6.02.2017

Maternity Leave

I took a 12-week break from work after having Lars. I was hoping to be able to go back part time in some capacity but it hasn't worked out that way. Instead I'm starting the process of figuring out my next steps and how I want to structure freelance work. Even though I'm not going back to work full time for a company, I have a new appreciation and passion for all moms to be entitled to maternity leave. It's been such an emotion-filled 12 week period. As they say, "the highest of highs, the lowest of lows." I feel like I've felt them all and everything in between! I'm not at the 4 month mark, but I do think 3 months is the minimum amount of time a new mom should get a break from her job. I was so grateful that I was able to take a break from work for the full 12 weeks because I feel so much more whole and healed from delivery.

When something major in my life has wrapped up, I like to do my own little post-mortem about the experience: mostly for my future self but also potentially to help someone else. I didn't quite know what I was getting into when we had a baby and I stopped working. I'm sure most people can agree that no one can really prepare you for major events in your life.

So here's a few things that I focused on my 12-week break. I think they really helped me and for as difficult as it's been, I don't want to imagine how much harder it would have been if I hadn't stuck to this list!

Establish your support team

I left work for 12 weeks and I had 5 of those weeks with Greg at home with me. We had such a lucky string of events that made this happen. The 2 weeks he was with me after the delivery was his paternity leave at his company. He ended up leaving that job a few weeks later and then he took 3 weeks off before starting his new job. If I didn't already know that God works in mysterious ways, then I would now. I'm so grateful he was able to be there with me figuring everything out, "Did he get enough to eat? Why would he be crying again?" or the classic "Come look at this diaper, you will not believe it!" I've cried to him more times than I care to remember, but I truly don't know how I would still be standing if I hadn't been so lucky to get him around so much. Paternity leave matters!

My mom lives 30 minutes away and my mother-in-law is 10 minutes away. They both have helped me so much. My mom has brought me so many lunches, visited during the day, helped me run my errands, and been able via FaceTime when I need someone to talk to. My in-laws have been able to visit us a lot and bring us meals. It's been really nice to have them so close to come over in our SOS situations. I have a few other friends that are new moms that don't have family near and I literally can't imagine how they do it. We've had to rely so much on our family. If you're living away from family with kids, I salute you.

I also have a really nice sister with 4 kids who has helped me make sense of this life transition. Both her and my friend, Sarah Jane have had countless FaceTime calls helping me figure out how to take care of both myself and my boys.

A few of my other mom friends have been so helpful to me answering texts and questions all through the day, visiting me, and bringing us meals. I've felt an outpouring of love from so many people in our life. Their little pep talks have meant so much to me.

Walk Everyday

When I went into my OBGYN for one of the initial appointments when I was pregnant, I kind of broke down to her. You know how you're trying to be brave and strong about something and then when you start talking to someone really nice and sympathetic, you just let go and start crying? Ha! Like when someone would be mean to me at school, I'd brave it out and then when I got home and would tell my mom about it, I'd sob like there was no tomorrow because she was just so nice about it? Yeah, same feeling. So I'm unloading to the doctor about all the things: how nervous I am to be pregnant and what's going to happen after I deliver? I'm worried that I'll be overweight the rest of my life because I won't be able to lose the baby weight. What if I suffer from postpartum depression and I can't get past it? Etc, etc.
She said, "OK Rebecca, this is what you're going to do. Are you taking 3 months for maternity leave? OK, so everyday for 3 months, I want you to take a walk. I don't care how cold it is. You bundle that baby up, he'll be fine. Grab a coat, grab a hat, make it work. Take a walk. At the beginning, the challenge will just be to get out the door on your own. But then you'll make it around the block and you just try to go a little bit further each day. And maybe by the end you'll be running miles. It will do wonders for you and it will do wonders for your baby, and hey, you might just lose the baby weight."

So I haven't lost all the baby weight and I didn't take a walk EVERY day, but I did most days. I can't say that I totally escaped postpartum, because it's certainly been difficult. BUT. The walks have been amazing. They empowered me that I can get Lars out of the house by myself. Sometimes he would be screaming and it would take a few loads to get all the things downstairs to the stroller, but we did it! And we did it together! The more I felt comfortable taking him out on my own, the more strength I felt to conquer things like the grocery store and traveling to the grandma's houses on my own.

I also think that being in the sunshine everyday helped Lars figure out his nighttime sleeping. I'm not exactly sure when he's supposed to be sleeping through the night but I feel like he's doing really well and has a good understanding between night and day, and for that I am so grateful.

For me, the walks have been a great mental break. Lars does great naps in his stroller so I just put him in and get to focus on me. Sometimes I put in my headphones and call someone to catch up, but usually I listen to a podcast. I loved being able to think about non-baby related things and I feel like Rebecca again. I would pack a granola bar and some water and choose different stopping points along my route. I got to explore our neighborhood and get to know it really well, which was also fun. I now know who is retired, which houses have kids, who loves yard work, when the mailman comes, where the sidewalk ends and turns into gravel, etc. I feel empowered in my new neighborhood because I'm so much more familiar with where I'm going.

One of the podcasts I was listening to "Happier with Gretchen Rubin" reminded me of something I had read in one of her books. She says, "It's easier to do something everyday then every once in awhile." I definitely found this to be true. I did miss a few days and I still want to lose more weight, but I'm glad I figured out this daily habit for both me and Lars.

Shower Everyday

Many people told me that I would be lucky if I got a shower while handling a newborn, but I knew that was a must for me so I made it happen. And I didn't think it was too tricky, I'm sure it would be much harder with more kids. But I would put Lars down for a nap and once he was zonked, I could shower EZPZ.

Enjoy Breastfeeding

I'll always remember our first night home from the hospital. Greg was unpacking our bags and my mom was making dinner in the kitchen. I asked them to come and help me get situated with the TV and remote and a comfy chair. Breastfeeding took about an hour back then and it had been pretty uncomfortable in the hospital bed. So now that I was home and knew I would be spending lots of time nursing, I wanted to make sure it was comfortable. I turned on shows I loved and wanted to catch up on. I got a cabinet organized next to me with tissues and chapstick and water and anything I might need. Later in the week when I was feeling like all I had time for in life was breastfeeding, I read a blog post a new mom had written. She said that in those days after giving birth, you don't have much energy for anything and the baby needs to be fed all the time so she just embraced it. She camped out on the couch and she binge watched Netflix and asked her husband to bring her food every so often. She said, "What other time in your life can you do that and not feel guilty at all?" So we owned it. The next week of Greg's paternity leave involved lots of episodes of the Office and quite a bit of popcorn. But it was really fun for us to take a total break from everything and have no responsibility, and it made me learn to enjoy the chance to breastfeed.

Exciting Clothes

I was way not prepared for the postpartum wardrobe. I didn't anticipate fitting into my jeans immediately, but I didn't realize just how long it would take to fit into ANY of my clothes. I wore maternity clothes for several weeks after giving birth and I didn't love it. Some of my maternity clothes were tricky with the c-section incision and it just bummed me out to not have anything to wear. My mom watched Lars in the car and took me to the mall a couple weeks after. She bought me a cute shirt that was from the maternity section but it wasn't an empire waist and it was new to me, so it felt very fun. I wore it non-stop and loved having something to feel nice in. Once I realized how important that shirt was, I went to DI a few times and bought some bigger button-down shirts. They felt fun and new, and easy for breastfeeding. But the best perk was that they have a collar so I felt a little more put together when I looked in the mirror.

Lars was born smaller than I anticipated. My sister had big babies and I just assumed I would too. I didn't buy any clothes for him but I had all of the clothes she had saved from her babies (an amazing perk of sisterhood!). But unfortunately, Lars was so little that he didn't fit into anything. We had a really small set of onesies that he wore on repeat for the first couple weeks. But that day my mom took me to the mall, I took a few of our baby gifts and exchanged them for the smaller sizes at Carter's. GAME CHANGER. It was so, so fun to finally get to dress up a baby. Each day was new and exciting because I got to pick out a new outfit for him. Sometimes when Greg would be changing his diaper in the morning, he would say, "Why don't you come pick out his outfit because it makes you really happy?" Ha! Indeed. My co-worker had a baby boy a couple months before us and she came to visit with a bunch of the clothes her son had grown out of. They were all the mini newborn size that I didn't own. It revolutionized Lars's wardrobe and my excitement for each day. You don't need a lot of clothes, but having at least a couple outfits that you can wash frequently made a big difference for me.

Do Something for Me Everyday

My sister has 4 kids and she gave me this great advice. She said there will always be more laundry, there will always be dishes, there will always be chores that need to be done- so if you wait until you finish those to do something for yourself, then you'll never get that time. So I've tried to embrace looking past the mess and making sure I do something for myself that's fun. In the first month that was working on an embroidery quilt for Lars. I wanted to finish it before he was born, but now I'm glad I didn't because it was something I could work on when he was asleep. As someone who really needs "something to show for my time" it was a relief to have a finished quilt, in addition to a healthy baby and dirty diapers. As I've healed up and had much more energy, I'm still trying to do this in different ways like trying a new recipe, calling a friend, running errands alone, riding my scooter, painting my toenails, etc. It's amazing how much these little things that I love can bring me so much happiness when free time is limited now.

Sleep When the Baby Sleeps

My goal was to lay down at least one time during his daily naps. In those first sleep deprived months, naps were my saving grace. At first I felt like a lazy bum for not getting things done while Lars was napping. But I can't get much done when I can barely keep my eyes open and I'm ornery to everyone. They say "sleep when the baby sleeps" and I wholeheartedly agree. I plan to do this his entire life. I love my naps.

Once we established a nighttime sleeping schedule for Lars, it was a welcome change to have some time to ourself in the evenings. But once again, I knew that if I could cash in on some sleep while he was sleeping it would make the evening feedings be much less difficult. It was tempting to stay awake and be able to have time with Greg, but I knew that we would get our evenings back when Lars was a little older and had more of a routine.

Plan Something to Look Forward To

I was watching an episode of Jerry Seinfeld's "Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee" with Julia Louis-Dreyfus (Elaine) and she said something awesome. She said she always likes to have something to look forward to in the day, the week, the month, the year, etc. Short term plans and long term plans. I loved that! So I've made sure I always have a fun trip to look forward to in the coming months or a fun weekend outing. It's not always easy for my non-planner husband, but I learned in student council, "Anticipation is greater than the event itself."

If there's a problem, don't stew.

I used to think babies were pretty simple, but I've learned my lesson. I had a complicated delivery and Lars was a bit small, he breastfeeds, has had vaccines, a circumcision, and acid reflux. And my worrying heart has stressed about all of it! I've spent hours and hours reading things online and asking people for advice. But I'm learning now that instead of overthinking all the things that could be wrong or all the different ways to solve the problems, I just need to call an expert. I call my doctor's office at least once a week and I've called two different breastfeeding hotlines every month. There's also a local hotline for questions about medications you can take while breastfeeding. They know all sorts of things about how to keep the baby safe and I've so appreciated everyone's help. Rather than stew about the problem, I like to call the experts and get their insight. The nurses might get tired of me calling so much but they've helped put my mind at ease.  

Watch the show "Call the Midwife"

I watched a few seasons of this show back when I lived in Dallas. Late in my pregnancy, I remembered it and started watching it again. It made me so excited but also a little bit nervous for my own delivery. Now I'm watching it in a different way. It's fascinating to watch the stories of other moms and to see all the hardships that people endure. I know it's just a show, but it's a sampling of the problems that are encountered in the arrival of a baby. So many have pregnancy complications or are born with birth defects. There's problems with the relationship of the parents or with the mom being in an unsafe situation for a child. After a hard day of learning how to be a mom, watching this show was the best thing I did. I cried as I watched the hard things they faced and felt so much gratitude for my situation. For a husband who loves me, a home for our family, enough money for food and diapers and a pram, for a healthy baby with no birth defects, and for a steady recovery from delivery. Episode after episode, it put my life into context and helped me know I prepared the very best ways that I could. I'm still not finished with the series, but I still just love it. Watch it if you haven't yet!


So there's my list. They are all pretty simple but focusing on them during this postpartum period has been helpful.

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