Last year was a big year for our family. Dad drew his pension, my Grandma joined WhatsApp, and I gave birth to our son. And along with baby Tom, the majority of my pre-conceptions about birth, parenthood and maternity leave were shattered.
Just over three weeks ago on a pitch black and cold Monday morning, I hit the M65 and headed for Bolton. The Monday after the Christmas break is a pretty bleak commute at the best of times, but I’d not worked a proper day since last February and I’d just left my baby at nursery for his first full day without us. My maternity leave was officially over. And I was still upset that Sara Cox had been passed over for the Breakfast Show.
But I’d given myself a pep talk the previous night and told myself that I still had plenty to contribute to the work place despite the fact that I’d forgotten how to talk in proper sentences. I’d not worn heels since 2017 and I got halfway down the M65 before remembering I wear glasses to drive. Considering the week before I went back to work baby brain made me accidentally drive INTO Burnley bus station terminal, I’m amazed by how well I’ve readjusted to civilian life so far.
So here is a summary of what maternity leave was like for me, and my ridiculous preconceptions about how I’d spend my time.
When you finish for maternity leave, before the baby is born, you should be napping
Yes, this is when you should be sleeping. Everyone tells you to sleep, and you don’t, because you’re not that tired, and you don’t have to get up for work for the first time since you were a teenager, so f**k sleeping! I’m off to lunch with everyone I’ve ever met, and when I’m not at lunch, I’m going to be texting people making arrangements for lunch.
Once I didn’t have to go to work, my energy levels went through the roof and for a time, I had the best social life ever (of someone who doesn’t drink or go out after 6pm). When I realised that all ten series’ of Friends were now available on Netflix, I put the energy I’d been using on lunch dates into watching ALL of them before the baby came. This included watching the last ever episode, bouncing on my birthing ball, whilst in what I now know to be advanced labour. The only nap I had of note was when I tried to watch ‘Once upon a time in America’ and nodded off. Well, I wish I’d stayed awake, because I now know that the chances of me watching a four hour gangster epic this side of retirement are slim.
Make a detailed birth plan
Once you’ve wasted the last free time you’re going to get for 20 years watching 90s sitcoms, you then have to physically give birth. I think that is why they tell you to rest beforehand. I knew it was going to be a bit of an ordeal, but as a planned and methodical person, I was expecting it to be an ordeal in the ways outlined to me by trained midwives on my antenatal classes. I wrote them all down in my file, I read several different lists of how to pack my hospital bag, and I was PREPARED. It was going to hurt, but it was going to hurt during contractions that followed a pattern, and labour that had a structure. My inner drama queen had given lots of commuting daydream time to that wonderful moment after the pain stopped when I was handed my baby and became a mum, instantly head over heels in love whilst Chris looked at me in stunned admiration for my heroism and bravery. I’m not about to go into details about my labour, because no one wants to read that and I don’t especially want to think about it, but let’s just say, I didn’t get that moment. The adoring moment I had dreamed of was replaced with someone shouting “DO YOU WANT SKIN TO SKIN?” quite loud whilst shoving my newborn onto my boob, when I was absolutely banged out of my mind on spinal drugs that I hadn’t planned. I’ve perhaps embellished the last bit, but then I was quite high. All I’ll say is, your neatly handwritten birth plan that says you’d like everything to mosey along quietly with no drugs goes out of the window after a certain amount of time. I found 36 hours was a good time to change tactics.
You’ll be desperate to show off your baby
Most people actually tell you to batten down the hatches and keep the mobs at bay, but having been round to close friend’s houses very shortly after they had their little ones, I’d assumed I’d do the same. The fridge had even been filled with prosecco. Well, I now realise that me turning up with a bottle of fizz as a gift and then drinking it all myself whilst talking about being hungover, is probably not what my dear friends wanted 36 hours after giving birth. Sorry Ailsa, twice. I didn’t want to see or speak to anyone for a good couple of weeks, and this really surprised me. As a hugely social person I thought I’d be putting an announcement on Barrowford then and Now then flinging open the door. But when it came down to it, the thought of having others bear witness to the fact that I didn’t have a clue what I was doing was just a bit too much. And that is completely fine.
Babies keep you up all night because…
What are they actually doing in the night? This is not a question I’d actually given any thought to. Along with how to breastfeed, how to use the steriliser, how to get a baby to sleep, how to dress a baby correctly for the temperature…I’d basically learnt all about what size vegetable my baby was that week and then spent the rest of my time pissing about on Not on the High Street looking for nursery pictures. I hadn’t really given why I’d be so tired much thought. Imagine my surprise when I found out our baby couldn’t sleep because he’d feed (I knew that would happen), then have to be helped to trump for at least half an hour. Every 90 minutes. After a week of that, you finally understand what everyone was talking about. The first few months of parenthood are like a never ending Monday after Beatherder.
You will get obsessed with poo
I didn’t get remotely obsessed with poo. I’m pretty ambivalent about poo to be honest. I’m sure there were a few moments early on that I’ve forgotten about, when a panicked WhatsApp will have been sent checking that the colour/texture/frequency of said poo was OK, but other than that, the poo party pretty much passed me by. That’s not to say I have enjoyed the occasions where I’ve had to stop a screaming infant rubbing his own hands and feet through his poo, then into his mouth, usually when I’m in public and haven’t packed my changing bag properly. But it’s all just part of the day job now. One thing I will own up to, and it apparently happens to everyone no matter how you fight it – you will send an excited text to your other half the day your baby does their first solid poo, and you will genuinely be really, really pleased for them . It must be like watching Countryfile and wearing fleece pyjamas, it comes to us all eventually.
Feeding your baby is the most natural thing in the world
Breastfeeding your baby is not the most natural thing in the world. If getting your boobs out three times during ONE brew in Booths is natural, then I’d been living an unnatural life. (I didn’t drink a hot brew over my feeding babies’ head by the way). Constantly wondering when you’re going to have to reveal yourself in public does not make going out in the early days much fun. There are a variety of ways you can disguise it, perhaps by using a scarf, which is all well and good until your Grandma whips it off you during Sunday lunch because…you know I can’t even remember why she did it, but I’m glad I was facing the wall. I gradually built my confidence by never being too far away from a café or a friend’s house where I felt comfortable feeding. Having a baby just before a heatwave also helped. When you’re permanently feeding you get quite quickly blasé about where you do it.
All that aside, once I got into the swing of it, I did really enjoy breastfeeding. However about a week after you get to the point where it’s easy and comfortable, it’s pretty much time to start weaning them onto solids.
And if breastfeeding felt unnatural, so does feeding the most precious thing in your life lumps of stuff that you’re convinced is going to choke them to death. Luckily this feeling doesn’t last that long.
Your baby will love baby groups and you should go to one every day
Unless you’re Tom, and then you don’t like any of the activities I expected or wanted him to like. Baby massage – slept through the first session, cried for the remaining three. Mum and baby exercise class – got into it five minutes before the end. Usually after a crying fit and having to go to the side for a cuddle and a feed, by which time we’d missed everything apart from lunges. Babybells – where do I start? I’m surprised anyone would enjoy lying on their back whilst their mum and 19 other women waggle puppets around, pretend to be a goat and listen to baby trance music. Baby Spanish class – learnt from my mistakes and went to the park instead.
So if like me you thought your maternity leave was going to be spent traipsing round baby groups in various combinations of mum and baby fancy dress, posing for selfies, eating cake, making friends and writing fun mum blogs about your experiences, be prepared for this not to happen. You may end up like me, who spent most of 2018 dashing out of baby classes red faced with a wailing baby, leaving a trail of muslin destruction, only to have Tom recover from his distress quite literally the minute we walked out of the door. Some babies don’t like forced fun, just like their dads…
Your baby fits around you and the things you like
Things I said me and the baby would do on maternity leave whilst Chris was at work include; going to the pub on summer afternoons and chilling out with pals and babies having a jolly nice time. Going on big long walks with the baby in a special baby carrier. Going to the Cotswolds to visit my family. And my favourite, going to London on the train all on my own to visit Fran whilst she was on maternity leave too.
One day I tried to go to the Lakes for a day out. I got as far as Ingleton and had to sit on the car park of a café on the A65 with a distraught, teething, diarrhoea covered infant, trying to administer Calpol whilst he thrashed around, wondering why the bloody hell I was naïve enough to think that going to Windermere for a day out with a partially weaned, teething baby was a good idea. We turned back, the me that had once had the confidence to jump out of a plane seeming further and further from the version of me I resembled that day.
So is the party now over?
Yes, maternity leave wasn’t what I was expecting. It certainly wasn’t just a year-long cake eating extravaganza, but nor was it two hours sleep every night, and rain every day, and being cooped up inside alone with a baby that wouldn’t settle. Certain things would have made it easier; such as realising that Booths sold hot Aberdeen Angus burgers in April and not in November, but many things made it the best year of my life. Primarily, being lucky enough to give birth to a little boy who spends most of his day smiling. The heatwave, and having and meeting lots of lovely people to spend my days with also helped. On many days there was crying, frustration, worry, being covered in milk and spit, and being unable to get out of the front door for hours because everything was going wrong. But there were also endless cuddles, pints of shandy in the sun with friends, staying in pyjamas until lunchtime, conversations with new mum friends who had no expectations of you and were so kind, and the unending joy of your friends and family falling in love with your baby.
They say that you are never quite the same person you were before you became a mum, and I think that’s probably true. I am now the proud owner of both a handbag sized brolly, and, one nail grown long specifically for the purpose of getting bogies out of my son’s nose so that he can always breathe properly. And if that doesn’t make me a mum, I don’t know what does…