To people who have never had a baby, maternity leave sounds like this glorious vacation. You don’t work for 6-12 weeks. You “just” take care of your baby. You stay at home on “your own” schedule. I cannot count how many times someone asked me, “So, what do you do all day?” I would stare at them, hair disheveled, covered in spit-up, wearing a diaper myself, and I would imagine smushing their face. Because while I truly did love maternity leave, it was not a vacation. It was work.
For my first maternity leave with JR, I had no idea what to expect. I heard the stories about moms who were so frazzled that they weren’t able to take a shower for days. That brushing your teeth would be a luxury. And I was not ok with that being my new reality. I was not ready to lose myself. Wearing diapers was one thing. I was not on board with the reality that my well-being would be last on the to-do list.
And before I had three children, was back to work, and gave up caring what other people think (well kinda of–I still care–I just don’t let it eat me up as much as I use to), the thought of people coming over to a messy house completely embarrassed me. But everything I heard about having a baby, I would have no time to clean. That terrified me. I didn’t want people to think I was this lazy mom on leave who just sat around all day binging tv.
So Matt and I made a pact. Matt and I each wrote down one personal care item that was most important for ourselves to do. The thing that made us feel human.
We then wrote down the one chore that was most important to us to be done in the house. The thing that made us feel like our house wasn’t falling apart. Even if it kinda was.
For personal care, I wrote down “put on makeup.” Matt wrote “brush teeth.” (yeah, I am not ashamed that my choice is far less hygienic). Every day, it was each other’s job to make sure we did met our item. Matt would ensure that I would put on makeup sometime during the day. I would make sure he brushed his teeth. It didn’t have to be first thing in the morning or even by noon. It just had to happen at some point during the day.
Once I had on my makeup, I felt a little more like myself. Sure, I now was full of spit up, milk always was leaking through my shirt, and my clothes weren’t fitting the way I hoped, but I had gosh damn makeup on.
For chores, Matt needed the dishes done each day. I wanted the bathroom sink wiped down. Every day, I would make sure that dishes were done at some point during the day (and no, that didn’t mean I did them. I just made sure they got done, which largely meant it was a duty delegated to someone else). Matt would make sure the sink got wiped down every day. The rest of the house could be in complete shambles. Diapers would need to be washed. Laundry piled up. It didn’t matter. All that mattered was that we got those two chores done. The rest could be forgotten.
It made such a difference. The idea of having a million things to do on top of keeping this tiny baby alive can be overwhelming. There simply was no way I could nurse JR all day (I mean ALL DAY), keep up with laundry, take a shower, take a sitz bath, do my makeup, style my hair, dress myself, dress JR, change JR’s diapers 10 times a day, change my own diaper 3 plus times a day, make food for myself (that is super healthy and keeps my milk supply up), sweep the kitchen floor, wash the dishes, buy groceries, put away groceries, keep the house de-cluttered, and every other little thing that needs to be done. But I also couldn’t pretend like I didn’t need to be taken care of. And that the house needed tending to. So we just picked one each. And the rest got done when we had extra energy and time.
Moms, please take this unsolicited advice. Don’t set yourself up for failure and expect that you need to do it all in order to have a successful day. Keeping a baby alive while being utterly sleep deprived is an accomplishment in itself. But sometimes only taking care of your baby isn’t enough to feel ok on leave. And sometimes it hurts to feel yourself melting away. So set your list of one personal care item and one housework item and let the rest go.