Tomorrow is my first day back at work after maternity leave, having given birth to my little boy in April. It is safe to say, no doubt like the hundreds of thousands of other new parents across the country, my parental leave didn’t quite pan out as expected.
I had visions of moving into my new home in Spring 2020, giving me a month or so to nest, wearing dungarees and wielding a paintbrush. My husband and I would host a house-warming baby-shower to see our close friends whilst we still had control of our schedules, and the birth itself would be perfectly planned - right down to the music that would be playing. Following our stay in the hospital, we would invite both sets of parents to spend quality time with us (i.e., cook, clean and look after us) at various points during the first couple of months as we settled into our new roles as parents - and figured out how to survive on less sleep. I would then spend the rest of my maternity leave meeting friends in coffee shops, going for pram walks, and attending baby classes (whilst the baby was awake); and becoming fluent in French and writing an incredibly insightful political blog (whilst the baby was asleep).
Granted, I can’t really blame the pandemic for not spending enough time on Duolingo or blogging (it turns out, babies do not sleep as much as advertised...), but it did mean that our new life as a family of three was far from how we expected it to be - in both negative and positive ways.
First the negatives. As the pandemic took hold in March, my birth plans were changing weekly. From my husband being allowed to be with us in the hospital the whole time - to just 12 hours a day - to just for the c-section itself. By the time the date came around, the last thing on my mind was whether I could choose the music playing in the operating theatre. We were extremely lucky he was allowed in for the operation (in fact, even that morning, it wasn’t clear whether or not he would be) but for him to have to leave after just 20 minutes of holding our newborn was heartbreaking. I was then left in a ward with my little boy, completely dependent on the midwives every time I just wanted to pick my baby up, as I laid there unable to move the lower part of my body. The wonderful midwives were working flat out, but needing to change PPE every time they moved between patients, inevitably slows things down.
For a new Mum, limited in-person health visits and breastfeeding support was also incredibly difficult - sometimes you just need a professional to look at you and your baby and let you know you are doing it right. Luckily, as our new home plans had to be put on ice, my husband and I were living with my parents for the first 4 months, and being able to have the support of my Mum was invaluable. I was keenly aware of how difficult it must be for other new parents (and new grandparents) who were prevented from seeing each other and supporting each other during 2020. The lack of baby classes and not being able to socialise with other new parents and babies was also difficult, as was not being able to take my little boy to meet the rest of my family and friends. It made motherhood lonelier, and made me worry for my son’s development - if he is not used to being with other babies (or different adults), what impact could that have on him in the long-term?
As for the positives, we have been very fortunate that my husband had a job he could do from home. If he had been commuting into the office every day, as planned, most days he wouldn’t even have been able to spend 20 minutes with our son. Instead, he saw him for snatches of time throughout the day - and was nearly always available for bath time. Unfortunately, not everyone has had such a silver lining.
Overall, despite maternity leave being very different from expected, having a baby is a seismic life-changing event irrespective of whether there is a global pandemic going on at the time. Living in a country with a legal right to take a decent period of maternity leave (and working for a company which has a generous maternity package) is a real privilege, and I have loved spending that time with my son. But for now, it is time to get back to work - and hopefully, back to writing a political blog (and learning French).
*Disclaimer - I do not actually wear a hard hat to work - but a photo of me with a laptop is pretty boring.