When I had my son I was able to take 6 weeks of FMLA as my “maternity leave”. I had been pulled a week early which had used up most of my sick days (I was new) and because of the time of year I had to make it back into work by week 6 so that I was working for a week out of the month and didn’t have to Cobra my health insurance (again, new job) which would have cost almost the whole 2/3 pay I was getting from FMLA (and we needed whatever thirds we could get). I had an emergency c-section, he was 10 pounds 22.5 inches. All this is just to give you the backstory leading up to the story of my glamorous maternity leave.
I arrived home in style, wrapped in a hospital grade elastic corset that was supposed to help keep me from feeling like my organs were going to fall out onto the floor and 2 sports bras. I travelled elegantly around clutching a pillow under one arm so that if you made me laugh, cry, or cough I could try to hold my stomach in with it and hopefully take the level of pain I would experience down from a 10 to a 7.8.
Having been cut in half I had “a few restrictions”:
1. No lifting anything other than the baby
2. No getting in/out of the tub without assistance
3. No going up or down stairs
4. No driving
5. Do not use your abs to get up/down off the couch or in/out of bed. Here is an illustrated guide of how to not use your abs.
6. No drinking while on pain killers. (I opted to just not take the pain killers)
This is very similar to the kind of list you get when you check into your all-inclusive hotel in Mexico right? Or so I’ve heard, I’ve never been to Mexico.
My mother sent my younger brother to help me, his wife was due with twins 6 months after me so she felt this would be a great learning experience for him. He kept asking really valid questions and I kept saying “I don’t know” and then we’d Google it. Other activities included, standing around staring at one another playing “Guess Why He’s Crying Now” and an analysis of if it’s better for the swing to swing side to side or front to back. At some point we made sandwiches.
I never looked, felt or smelled better. Sporadic showering mixed with a treatment of defrosting cabbage leaves and spearmint oil is a smell that awakens the senses and makes you feel like a fresh garden in that’s been left to rot. My luxurious hair, professionally styled by my pillow, was the envy of the runway and the way my high-waisted Hanes peeked out over my sweatpants positively drove my husband mad with desire. As I lounged at brunch listening to the sounds of my son screaming I couldn’t help but think “Ahhhhhh vacation”.
My son was “not colicky”. It’s not colicky to scream in 2 hours intervals throughout the day as long as there are 30-60 minute breaks between them. There is nothing that makes you feel more powerful, triumphant and loved as a screaming child who hates every idea you have. He was a natural born masseuse and he expertly worked out the knots in my face and clavicles. He was occasionally appeased by my walking around singing him the songs of Train and Fun, which was great because I needed to get my cardio in on a daily basis.
My step-father came to help. My son slept peacefully and happily on him for half the day. My mother came over, he slept on her too. My husband came home from work and they napped together on the couch. Come to think of it, he slept peacefully on everyone that wasn’t me. This was very re-assuring for me and my post-partum hormones. I felt at peace and secure in all the decisions I had made in my life up to this point.
At approximately 1am and 4am every night/morning we were joyously awakened by the cries of the locals. As this is mine and my husband’s ideal sleeping pattern, we jumped at the opportunity to get up join the party. It was refreshing to discover just how horrible a person I am when you wake me in the middle of the night. My husband never felt luckier about being married to me. It was with a delirious level of joy that we made bottles, changed diapers and celebrated in our son’s ritual expression of worship for the moon and stars. My husband handled the night crying with particular grace as our son hated everyone at night. I was used to this attitude and I think it’s the only reason he decided in the end not to divorce me.
By the end of my 6 week sabbatical I felt I had achieved a higher level of understanding for my position in the world. I had a renewed faith in myself and a drive to pursue great things. Upon discovering that I still could not handle a zipper or true waist-band across my incision, I returned to my job feeling powerful in my yoga pants, breathtaking in my baggy Hanes, and overall refreshed by my hair that had been painfully styled that morning to resemble something reminiscent of its former self.
It was the most challenging, most exhausting, and at times most upsetting 6 weeks of my life. My “vacation” was full of pain, and struggle and sleep deprivation. I would do it again in a heart beat, because I LOVE my son and he is truly a gift to us. But do not mistake the sweet photos you see online, they’re hiding the mayhem and tears that are those first few weeks. This is no trip to Sandals. There is no swim up bar (unless you count the wine glass you’re crying into in the shower). This is WORK. Hard, painful, thankless work. Work that you love, but work. NOT “me time”. Not “vacation”. Not “relaxing bonding time”.