When I was prepping for maternity leave, and probably even before that, I figured maternity leave existed for these simple reasons:
- Mom needs to heal (20% of purpose)
- Baby is teensy and needs mom all of the time. (50% of purpose)
- Ladies are “oh so lucky” to get time off work in order to cuddle and bond with their child. (30% of purpose)
About half way through my time at home I had a major realization that my previous assumptions were totally skewed. The reality of maternity leave is this:
- Mom needs to get her shit together. (95% of purpose)
- Small baby benefits from mom in early days. (5% of purpose)
Now, science and behavioral studies may argue with me… but to be totally fair, if Kamel had been home this whole time Gabe probably would have been played with a little more and may not have noticed my absence as long as a steady food supply was provided. But my point: I really thought that maternity leave was mostly for the baby and that the health of the mother was a perk thrown in there as an after thought.
Maybe this is because on a bigger scale maternity leave is not valued in the US, and often comes with a side order of guilt/shame and a hint of “Lazy woman.” Maybe it is because I had no concept of what labor/delivery/pregnancy/recovery really was all about. It was definitely one light bulb moment after another.
I had this realization as I was huffing and puffing up some big hills with Gabe in the front carrier. I ended pregnancy with very little core strength, with very little stamina, very little upper body strength, and with loose skin, swollen joints, and some left over water retention. In those first weeks I had milk stained tank tops, more often than not crazy hair, and so very tired eyes.
The baby is the baby, but I needed to get my shit together. I need to heal – it took 2.5 weeks to stop bleeding, it took a full six weeks to feel like my nethers were pretty much the way they were before pushing a human out of them. It took a full 7-8 weeks for me to feel confident in wearing things other than leggings and sweatpants. That matters. It all matters.
Pregnancy is so public. Everyone watches you grow and change and expand – strangers, co workers, family, friends (in my case, the internet… hi!). But the recovery isn’t as celebrated. People don’t want to hear or cheer about the healing of my vagina. And probably because it’s more private. It’s personal. Just like the symptoms of pregnancy, it is different for everyone but I think (at least for me!) we need that time to put ourselves back together again. Not just the physical bits, but the identity bits, the mental bits, the family bits. Who is this baby? Who am I now that I am MOM with all caps? I need to be able to lug myself up some hills, to watch my body deflate, to try and find myself again after so long being a vessel for someone else.
What I’ve realized after all of these weeks is that THIS time is important. It needs to be valued in the social sphere just as pregnancy is. I am so grateful for the time I had, though I wish it would have been easier, less wrought with stress and undercurrents of CRAP. I am going back to work stronger. I am going back to work confident that Kamel and I can do this parent thing day to day – even on the days where Gabe is fussy, even on the nights where we get less than 5 hours of sleep collectively. We got this. I am healthy and healed and I can say that with ease because I was afforded the opportunity to take the time to make it so. Did I take a pay cut to have this chance? Yes. Did I have to hound the state for a month in order to see 1 fucking dime? Yes. Did my employer make this process easier for me? Absolutely not. But! We have to be our own advocates, and the advocates for our families… because in the end, we are the only ones who will make it happen.
I am lucky. I am so ridiculously lucky that we had a support system of family and friends and that we were capable of paying rent even with the pay cut, because so many other women do not have that choice. They should, because they need it. Women’s health demands this time. The baby thrives with love and food, but what about the moms and dads of the world? They need time.