My daughter is my life. My love and admiration for her is irrevocable. I look at her every day and usually find myself with tears in my eyes because I am (still) so amazed that this beautiful little girl is part of me. The best part of me.
But none of these facts take away from the fact that maternity leave is one of the strangest life periods I have ever been through. I can’t quite work out if I love it or hate it.
I went on leave at 29 weeks pregnant because I ached and I was heavy and tired. It was the right time for me and I would do it again. My maternity leave kicked in officially 3 weeks later. I spent those 3 weeks in the steady routine of daytime telly (Homes Under the Hammer, Wanted Down Under, re-runs of the Bill & Birds of a Feather on Drama) and sitting in my nursing chair listening to audios of my uni textbooks, trying to get ahead ready for Squidge’s arrival. The routine of it, given that I was too heavy to go outside safely by myself by then, was comforting.
Then, suddenly (or not so suddenly if you’ve read about the birth) she was here. So were Kev and my in-laws, our little flat bursting at the seams. I told myself that as soon as I was recovered from the pain of the c-section, I was going to be a model mum. You know, lots of (expensive!) classes for Squidge’s development, lots of making new mummy friends.
Except, I honestly didn’t manage to get out the house with her until she was 2 months old and even then I was still twinging.
It turned out that most of the classes were 2 bus journeys away, which is a nightmare to plan when you have a pram, or even worse when you need to be at this class for 10am.
Squidge is almost 5 months old now and pretty much every weekend I have been in tears to Kev about how I am failing our girl.
I have to give myself a day off every time I’ve taken her out in the pram, because getting the damn thing down off the wall takes it out of me. And I’m rubbish at staying indoors. The Internet teaches that you need to be living an Instagrammable existence to be able to call yourself a good mum.
There’s baby massage (tried it twice, Squidge didn’t give a damn) there’s baby sensory (I took her once, her grandparents another) and it was just too hard to spend my life down on the floor. It’s no fun when you’re calculating how to safely lift her off the floor when your hips ache this much. There is library rhymetime, but there’s no hope of being ready for anywhere by 10. We took her once when Kev had the day off. It was lovely, but hectic even then. It is however, the only one so far that hasn’t wanted to charge me £8-10 a session (baby yoga anyone?) It’s free, but I’ve been aware of it since she was born and still not seen fit to wake her up early to make it on time. You never wake a sleeping baby.
But Rhymetime and maybe some local church playgroups (still a bus ride away) are all I intend to hold myself accountable for from now on. I can stay at home and hover over the poor love singing songs. None of how this time is spent makes a damn bit of difference to Squidge at this age. All the groups are actually for the mothers. Of all the reasons she’ll criticise me as her mother when she gets older I don’t think “If only you’d taken me to baby yoga!” will be one of them.
These classes exist to make money and to give mums an excuse to get out of the house. And I make myself feel guilty for not doing the latter because I get bored and lonely, not because it hinders my baby. She still smiles every day. She sleeps every day and she feeds well.
I’m lucky that I get to spend every day looking at her beautiful face and I shall miss it so much when I have to go back to work in August (hopefully a part-timer though!) The guilt that I have to at all is starting to eat at me the closer it gets. I look back over my 7(!) months so far of maternity leave and feel so terrible that it hasn’t been leisurely walks in the park with other mums. That’s just not realistic, I’m not even a walking kind of person!
I even get pangs of jealousy when I see dads coming in with mums and babies for their jabs, wishing Kev could be with us. But if he was, then we wouldn’t be able to afford our home, never mind our daughter, and I want her to learn the importance of working for what you have. It’s only thanks to how hard poor Kev works (and the astronomical cost of childcare) that meant the option to go part time was even viable!
I only gave myself 2 goals for maternity leave.
- Pass my driving test
- Learn to swim
Both are still works in progress, but the most important thing is I’m doing them both. I even managed to swim breast-stroke in the pool when Kev and I went on holiday. So proud of myself.
The one thing that continues to niggle, much as it did before Squidge was even a second line on a pregnancy test is my lack of sociability. I don’t want this to be true for Squidge and honestly, the rounds of daytime TV on your own do get lonely. I desperately want to meet other mums.
But groups just don’t do it for me. I love meeting babies, but honestly, I don’t actually care how you feed or how well they sleep (mainly cos I don’t want to answer, I’m that mum everyone hates with the great baby that’s been sleeping through since 11 weeks and pretty much established her own routine too – sorry!)
I want to go drink coffee and eat cake and maybe, just maybe, leave baby at home and remember what’s it like to go out past 7pm and drink a glass of wine.
And I’ve been giving myself such a hard time about all my wasted “time”, probably because I haven’t met my new best friend who completely gets how bewildered I still feel about motherhood yet. But the truth of it is, although the flurry of visitors has died away, I have a lot of friends around.
They may not be as close distance wise as I would like, but it has been so lovely to reach out to so many people and make plans, whether it’s a lunch date next week (I’ve had 2 my entire leave, don’t buy into the idea that it’ll be lunch dates every other day, you’ll be too knackered for that however nice your friends are!) or a trip to the theatre (off to see Miss Saigon with one of my best friends in December, a merely 14 years after she recommended it!)
Another of my closest friends, who I met in Cardiff is coming to mine for our mutual friend’s 30th this weekend. They’ve both since moved away, but when we’re back together, it’s like nothing has changed. (Of course it has, two of us are mums now, but we can still put the world to rights over a glass of wine!) Just because they’ve moved, they haven’t disappeared out of my life.
Today, I think I think I’ve probably had reason to text more of my friends than I have spoken to, most likely, since Squidge was born. I might have quiet days (I’m the friend that’s really rubbish at returning messages, cos I wrote my reply in my head a week ago!) but what I do have is lots of plans.
And so, I’m telling myself now – no more guilt.
It doesn’t take expensive groups to meet people. If they are your thing and you have the energy to be up at 6am to be there for 10am (yes, really!) then good for you. But it’s not for me. And truthfully, I am getting a lot more out of my time off than I credit myself for. I’m making it work for me and that’s fine. Squidge knows no better and she wakes up every day with a smile, whether I bother to get dressed or not.
Squidge saw the health visitor today and she called her the “happiest baby she’s ever seen”. So smiley and secure in her bond with me. I couldn’t care if she says that to all the mums, it meant the world to me. It showed that classes honestly made bugger all difference and that even if I did just sit at home singing songs to her in front of Coronation Street, I am still managing to raise a sociable and happy girl. So it’s OK to do things my way.
I’ve actually taken to messaging local mums from the comfort of my sofa, through sites like Mummy Social & Mush.
I can’t claim my social life has exploded, however much I wish it were true, simply because I just don’t have the energy for that and I need to be sensible and take care of myself day to day too. But it has resulted in a few coffee dates with mums and their lovely babies and that shows potential. The rest is up to me. And I’m hopeful, simply because there are ways out there to do this mummy’ing thing the way I need to do it.
So give yourselves a break mums. It might be hectic, it might be lonely, but it doesn’t last forever. So make it what you need it to be. I’m bettering myself and even if my maternity leave won’t be Instagrammable and I’ll never make it to baby yoga, it needn’t be lonely either.
Wish me luck.
I’ll let you know the second I make it to that 10am Rhymetime!