As I mentioned last week, maternity leave has been transformative for me in so many ways. Of course, the obvious one is that I am now a mother and have all the joys, heartaches and responsibilities that entails. But, maternity leave is also the first time in maybe my entire life that I've had to stop what I'm doing and take a break (albeit, not a very relaxing one).
Whilst it's hardly a holiday, taking a break from that daily grind in favour of spending your days with a newborn gives you an awful lot of time to think and assess. At the beginning, your life is imploded but as you slowly build it back up, it helps you to assess your priorities - old and new - and the days where you are just surviving, really clarify what you need to thrive.
Maternity leave is a real time of highs and lows, from the stressful days of teething, illness and sleepless nights, to the long periods of boredom, to the wonderful, life-affirming moments when you're cuddling your sleeping baby or laughing with them at a silly song. And so many of those moments are teaching moments, for you and for your baby. I've really learnt a lot about myself and about how I want to live and parent during these months, but I think these are my biggest lessons...
Creativity Is Essential To My Happiness
This has been the biggest one for me. Whilst I was pregnant, I let a lot of my creative pursuits fall by the wayside because I was just too exhausted and focused on being pregnant and the baby that was arriving imminently. As soon as he was here, I felt my headspace clear and I suddenly wanted to go back to blogging and knitting and learning new crafty things and baking and everything else creative in my life. Of course, time is now an issue, but I know that the days when I manage to do a little bit of creative work, in whatever form that looks like, are my best days, so it's something I am prioritising going forwards.
Embrace Community Wherever You Find It
Maternity leave can be very lonely. I am lucky that my sister lives with us in University holidays, so is often around at times that Paul isn't as she works in retail, and that a couple of my local friends had overlapping maternity leaves to me - so for most of the week I could find someone to chat to. But my saving grace has really been Instagram; people often slag Instagram off for being too aspirational and making us feel bad about ourselves, but I have found it to be a place of support and entertainment during the longer, lonelier days of maternity leave. It has been a really great community for me, and I'm glad that I embraced it early as it's made all the difference.
How to Go With the Flow
I am naturally quite highly strung and not very spontaneous. When plans get changed at the last minute, it tends to stress me out. But, that's no way to live when you have a baby and you can't control any of your day. So, I have got better at going with the flow, at letting Benjamin lead our days together, and shrugging things off if they don't go to plan. I've certainly not morphed into an easygoing person, and I probably never will do, but it's something I'm working on doing more often, especially as we come into spring and summer, when a sunny day means dropping everything to get outside.
I'm Better When I Get Up Early
We have been incredibly lucky that Benjamin is a fairly good sleeper for a baby of his age. It was only a few months before he was waking just once in the night, and I can count on one hand the days when he's been up before 6am (and most of those are from the last couple of weeks). So after those early weeks of constant night feeds, we've actually not been as sleep deprived as we expected. And actually, I've discovered how much more of the day there is when you get up early - and I'm into it. I've always been more of a morning person, but it's easy to get into the habit of sleeping in at weekends and not really getting into the swing of things before lunch time. And, don't get me wrong, I'd love a day or two like that, but on the whole it suits me to get up at 7am. All the extra hours mean you can squeeze a lot more into the day and I am better when I can use those morning hours effectively.
Self Care is Not a Luxury
You would be forgiven, if you spend time in certain corners of the Internet, for thinking that mothers never eat, wash or drink a hot cup of tea. There's a lot of rhetoric around motherhood that simultaneously bemoans and lauds self-sacrifice in the face of children's needs - and it's telling that it's a rhetoric around motherhood, rather than fatherhood. You rarely see men complaining of the same thing. I know that some days it can be super tricky, and this is not a dig at anyone who is struggling, but one thing I have learnt is that self care is not a luxury.
I cannot function without the basics - breakfast and a shower at the very least. They might not happen on the timescale I would like, but they have to happen for me to be a good mum. And so I have let Benjamin cry and complain whilst I am in the shower with no guilt. If he is fed and safe, he can be upset for a few minutes so that I can be clean. Ditto grabbing a quick sandwich or slice of toast. It's not the most relaxing of morning routines, I'll grant you, and luckily it's not an everyday occurrence, but in the long run those few minutes of crying have been worth it for both of us, as I can be more present and pleasant when I'm fed and clean.
You Can Do Pretty Much Everything One-Handed
It is amazing what you can do one handed whilst holding a baby. It's an acquired skill, but once you've got it, the world is your oyster!
Always Carry Wet Wipes
I am now a convert to carrying wipes and tissues wherever I go. Whilst it's obvious why you might need them as a parent, you'd be surprised by the number of times I've needed to whip them out whilst I'm footloose and baby-free. Clearing up spilt drinks, wiping your hands after a messy meal, or even just blowing your nose - tissues and wet wipes are now handbag essentials for life.