Though maternity leave in this country leaves something to be desired as compared to nearly every other country in the developed world, for a working pregnant woman, the thought of twelve weeks off is like imagining that color has a sound - provided you can afford the unpaid leave. Twelve. Weeks. Off. As I near the end of my maternity leave, I realize that there are certain stages that you go through during those three months off with a newborn baby.
1.) Bliss: If, like me, you take a few days or a week off before the baby is born in order to tie up loose ends and get everything ready, those days are utter bliss. There's also anticipation and not a little stress, but the overall feeling is one of complete bliss. Twelve. Weeks. No work for twelve weeks.
2.) Exhaustion: Labor heralds the age of exhaustion. Once upon a time there was a nursery at the hospital that they took newborn babies to in order to allow the mother rest and recovery from the grueling hours (or days) of laboring. A magical place where babies were cared for and brought to their mothers only at feeding times or upon request. Now in order to facilitate bonding and breastfeeding, there are no nurseries and babies bed down in the room with their mothers, meaning that after 33+ hours of wakeful labor, the sleepless nights of newborn care starts with immediate effect. Then you go home. And it doesn't stop.
3.) Anxiety: If, like me, you were lucky enough to have your partner stay home with you and the new baby for a week or two, and the time comes for him to return to work, the overarching feeling is one of anxiety. What will you do all day with this tiny baby? How can you handle the feedings and naps and worries and floppy-headedness (dear God, the floppy head) of this helpless creature? I felt that the days were too long and the time between waking up and going to bed was interminable.
4.) Routine: You start to get the hang of this. You and baby form a routine based around his eating and sleeping habits - which, while they may not actually be routine or scheduled, you've at least figured out how much of each he needs. The days don't seem so long. Your baby doesn't seem as fragile. You take him out of the house. By yourself. He starts to smile. Five minutes of smiley baby makes up for the four hours you spent bounce-walking around the house trying to get him to stop crying.
5.) Bargaining: You start to think, maybe you could stay home with this kid. Maybe it would be nice. You start to worry about how much of his life you'll miss while at work. You start crunching numbers and think maybe you could make it on one salary. Or maybe you could work part time! If you gave up satellite television and possibly internet, stopped eating out and buying books, experimented with alternative fuel sources for your car...
6.) Resignation: You realize that, at least for now, you need two incomes. You have debts. Labor and delivery was expensive. You don't want them to repo your baby. You'll have to return to work at the end of twelve weeks.