About the Author · Family · What's Going On

Is Maternity Leave Really Over Already?

How does 40 weeks waiting for a baby to arrive take an eternity but 12 weeks (sleep-deprived) while caring for a newborn go by so quickly?  Ah, America!  While I appreciate the 12 weeks that I am “allowed” to take off work from my employer to care for my newborn child, who just started sleeping through the night at 10 weeks, the thought of going back to the daily grind of work is met with mixed emotions.

For us, a lot has happened between Halloween – MLK day.  Here are some highlights: My parents sold our childhood home, moved to a new 55+ condo community and both retired! Our second son was born and baptized and has brought great joy to everyone in our family.  We also bought a new car, well actually a new minivan which I am thrilled about! My husband and I both celebrated our birthdays and we had tons of Christmas / winter holiday fun.

I had this grand plan in my head that because it was my second child I was so ready to really be productive on maternity leave.  You know, unpack boxes from when we moved over the summer, organize my file cabinets, update baby #1’s baby book before baby #2 arrives… ha, yeah right.  Clearly I forgot that I also have a toddler who is my shadow, always wanting to know and see EVERYTHING his Momma is doing while also caring for a newborn.  As you can imagine, I learned and appreciated quite a lot while on my 2nd (and final) maternity leave.  Here are the highlights:

Colicky Babies DO Exist!

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I actually thought this was just something people said when they had a fussy baby. BOY WAS I WRONG! About 3 weeks after our son’s birth he was crying all the time and nothing would console him.  I tried everything to calm him down.  While working on my “I don’t want to compare my two boys” language in my head I really couldn’t have had two more opposite newborns, despite the fact that they look identical.

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Jimmy on the left and Marty on the right – both at 12 hours old. 

After two weeks of trying to change formulas and adjusting my techniques on how to comfort our son, I finally went in to see the doctor.  My exact words to the doctor were, “I don’t want to be one of those parents who says my child won’t stop crying…but my child won’t stop crying”.  He informed me that he’s probably a little colicky, potentially having a bout of acid reflux and gave us a few tricks to try, but ultimately he said that “this too shall pass.” Those words were like throwing gasoline on the fire to sleep deprived parents.  Looking back, I’m so glad we went to the doctor.  Lesson learned: having some piece of mind when parenting is key, even if you don’t have all the answers. It gave my husband and I some piece of mind to know that yes, you have a screaming baby, but you are doing everything you can – and that’s the best you can do.  And yes, the doctor was correct –  about two weeks after our visit our son turned a corner, the screaming stopped and he has been a very good baby since.

Sometimes you’re in survival mode, and that’s okay.

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I know there were days when my parenting dos and don’ts were totally mixed up.  If our toddler wanted to play games for a while on his tablet so I could sit down and have lunch – sure! Actually questioning when was the last time I had a shower or “did I really just have my 5th cup of coffee today?” – common place when you’re in survival mode! Yes, I realize that you need to take care of yourself in order to be a good parent for your child, but sometimes just getting to nap time with the kids or reaching the end of the day without a blowout diaper was the greatest accomplishment.  Lesson learned: everything in moderation is key to keeping balance in our household.  A little time on the tablet when requested was just enough to keep a little toddler happy (and Mommy could enjoy her one a day cup of coffee in peace).

Appreciate the little things in life – like wine and dates

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There were a few days when I would tell my husband I just needed to get out of the house for a bit.  As this maternity leave was in the winter months, cabin fever was raging in our home for everyone.  Taking time to leave the house to shop at Target alone or to get a mani/pedi were far and few between but extremely appreciated when I did them.  I felt like ME again.  I am used to leaving the house at 7am for work and not arriving home until close to 5pm.  Those hours on my commute to and from work and my lunch break were always ME hours.  Having that little ME time when I was able to was and is still clearly something I need to keep my sanity. Date nights were few and far between but we were able to sneak away from the boys to see Rogue One and have dinner at Lawry’s The Prime Rib, Chicago. Lesson learned: Needing to take time away from being parents while still taking care of yourself and your spouse will refresh everything.

A strong circle of other parents is key.

When I was pregnant with my first child and I was trying to put together my baby shower registry, I had posted on Facebook asking what essentials do you need / not need for a new baby?  Once I read all the responses from my post I was totally overwhelmed.  I learned that if I have a question related to a hot button issue of parenting, a text, call or email might be a better form of communication.  Thankfully my husband and I have a good circle of parent friends who are able to share parenting successes and failures about our kids without judgement.  Viewing other people’s posts on group discussion boards or on your own Facebook feed regarding their children can be daunting and really not give you the outcome you desired.  Lesson learned: Trust your instinct regarding your kids.  Every time I have done this my gut has not steered me wrong, including the time when I thought my toddler was having explosive diarrhea from teething with his two-year molars which was the case (and is totally a post for another day).

Kindness of strangers should never be dismissed.

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After our youngest son was born (and he gave us a little scare in the NICU) I returned back to my church to become a regular attendee in mass.  My lack of attending mass had nothing to do with losing my faith in God or anything, I would like to have categorized myself as a lazy catholic. It seemed like such a chore to attend weekly mass when I could just pray daily at home. After much self-reflection, I decided I needed to go back to the roots that my parents instilled in me and start attending mass on a weekly basis.  During our family’s first trip back to mass, I had the good fortune to be greeted after mass by a woman from the parish named Meg who was the group leader for a tiny tot program hosted by the parish on Friday mornings. Meg invited us to participate in the program and our toddler has loved every second of being a part of the class. I call Meg our little angel who in her own sweet way guided our family back to church. I could have just dismissed her kind offer of inviting us to the class, but I’m glad I didn’t. Thank you, Meg, I am forever grateful for your kindness and I hope to pay it forward one day.  Lesson learned:  reflect upon who you were, where you’ve come from and what you’ve become in order to shape your future self. 

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During this maternity leave, I’ve learned to appreciate all the little things that life has to offer.  The boxes in the basement are still not unpacked, the file cabinet is still a mess, and yes the boys baby books are still unfinished.  And it’s okay! Someone once told me that the days are long but the years are short – and that totally rings true for us.  As a Mom, I’m lucky that each day is a blessing, a challenge and a new learning opportunity.  My thought for today – smile through the spit-ups that just landed on your new dress before work, as they are only little for so long. 🙂

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