Why maternity leave is no holiday

20130423-121101.jpg“I’ll have plenty of time to learn the cello, finish my PhD or write a book on maternity leave,” said the expectant mother.

My year of maternity leave was probably the best year of my life. The euphoria I experienced after having Baby Bu went on and on. I was glad to have that special time to focus on developing a relationship with my baby and having the space to become the mother I wanted to be. But it wasn’t just the relationship with my baby that was new; just about every other meaningful relationship in my life shifted as well – how I saw my husband, parents and friends all changed and so did how I felt about work.

One thing maternity leave isn’t is a holiday. It’s very intense and the first year of our baby’s life was not only the most rewarding, but the most challenging year of our lives too. OK, there’s lots of meeting up with other mums (mainly for cake and tea), but you need to offload, share a few frustrations and have a bit of giggle. Who else gets the ridiculousness of getting caught out without the rain cover and having to run home apologising and then laughing hysterically in a downpour with an impromptu disposable changing mat pinned to the front of the pram to keep the water at bay? Who else gets the horror you experience as the passing Wino who sees you breastfeeding your precious Little One on a park bench remarks ‘Oh, lucky babies,’ and licks his lips. (Yuck!!! Mummy Down the Road I know you do – as both of these happened to us in the same afternoon).

I did write from time to time, but not with the daily regularity I do now, because in those early days it’s all just feeding, feeding, feeding. Then around the six-month mark it’s all weaning, weaning, weaning. If I managed to get out of the house before 10am with us both washed, dressed and fed with dishwasher on and load in the washing machine I thought it more than worthy of a status update on Facebook (I still do!) Though for me winter 2011 wasn’t just about whether to puree or do baby-led weaning, it was more about do I go back to back to work yet or not?

I didn’t have to search very hard to know how I felt – I did not want to go back to work, but I thought maybe I ought to. I felt like I was letting people down and God knows we needed the extra money, but I did know deep down I really wasn’t ready to go back and that we’d figure out the money thing somehow. That said, I couldn’t stop turning it all over and over in my head, leaving me feeling a bit lost in the maze of the conflicting responsibilities of being a working mum before I’d even gone back to work.

It was when a colleague from work said to me on the disastrous day I attempted to take my baby on the tube to visit the office, ‘Amy, do you think anyone is going to say we know you missed out on having that extra six months with your baby, but we are really glad you came back; it made such a difference?’

‘No,’ I replied.

‘Well then,’ she said, and I had my answer – I was going to have as long as I could off.

I looked forward to the rest of my time at home with Baby Bu and tried to banish the thought of going back to work from my mind. And I found once we were well on the way with weaning, nap times started too settle down a bit too and we were in a mini routine where Baby Bu would have a decent morning and afternoon nap, leaving me to write. At first I went back to the novel I’d been working on – a literary agent had shown an interest in it and maybe this was my opportunity to finish it. I had to be really disciplined about writing as soon as Baby Bu fell asleep, but my head just wasn’t in the novel like it should have been and I somehow ended up writing two halves of two books rather than a whole single book. Hmmm…Where was my head at? Then I realised I should be writing the baby book with Mum.

My Mum (Sarah Beeson MBE who is a health visitor with over 35 years’ experience) had started to email me very detailed and practical advice on breastfeeding when I was pregnant. Then, very rapidly after Baby Bu was born, teething, colic, expressing, weaning and sleeping advice all quickly followed on demand from me. You’ve heard of demand feeding – a lot easier when you have a 24-hour hotline to a baby expert. Mum’s advice was so good and easy to follow, it always worked and my friends were very keen to get their hands on it too. So, instead of writing fiction I started to use Baby Bu’s nap time to write up Mum’s notes, ask her lots of questions, ask friends what they needed a bit of help with and before we knew it we had a parenting guide for your baby’s first year. It did come in very handy as I was able to use the real life experiences me and my friends were going through to help shape it. Having that network of mums in my community and through social media really helped, but I think why the baby book is so strong is because the advice wasn’t based on me or my baby or my friends’ babies, which would be rather limited. It is based on the thousands of families Mum has worked with over three decades and all the experience she’s built up over that time. By the time we’d finished the ideas and chapters for the baby book my maternity leave was coming to an end and I soon wouldn’t have the time to work on it once I was back at work. So, we just had to work out how to get the book published in the few short weeks before I went back to the office…but that’ll be in my next blog.

Amy Beeson is a Freelance Writer and the Director of Wordsby Communications working with many women running a small business on a limited budget who need affordable solutions for their communications needs. Amy’s currently busy working away on three new books with baby expert Sarah Beeson MBE (Amy’s mum) for HarperCollins the first of which ‘The New Arrival’ is now available for pre-order and will be published in the UK on 27 March 2014.

@amyibeeson

@wordsbycomms

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