Maternity leave is over. I’m back to work full time as an editor. A positive is that I can work from home, though returning to work was still depressing and overwhelming. But on my first day I realized I also felt something I didn’t expect: relief. I felt relieved to be forced into a routine that is in some ways familiar. I felt more like myself than I have in months. Now that I am working again I’ve started to reflect on the past 12 weeks of maternity leave. I went into my maternity leave with grand illusions of being able to accomplish so much. I was going to cross off major blog to-dos, complete my summer bucket list and enjoy my time with my girls. Boy, was I wrong (with the exception of my time with my daughters)! I’m sharing some of what I didn’t know about the fourth trimester, aka the first three months postpartum.
What I Learned During Maternity Leave:
Maternity leave is isolating. This is especially the case if you don’t live near family and close friends. My mom was able to visit and help for two weeks, which helped immensely, but other than that I didn’t have much help. (I am grateful that my mother in law plans to visit soon, though.) People gave me advice about taking time for myself without realizing that I’d love nothing more; I just didn’t have any help with child care and wasn’t ready to leave my baby with a babysitter. I have had some friends visit, which I loved, but for the most part it’s been just me and the girls while Graham works. He has many long days due to the nature of his work, and sometimes his schedule was unpredictable, but we have survived so far.
You need help. If you have people willing to help in whatever way they can during your maternity leave, take it! I wish I could have had that luxury. By help I mean assist with household chores, errands, shopping, child care, whatever!
Your emotions are all over the place. I expected the baby blues, but not to the extent that I felt them. For me they lasted longer than just a couple of weeks. My anxiety has also resurfaced. A contributor to my blues was being alone so often with the girls. I was also anxious and afraid to do things alone with them for fear of what could go wrong. It took time for me to become more confident in venturing out. Some days still have tears, but talking to people honestly about how I feel has helped. Hearing people say that they will help in any way they can has also helped, even if I know they can’t do much from far away.
The bodily changes continue. It doesn’t end with giving birth. Postpartum life also comes with hair loss! Everyday I wonder how I could be losing this much hair. Also, your cycle can return at different times depending on whether you’re breastfeeding.
Twelve weeks of maternity leave is not enough. I know I am privileged to even have 12 weeks off work when many women have to return much sooner due to financial and other concerns. My maternity was unpaid and I had to pay for my health benefits during my leave. I was able to save for it beforehand, but I am still missing out on my big chunk of my annual salary this year. This experience has taught me that 12 weeks is not nearly enough for a woman to recover, and that more companies should show they value their employees by compensating them during leave.
The fourth trimester tests your marriage/relationship. With so much focus on the baby (and your other children), it becomes more challenging to make time for our marriage. But that relationship is the foundation of our family, so it’s important to refocus on it. Now that I am getting slightly more comfortable with leaving the baby I hope to find a night for a date sometime soon depending on Graham’s schedule. Another challenging aspect is figuring out how to work as a team to handle things such as nighttime feedings when you’re both exhausted. Showing appreciation for each other is key during this transition.
Have you experienced the fourth trimester? What did it teach you?
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