When Maternity Leave Doesn’t Fill You With Absolute Joy

When Maternity Leave Doesn’t Fill You With Absolute Joy

In the same way that no two births are ever the same, neither are any one parents' experiences. This series explores any and every topic relating to pregnancy, birth and early parenthood, from a featured parent's perspective. This week our featured mom is Vinnie Yuen, a communications professional and mom to an active toddler boy.

I have a confession. I didn’t love maternity leave.

I know how lucky I am to be able to get it. I know many women would do anything to spend one-on-one time with their babies.

But during those first months, I felt alone. I felt drained. I was sad. I looked forward to having minutes or hours away from my baby so I could just breathe.

My husband and I had a discussion about parental leave before Theo was born. My husband was worried about the stigma he might face at work. He didn’t know anyone at his workplace that took paternity leave and his workplace offered no income top-ups for dads – just moms. He was working on projects that he feared would be taken from him if he took extended leave.

It wasn’t equal, but it was settled. I was staying home with our baby for a full 12 months after birth. I didn't know that for months I would wake up dreading every day, hating the mornings when I would watch my husband walk out that door for 10 hours straight, and wishing so hard that I was back at my desk drinking hot tea, checking emails and writing to my heart's content.

I was lucky enough to have help from my parents, who stayed with me for three months. When their stay came to an end, I watched them get into the car to go to the airport. I held Theo in my arms in the lobby of our building and cried. I had never longed for my parents, especially my mom, so much in my life.

After they left, every day was filled with screaming. Theo refused to nap. It was a song and dance of holding and rocking him in the dark bathroom with the sound of water running, shoving a pacifier in his mouth, feeling like my arms would fall off and hoping and praying he would go to sleep. Once he woke up, I had two hours before I had to do it all over again. It was psychological torture.

When I put my foot down and sleep trained him, the screaming got worse. The new routine was he would scream his head off in the crib for 30-45 minutes straight, and then I would take him out of the crib for the sake of my sanity. The only solace was taking him out in the stroller, where he would happily stare at the world outside until fatigue overtook and his eyes fluttered. Two hours later. Repeat.

Stephen did little things that helped. He got up early in the morning and gave me an extra 30 minutes to sleep in. He washed the bottles. He picked up take out. He told me to take it easy, to not worry about the dishes or laundry. He encouraged me to go out on weekends so I could have some alone time. He sent me away for a weekend for my birthday.

Try as he may, the journey of full time care giving was mine and mine alone. He was not the one physically attached to our baby 24 hours a day, seven days a week. He felt helpless when I would call him at my wit's end with Theo screaming in the background. Yet there was nothing he could do. He had to work. I had to stay home. Nobody could save me. I just had to tough it out.

The screaming and refusing to nap lasted three months. Every. Day. For. Three. Months. I just wanted that phase of my life to end.

It eventually got better. Theo learned. We were finally able to have some fun. In fact, the last few months of maternity leave might even be described as enjoyable. 

Moms often talk about how hard it is to go back to work, to watch their child go to day care. I did have some feelings of anxiety and sadness leading up to his first day at daycare. Anxious, because I wasn’t sure if he would nap or adjust. Sad, because the chapter of him being a baby was coming to an end. He was growing up.

But I also felt relief. I was really glad to say good bye to maternity leave.

He adjusted beautifully and I love my new found freedom. For two weeks before I started work, he went to day care and I ran errands, worked out and met up with friends. I could actually fully listen to what they were saying. It felt amazing.

Every time a mom told me how hard it was to leave their child at daycare, I would feel just a small pang of guilt – guilt that I didn’t feel the same. I don’t want to spend every hour of every day attached to my child.

Then it occurred to me. My husband has had the ability to be away from Theo from day one. In fact, I never hear about dads feeling bad about going back to work just days or weeks after their child is born. Nobody would question the love my husband has for our child. I certainly never did.

Every mother is different. I am a mother who needs time away from her child. And that’s okay. 

Theo is learning so much at daycare. He holds hands with his friends. He gets to do things I never would've thought to let him do, like play with the guts of a pumpkin or draw on walls lined with paper.

But, oh how I love knowing that little face is waiting there for me at the end of each work day. On the weekends, I indulge in the simple joy of watching him run, climb, point, exclaim, laugh and explore. And it's easier to empathize with the tears, the screams and the sass. When he comes and gives me a hug, my heart has never felt so full.

He is the best part of my day.


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