As a full-time, public elementary school music teacher, I received six weeks of paid maternity leave by using my accumulated sick time. Preeclampsia caused me to deliver preterm and just six weeks later, I would not have been prepared to leave my premature angel for work. Any mother would agree that six weeks is a ridiculously limited amount of time to bond with a newborn. For those mothers who have to rely on outside childcare after six weeks, I am so sorry; I will pray for your continued bonding, physical and mental health, and safety. Fortunately, I was able to take additional time off using FMLA. This time off of work was unpaid however, my husband and I had monetarily saved. In total, I had fourteen weeks off of work for maternity leave and I still wished that I could have taken more time. Whether you have six weeks or six months, the time you’ll spend with your newborn is priceless. The fourth trimester is a blur but before I completely forget, due to juggling work and infancy, here’s some thoughts of my time on maternity leave.
After we were discharged from the hospital, my body was recovering from the trauma of birth; breastfeeding was a learning curve, my blood pressure was regulating after the high levels due to pre-e, and I was profusely sweating out all the excess fluid that my body was retaining. While all of this was occurring, I was also bonding with my fragile, four pound newborn. It’s difficult for me to look back on the first month because I feel guilty – there’s so much growing that she did that I just slept through; I’d nap on the couch with Netflix on. There were so many moments that I forget due to sheer exhaustion. My advice for any new mom is to tape your eyes open – of course I’m kidding! I encourage you to take so many pictures and journal as often as you can; you never get that precious time again and so much of it can become lost in the exhausted haze of motherhood.
I was so grateful to have an overwhelming outpour of help from my family and friends during this time. Having a meal-train was extremely helpful; we had prepared meals for a week! My mom stayed with us the first two weeks after Millie was born. Everything was new; I didn’t know that I was supposed to log every diaper change by time and contents, I didn’t know what cluster feeding was or how to handle it, and I had never given a newborn a bath before. Having an additional person to help clean pump parts, make dinner, take a nighttime shift, run a load of laundry, etc., was so helpful. My mom successfully raised three children and was there whenever I asked, “Is this normal?”. My husband was allotted no paternity leave; he had to use his vacation time for my hospital stay, so he was incredibly grateful for the support from my mom as well. Thanks, mom.
It was traumatic getting Millie’s blood tested when managing her jaundice level. As I held my daughter in my arms, she was pricked in the heel of her foot and then milked of her blood, which of course made Millie cry and her tears broke my heart in two. My mom was there with me so I didn’t have to experience that alone. Pumping was difficult for me in the beginning. I truly thought that I’d have more comfortably with the pump than breastfeeding however, it felt impersonal and I had a hard time doing it. My mom would stay up with me and care for Millie while I pumped to increase my milk supply. Those late night talks of motherhood and watching my mother bond with my little one; I hope to never forget those moments.
My mother returned home and my mother-in-law came to stay with us. For the first month of Millie’s life, I was never alone with her. Some people may read this and think, wow – this woman is crazy however, I was relieved having someone else there with me. It was more eyes on my preemie, someone to watch her while I showered or napped, and it was socialization when I couldn’t leave the house (I was terrified that I would bring home germs that would put Millie back in the hospital.)
I loved taking Millie for walks when the weather was fair. I loved holding her tight, rocking her, having skin-to-skin time, and resting my cheek upon her cheek. I think my heart skipped a beat every time my husband would speak to her. I didn’t completely despise changing her diapers like I thought I would. I enjoyed online shopping while breastfeeding – maybe a little too much. I watched her grow from a thin four to a chunky twelve pounds. Listening to her sigh, smelling her head, seeing her smile – there’s nothing else like it. I feel so incredibly blessed to be Millie’s mother. Even though my maternity leave is over, I am grateful for the time that I had and I cherish my moments with her now, even more.