In keeping with the theme of this blog and my quest to process the incessant mumblings of my mind – I wanted to write about something that, of late has been inhabiting my head since returning to work for the second time.
I have had two maternity leaves under my belt thus far, and I found my second stint as bloody weird and as wonderful as the first.
I was hoping I would learn from the mistakes I made the first time (not enough rest, pressure on myself to get out and lose weight to name but a few) but I didn’t. I was definitely more relaxed in terms of my ‘mothering’ (Marnie was basically ignored or dragged around whilst attached to my boob for the first three months, she was the achingly obvious second child) but, all the worries, insecurities, comparisons and loneliness returned. Hindsight is a right old fucker and I remember thinking at 8 months pregnant, whilst trying to contain a two year old with back breaking, leg failing sciatica – Christ, if only I had known how easy I had it when I went on maternity leave the first time, I could just waddle around the flat, have a little nap (I never did – for those that know me, I don’t nap) ‘pop’ to the shops alone, go to the toilet alone. Basically spend those precious weeks, days or however long you had before the imminent arrival of the baby doing whatever the hell I fancied.
But it doesn’t work like that does it? In the same sense, I used to think I wish I could have told myself before kids to just sleep more, go out more, forget dull stir fries and early nights on a Monday and just go to the bloody pub instead because soon you won’t be able to do those on a whim activities, but the pre kids me would have told the post kids me to fuck off. Imagine if I said to my friends who wanted children but are yet to have them “Hey, look, I know it’s Monday but don’t bother getting an early night tonight, just go out and get smashed because in a few years’ time when you don’t have the freedom to do just that, you will probably wish you had” Yeah. Not sure it would fly. Ultimately, until you’re in it you can’t know. Everyone says it. Until you experience having children, you just cannot fathom what will be lobbed your way and how you will learn to cope under the huge amount of stress, the least amount of sleep, whilst keeping your baby fed, watered and mostly clean. So, after my first maternity leave, I told myself that yes, I would rest more, I would not rush to get out the house in those early weeks if I didn’t feel up to it, and I would accept that for me, personally it takes around 10 months for my body to feel and look vaguely normal again. Alas, once again the little shit that is hindsight didn’t play ball.
The strain I put on myself to really make the most my maternity leave this time and adhere to this perfect vision of motherhood I had conjured was ludicrous. And exhausting. A matter of weeks after another fairly traumatic birth and subsequent infection, I found myself on the tube on our way to Hampstead heath (why oh why?!) Elsie next to me gnawing her way through her second bag of pom bears whilst I fed a four week old Marnie, thinking what the bloody hell am I doing? It’s Sunday, I am utterly exhausted, in pain and I should be at home, not gallivanting around trying to keep up appearances as a new ‘Mum of two’ and a ‘family of four’. It was still such early days, but I felt utterly disgusted with the state (harsh but true) of my body after having had Marnie. She was my second child in three years, I had experienced another full on labour resulting in another emergency section, but yet I still felt disappointed in myself that I wasn’t rocking a pair of white skinny jeans and tight Breton top whilst mooching Wandsworth common with blow dried hair.
Sounds like madness, and I think it’s safe to say it probably was, however, that woman was not a figment of my imagination, she actually existed. Having just finished feeding her possibly week old baby and popping it back into its’ bassinette she continued off on what seemed to be an oh so perfect walk, on her oh so perfect maternity leave. In her skinny white jeans. I stood dumfounded. In my maternity Jeans (Marnie was 6 months old)
Witnessing this seemingly flawless new mum made me hate myself a bit. I remember sending a message to a few of my mum mates, searching for some reassurance that it wasn’t the norm to appear that impeccable a week after giving birth. Ultimately though, it had little to do with this stranger and everything to do with me. Hats off to her, whoever she was! Christ knows how she looked that good and made it seem so easy. More importantly, as I know only too well, appearances can be very deceiving, however it only emphasised the endless, draining comparisons that came with being a mum and how I should be relishing my maternity leave second time around.
Now here’s the thing. I am under no illusion that my posts on social media depict a very different Idea of how I have coped during both my maternity leaves for those that don’t know me. When I have confided in friends about feeling lonely, anxious and like I wasn’t coping – a lot of the responses would be “really? But you always look like you’ve got your shit together and your lipstick on” – those closest to me know I will always have my lipstick on (fuck knows what I will do when Rimmel discontinue ‘pink blush 009’) and I might appear to have my shit together – but mostly I don’t. Not on the inside anyway. On maternity leave with Elsie, I spent hours walking on Wandsworth common and I would always attempt to make an effort – putting on some slap and decent clobber as I felt it went a little way to helping me feel better on the outside when I was feeling so incredibly lonely and shit on the inside. Lapping the common with my colicky screaming baby I felt pretty helpless and desperate to just sit in the pub with a mate, have a good cry and sink a large vino. But instead – I walked, and gazed at the gaggle of NCT mums – at least I presumed they were NCT mums because that’s what NCT should look like shouldn’t it? And that is what I should be doing shouldn’t I? Sitting out on blankets in the summer sun, feeding, cooing, laughing, sharing a bottle of prosecco to celebrate just how magical maternity leave is? No siree, not this gal. I just thought SHIT. I’ve got this new mum lark all so very wrong. Sounds dramatic I know. I am a bit dramatic. But equally it was true, because that is the maternity leave I had fabricated in my mind and therefore what I believed I should have been experiencing.
Don’t get me wrong – it wasn’t all oh woe is bloody me. I got time to myself to sit on my ass, watch Real Housewives of Cheshire, wander the shops on my tod whilst Elsie was at nursery, have pregnancy massages (preggo massages are just a bit shit though aren’t they? Lie on your side for an hour whilst having a feather light massage for fear of inducing labour? Yeah. Not very relaxing) Shit pregnancy massages aside though, it sounds pretty heavenly doesn’t it? I guess that’s what I’m trying to say – as perfect as those moments sound and as lovely as they were, they still didn’t manage to fill the void of expectation and isolation that I felt.
But where does this all come from? Who really does have the idyllic maternity leave? Extreme expectations (namely my own but also I think from society as a whole) go a hell of a long way to contributing to this picture perfect maternity leave. I am more than aware that the immense burden I put on myself during both of mine was influenced by social media and observing other mums around me, who appeared to have it all. Which is usually a load of bollocks. No one really does. When you scratch the surface or get a bit rat arsed with a bunch of women who have children, the truth usually always comes out. We’re all struggling, in our own way. Having a baby enter your world, no matter how you feel about it – ecstatic, frightened, grateful, lonely, stunned, overwhelmed, content – WHATEVER – it momentarily turns your peaceful planet on its head. Some of us arise from the birth & subsequent maternity leave unscathed, having happily seized all of the offerings that are there for the taking. But there are others, that would be me in case you were wondering, who struggled. Who had an Idealistic outlook on what they should have been doing, feeling grateful for, but consequently feeling incredibly isolated mentally in being able to truly relish my “year off”.
Lessons to learn? Words of wisdom? Even now, I’m not sure I have the answers. I doubt I would do it better third time around (JOKE JAMIE JOKE!) but I have come to accept that it was OK to have not had the text book maternity leave. To not have cherished every moment but to have still treasured being with my girls. Despite all the whining and what seems to be a whole lorra negative ramblings, maternity leave really is wonderful, but also really bloody weird.