Why Maternity Leave is More B-School Than Break
Disclaimer #1: I love my little boy. More than I thought possible. His laugh is the best sound in the world. Motherhood is a challenge on its best days, but most struggles are gratifying, and this one is especially so. I know I am blessed and I feel he is worth every sacrifice.
Disclaimer#2: What I’m about to describe applies to whichever new parent is staying home on leave – mother or father, biological or not, but since I am a mother, I will write it from that perspective.
While pregnant, I had somehow convinced myself that maternity leave was going to be a break from my rather demanding day job. I had been duly warned of the first “100 days of darkness”, but my over-confident (read: delusional) self thought that MY experience would be different. I recognized that there would be challenges in nursing, changing, caring for and stimulating my baby – but I was not prepared for how CONSTANT and ALL-CONSUMING it would be. Naively, I thought that I would finally have time to write poetry again. I even thought I would have time to take up a side venture, like making fascinators. Yes, actually. I researched wholesalers of sinamay fabric and feathers while pregnant. My baby is now 9 months old and this is the first I have written, and the only hats I have made to date are old scarves turned into Erica Badu style headwraps to prevent my boy from incessantly yanking my hair out. This is the reality of maternity leave, and it is far from glamorous, or peaceful. If anything, it is a bit of a misnomer – the most daunting aspect to this time in my life is the realization that I can never again just up and…leave. I often likened my first three months to a prison sentence -albeit with the most adorable cellmate. While my mama-bear protective instinct came in from day one (how many times did I feel his chest to make sure he was breathing?), it took almost two months for the overwhelming sense of love I now feel to develop.
Mat leave is not a vacation, or a sabbatical. It is an additional full-time job with a fussy, demanding, client who doesn’t speak or understand your language and expects 24/7 availability. It is the simultaneous discovery and delivery phase of a lifelong project where failure is not an option. The day my baby boy was born was the day the procrastination option officially expired. Strategy has always been one of my strengths, but detailed planning has become a newly sharpened tool. The degree to which moms have to think ahead – playing out the consequences of altered nap-times and scheduling meals to maximize ingredient efficiency – would impress military generals. And the constant improvisation,describing every activity with a spur-of-the-moment rhyming song to an often tough audience, has really ramped up my presentation skills. I have become well-versed in explaining technical concepts to a (decidedly) non-technical audience…SANS POWERPOINT.
Most of all, though, I have learned that I have deep, deep wells of strength inside. I have learned that I have the capacity to love and give beyond measure. I have learned that this child is not my pupil, but rather my teacher. And as the fun days begin to outnumber the difficult ones, I have learned that it is all so very worth it.