The image I had of Maternity Leave was just awesome, like - A-W-E-S-O-M-E.
I mean, it is 16 weeks of PAID leave. I am going to have all the time in the world to spend me-time with myself - do things I love, indulge in my hobbies, stay home all day, hang out all day, chill, spend every moment with my newborn, and STILL have money to spend.
So, naturally, I made plans. They ain't big plans, they are simple ones like, going grocery shopping, window shopping, meeting friends during weekdays over lunch, hanging out in cafes and just enjoying the simple pleasures of life on weekdays (things that I don't get to do since I am always working on weekdays). I planned to read, cook and bake, alot. I even planned to take up a self-enrichment course.
As a first-time mum, everything is new and because I am naturally optimistic, I tend to see everything with bright, twinkling eyes - like - wow... everything is gonna be soooo wonderful!
And then reality struck me when I delivered my little one naturally, without epidural (read here for my delivery room experience) and as the days pass, I realize nothing I planned for was actually coming to pass!
So this is what really happens during Maternity Leave:
#1. She is not JUST a baby - she is EVERYTHING a baby.
"How bad can it be? She is just a baby." - I used to think.
Don't underestimate the needs of a tiny newborn. They aren't as easy to please as when they were baking in your tummy. It used to be just you craving for certain foods, you feeling the urge to pee all the time, you having mood swings, you being unable to sleep etc. and you suddenly realize that all that were easier to deal with as compare to the little bundle in your arms; where you have to feed her, bathe her, change her, care for her, put her down to sleep, entertain her etc. as she is completely incapable of dealing with anything on her own. So you have to do it, cause you are after all, the mother.
Just for the record, she feeds every 2 -3 hours, which is 8 -10 times daily; she soils her diapers every few hours and needs it changed 5 - 6 times daily. Feeding is followed by a compulsory burping moment, followed by some entertaining (if baby is still awake), - nope, you are not being entertained, you are the one entertaining! - followed by any washing/changing, followed by putting her back down to sleep.
Finally, when she sleeps, you think you will have time to yourself, but ...
#2. There is absolutely NO me-time.
After handling everything in #1, where you meet all of your baby's basic needs, you realize you have to meet your own basic needs too before the cycle repeats.
You could possibly have a maximum of 60 mins and minimum of 30 mins left to yourself where you will probably spend bathing yourself, preparing your meals, having them, washing up whatever bottles, breast pumps, dishes and getting around the daily household chores like cleaning up or clearing the laundry.
Because you will be spending time just getting the basic things done (which you may not even find enough time doing), it is better not to dream of indulging in all those "me-time" stuff cause you are likely to get disappointed.
#3. Being topless most of the time.
Nope, I am not trying to be horny when I say this, because if you do the math on the number of times you have to breastfeed and express milk, that actually takes up alot of time. Now, how sexy is that?
#4. She doesn't follow any of your plans.
Before you know it (and sometimes, before you even complete 1 task), she wakes up and you have to fulfil her needs all over again. It doesn't matter if you have tried to schedule her feeds to be xx hours apart so you have a better estimate, it doesn't matter if you already planned to do something during xx period of the day, and it doesn't even matter if you haven't even slept a wink the night before. If your baby is crying/wailing, your instinct will lead you to satisfy her first before all else.
Trust me, there will be times where you really want to eat, or pee, or shit, but you just gotta wait; and there will be times where you think she will be done feeding in 15 mins, but she takes 30 mins instead; and there will be times where you think you could put her down to sleep in 10 mins, but she take 60 mins instead. And better still, there will be those times where she will refuse to sleep unless she is sleeping ON YOU, and in those moments, you will not even be able to get to point #2.
So, really, there is little point in making plans, since they will not adhere to your timetable.
Yup, she loves sleeping ON me.
#5. There will be days where you are being puked and peed on.
You have to accept that, no matter how OCD or clean-freak you are, there will be times where your baby vomits on you while feeding or burping and there will also be times where their diapers leak or that they pee/shit on you while you are washing them up. And the sad thing is that your baby doesn't care. As if you ain't busy enough, now you have extra things to wash up!
#6. And it gets noisy cos she may be tiny, but she is LOUD.
So, you can forget about having "peace", regardless day or night. There are times where I just barely fell asleep only to be woken up within 10 mins by her wails, that I felt would have also woken up my whole neighbourhood! And even after trying all ways to soothe her back to sleep, she continues crying like there is no tomorrow.
#7. You will never be alone.
Now, that she has arrived, she is a physical little human who is almost permanently attached to you emotionally, mentally & physically.
Technically, you are never alone, hence every activity you plan to be involved in has to allow you to bring her along, e.g. you don't suppose you could go for a swim while bringing her along, do you?
Now, please do not misunderstand this as a complaint, it is not.
See, she is attached to me.
This basically sums up my chapter on what really happens during maternity leave, in a more "technical" sense. (I am not even going into the emotional state of mind, which you can read about in here).
It wasn't a breeze and it is definitely not easy being a new mum, but it is absolutely WORTH it!
So, next time you see a new mum during maternity leave, please don't say something stupid like "Wow, how was your break?" or "Wah, how did you enjoy your 16 weeks of leave, so shiok ah?" These are among the most irritating and annoying comments I have received. Stop being ignorant now that you have read it up to here.
It would do good if you simply asked "How are you?" because it acknowledges the mum as a person, as her, as well as the work she has done and not just focus on "How is the baby?" alone.
Now, if you don't know what to say, then just don't say anything at all. It will also be fine that way.