When last I submitted my Catholic Mom column, we were awaiting the birth of our son. He arrived in mid-October, a week late, but he definitely brought that promised joy into our lives. During my 11 weeks of maternity leave, I re-learned firsthand some of the challenges facing new mothers.
Slowing down is not in my nature, so being still, resting, and accepting the fact that I couldn’t do as much as I’m used to, proved to be a real challenge. I’ve always worked outside the home and my daughters are 12 and 9, so it’s been a while since I’ve had a baby or been out of the office for an extended leave. When you’re at work, staying home sounds like a luxury. Oh, to have time to do laundry during the week, or clean the house properly, or read uninterrupted, or write without distraction while the kids are in school and the baby is sleeping. Before delivering my son, eleven weeks sounded like such a long time that the planner in me designed all these projects to achieve.
Being home for maternity leave was anything but the above. It took me four weeks to turn off the “must-achieve-something” part of my brain. After that first month I threw out the entire idea of accomplishing projects and accepted that any goals must be proportioned appropriately. Finally I understood why Faith and Family’s “Seven Quick Takes” is so popular. If you don’t keep track of the little things, a whole day passes without feeling as though you’ve accomplished anything at all! You go to bed wondering what on earth did I do all day.
Here are several of my post-partum observations from a type A “older mom” overachiever. (Well, I thought I was one until this baby arrived.)
- Newborns come with three settings: nursing, fussy, and asleep. When he falls asleep you have a pretty big decision to make. You can lay him down and try to get something done, or stay on the couch and hold his warm, cuddly, little body, listen to him breathe, examine his silky soft head, pray, read, or watch a little tv until it’s time to nurse him again.
- Watching the Food network cooking shows is going to make you hungry and want to cook. This tends to be problematic when you’re laying on the couch holding a sleeping baby. Dozing is a much more appealing alternative.
- If you spend all day watching HGTV house shows like House Hunters or Designed to Sell, I promise you will walk around your own house lamenting the fact that you don’t have the perfect kitchen backsplash, hardwood floors, or granite countertops. Let’s not even think about the fact that you haven’t vacuumed your carpets since you came home from the hospital.
- Don’t schedule tree service, bee removal, cable tv installation, or an electrician during the first two weeks, even if someone is helping you out at home. Trust me on this one.
- Keep a little tote or caddy handy with things you need within reach while nursing. Some of my items included cell phone, house phone, tv remote, lanolin cream, diaper rag, Kleenex, and my copy of A Book of Saints for Catholic Moms.
- Immunizations, heel sticks, and circumcision for the baby is actually more difficult for you. The baby won’t remember a thing, and may not even cry, but the fact that something sharp has pierced their skin is seared into your heart.
- Hormones make you crazy. Postpartum hormones are more powerful than pregnancy hormones. You can go from weepy exhaustion to “I will kill you before you come near my child” in the blink of an eye.
- It’s okay to start a load of laundry and not finish it on the same day. It’s also okay to run a load of laundry every day, instead of doing it all on the weekend. It’s not advisable, because then you feel like all you’re doing is the laundry, but it’s okay.
- Don’t answer work emails or phone calls. If you worked right up until delivery, the office will actually try to contact you for the first two weeks, unable to accept that you’re really and truly “not available.” You can stay in touch and send them pictures, but the first time you answer a work-related specific question, you open the flood gates and it won’t stop.
- Personal connection is important. It’s easy to feel isolated and alone at home with a baby all day. The Facebook app on my iPhone is a lifeline connecting me to friends, although it’s tricky to compose long messages. (I prefer a keyboard to texting.)
- It’s much easier when other people are at home. My daughters, being 9 and 12 years old, were a huge help. Though I don’t enjoy their fighting over who gets to hold the baby, I do appreciate that they willingly change diapers. I also love having my husband around on the weekends. I love him and just his presence at home is comforting to me, even when he’s stretched out on the couch, baby nestled in his arms, watching a football game.
- Getting out of the house is a very big deal. Running an errand prevents the day from turning into one long monotonous blur of tv, nursing, laundry, eating, and trying to pick up the clutter. Of course I kept thinking that I would attend daily mass at 8:30 a.m. but I didn’t make it until the end of my leave.
- Babies can go pretty much anywhere. At three weeks, I brought the baby to an all-day softball tournament. It took me two hours to get out the door, but we saw three of the four games. At five weeks old, we took him on a thousand-mile round trip to three different places for Thanksgiving week. By the end of the week even I thought I was crazy, but we survived.
Copyright 2012 Shelly Kelly
About the Author
Shelly Henley Kelly is a daughter of God, a Martha who strives to be Mary, living in the world, but not of the world, perpetually busy as breadwinner, wife, mother, catechist, and ACTS sister. A published author, Shelly writes about being a working mom and catechist at SoundMindAndSpirit.com and can be heard on various podcasts at SQPN.com.