotionally and spiritually.

For many years in my professional life, I have advised employers on issues associated with maternity leave management. On reflection, this now seems weird considering that previously my advice was based purely on the legalities of the leave without having personally taken such leave. In hindsight, my leave has been nothing like what I expected.

As the final days of my pregnancy came to an end, I could not wait for a break from work and to commence my maternity leave. I was unsure what my leave would entail but I must be honest and say that I didn't expect that it would be as hard as it was. If I was to summarise my maternity leave it would look something like this:
  • Spent the first month running around getting organised and didn't rest nearly enough;
  • Labour started in my due date (so organised!) and 36 hours later my gorgeous Layla was born;
  • Endured a horrendous introduction to breastfeeding that resulted in three bouts of mastitis. Eleven months on and we're still breastfeeding;
  • I'm yet to sleep a whole night and get close to the amount of sleep per night I used to (have given up for now);
  • Feel like I have done the same thing every day for eleven months. Groundhog day big time;
  • Had no idea that a dressing gown would be so useful and comforting;
  • Have a whole new appreciation for women with twins (and other multiple births);
  • Think my Mum is the most amazing woman in the world;
  • Have learnt to do most tasks with one hand;
  • Have seen more shades and smells of poo than I thought possible;
  • Think I have overdeveloped arm and hand muscles from rocking and patting;
  • Have developed a love/hate relationship with parenting books;
  • Have no idea where the days, weeks and months have gone;
  • Never knew that just managing to get dinner cooked could take all day and be an achievement;
  • That it is ok for my day to start at 2pm;
  • I never realised that sleep deprivation could be so intense, last so long and change me as a person;
  • I've never felt so alone and so loved as I have this year;
  • The whole concept of self has changed. I seem to be no nearly as important as I used to be. Whether I am sick or tired, the show must go on;
  • I understand why some women choose not to have children and why others choose to have just one child. This game ain't for the fainthearted;
Layla (11 months) and I reunited after my first day back at work - happy faces all round!

If I had my time over again (and hope I will) I'd recommend:
  • When people offer to help, don't be proud and say no. Say YES PLEASE!;
  • It's ok to spend days on end sleeping;
  • Don't expect life to ever be the same;
  • Know that no matter how bad things get, it will end and things will get better. Nothing lasts forever;
  • If you believe in doing things a certain way, stick with it even if others think you are nuts;
  • Know that EVERY new mum goes through the shock that is a newborn. Most newborns don't sleep. It's all normal;
  • Most women struggle with breastfeeding;
  • If a professional gives you an opinion that doesn't sit well with you, find another professional;
  • Do whatever you need to do to get through the day/week/month;
  • There is no one right way of doing things. No matter what people say or you used to think, the way YOU chose to do things with YOUR child is the right way;
  • Take lots of photos, write things down and capture the moment. It'll all be over in a blink and in a strange kind of way, you'll miss the crazy emotional state of having a newborn.
For those of you who have asked, I plan on continuing my blog now that I'm back at work. I'm not sure how much time I'll get to write but I'm sure I'll find time. As we race towards the end of Layla's first year, I have learnt more than I ever imagined. I've learnt about me, my child, my husband, my family, my friends as well as gaining a new perspective in life. I think I could manage a whole post on this topic! Stay tuned ;) 


  1. Jas, this is so true! When I went back to work after Eloise I was devastated to have to leave her, but after a short time I remembered what it was like to be respected for something other than managing to get by on less hours sleep than I care to remember. I too spend a considerable amount of time in my professional life advising managers and employees about maternity leave, and I think the experience of spending time on maternity leave has given my advice a new perspective :)

    I hope you're settling into work well.
    Kate x

  2. Me too. That photo is priceless. Layla's eyes are exactly the same as yours! Well done on an amazing year with your girl xxx