It’s totally incredible how many efficient, energetic and apparently sane women decide that maternity leave is exactly the right time to start a business, learn the cello, improve their Spanish or become a fitness fanatic. If you are one of these girls intent on making the most of your legal rights and taking the maximum length of sabbatical permitted by law with the intention of multi-tasking your way to making millions or becoming proficient in a new instrument, whilst breastfeeding your new little darling, please think again.
These words of advice come from the woman who was so determined not to give in to the cries of “Oh now you are pregnant you will lose all your ambition” and “Will you sell now you are starting a family?” and who worked round the clock to nearly double turnover the year after each of her children was born without handing over the mothering reigns to a nanny. I did it, but I just don’t recommend anyone else does! In hindsight it was total, obsessive madness. I was too damn proud to ask for help and too damn determined to give up one or the other side of my life.
You may have read that my children were both born naturally on a Friday and I was back the work on the Monday. This is not strictly true. I, like many other women throughout history, had my children and then kept going with my life. So yes, I did get home and cook dinner for my husband but mostly because I was hungry and like my own cooking, plus I felt fine so why not? Yes, I did pop into the office on the following Monday, but I could put the baby in a car seat and take him with me. My situation was pretty unique and I was lucky to have the flexibility to work around my gorgeous little sausage.
Don’t feel guilty about work – just take the time to enjoy your baby and make some new friends. How often do we have this chance in life? Or more to the point how often do we have such a brilliant excuse to legitimately have time out of a career we may well stick at for 40 years. It’s good to do something new. But even more poignantly, please, please don’t think several months with a new-born will give you all the time in the world to catch up on that never ending wish list of extra-curricular activities.
Despite my determination to continue to do it all, I was shocked that in the first few weeks getting the hang of breastfeeding was pretty much a full time job. No really – full time. The new-born has the amazing ability to demand your full attention and feed ridiculously slowly. My chubby boy ate all day and all night and still wanted more. I loved nursing him and would not have given it up for anything, but I did devise ingenious ways of coping with my other responsibilities while he chomped away on my initially horribly painful nipples. Slings at the right height mean you can get up and move around, in fact I found an African wrapper the best thing to get this right. Pillows on the lap ensured typing was possible, if a bit slow and by lying in bed with one arm above your head it is possible to even catch up on much needed sleep. It was not ideal and my lovely little boy learned quite quickly that he could suckle away for hours on end in a sort of drunken daze while I slept fitfully and woke up to a dead arm and happy baby who totally refused to ever be put down in his own cot. Life became more structured with my second son – who to this day is a lot thinner and more independent. I don’t think either of them has suffered any psychological damage.
If, unlike me, you get your baby into a routine in the early weeks you may find yourself with the time to take up a new trick or two, write that thesis, or improve yourself in one way or another. If this is what makes you happy go ahead and enjoy yourself. Your baby won’t mind and will be sure to grab your attention when it is needed. For my part, I am rather sad I did not do more sitting around in coffee shops. I totally missed out on NCT classes and the group bonding thing that other parents seem to look so cosy taking part in. I rushed through my pregnancy with no time for classes, hand knitting or birth plans. I just turned up at the hospital and asked the midwife to just tell me what to do. I guess I was burying my head in the sand to a certain extent – terrified about getting it all wrong. I need not have worried. Again, I am lucky, motherhood came to me completely naturally, I was so overcome with love and instinctive nurturing and it all just fell into place. I just wish I had spent more time giving in to my love and become a doting, round-the-clock parent – if only for a few months.
Of course not taking maternity leave has left me full of guilt, but I think I have more than made up for it. My boys got to see me a great deal more than many of my friends whose careers made proper nannies an essential part of life. Right now I’m sitting at home with the dogs on the sofa having just picked up my youngest from school; we are both working quite happily on our ‘homework’. The juggling life is a sweet one but in the few months after the birth, forget the Power Maternity Leave idea and enjoy the muffins in Starbucks, good mumsy chats and a few months out of the rat race. If I had my time again I’d be there like a shot!