Thinking back to when I first began contemplating what maternity leave would be like, I imagined almost a whole year of no stress, no work, no sitting in rush hour traffic – but boy was I wrong!
I had arranged to finish a month before my due date, giving me a month off before Theo arrived. My pregnancy had gone very smoothly and in all honesty, I didn’t really feel like I wanted to finish at that point. I remember wondering what I would do with all my time, telling everyone that I was scared I would be bored and have nothing to do. If I could have given myself one piece of advice, it would have been to relax and just enjoy those last few baby-free weeks! Don’t get me wrong, I certainly did have days during that last month where I just did nothing, but I still wanted to get out and about and keep myself occupied. After all, babies don’t always come on time, and I could have been left waiting a couple of weeks longer.
Before having Theo, I didn’t realise how much I took for granted. Every single little thing that you are used to doing suddenly changes – and you have a little person by your side almost every day. A quick dash to the supermarket becomes a military operation and actually having time to wash and dry your hair becomes one hell of a luxury! These are all things that people warn you about before having your baby, but you don’t quite realise the extent to which it’s true, until your little one is here.
It seemed crazy that I would be off for almost a whole year, it felt like a lifetime away that I would be back and I loved the fact that I didn’t have to set alarms, or be anywhere for a certain time for anything. However, I didn’t really think about the fact that I would have my own personal alarm clock throughout the entire night, waking me almost every hour!
I was so lucky in the fact that Theo arrived on his due date, which meant I never quite got to the ‘fed up’ stage, which a lot of ladies seem to go through during the final few weeks of pregnancy. I kept reminding myself that soon I wouldn’t be pregnant anymore, so tried to enjoy my bump as much as possible.
Once Theo arrived, maternity leave became a whole new world. Those first few weeks were such a mixture of emotions. The excitement of having your new little one is surreal, almost feeling on cloud nine at times, but combined with the fact that as a first-time mum you feel that you have no clue of what you are actually doing, while adding into the mix your crazy post-natal hormones, it can leave those first few weeks a blur of events.
I don’t think I embarked on any groups or classes until Theo was around six weeks old. Luckily for me, the first few weeks of Theo being here fell around Christmas time meaning many groups weren’t running. It was also freezing cold outside – which didn’t really make for nice walks out with the pram. I remember being super scared that he would be too cold, wrapping him up in several layers and blankets, then checking on him every few minutes to see if he felt cold!
I was really lucky that I never felt too alone during those first few weeks. I had met my friend at parent education classes and she had her daughter just a few days after Theo. This meant that we were constantly messaging each other every day discussing how we felt (which was often the same!). Sean had to return to work the week after Theo was born, so my mum was also a huge support during the first couple of weeks – letting me stay at her house for the night so I didn’t feel too alone when Sean was at work.
Once the initial craziness of being responsible for a little human had passed, I started thinking about baby groups and classes. I suppose baby groups aren’t for everyone, and I used to wonder if it would be the same groups of cliquey mums meeting up each week, but it definitely wasn’t what I imagined. One of the first baby classes that I signed up to was baby yoga. Both Theo and I got a lot from these classes, as he was still only three months old when we started. The classes were fairly small, meaning it was easy to chat to other mums and share our stories. What I have learnt most from attending baby groups, is to have the confidence to just talk and chat to other mums, as you soon realise that you are all in the same boat and really appreciate the adult company when you are facing a teething baby every day!
Theo and I also signed up to baby sensory when he was around five months old. This was something we really loved, and I am still sad that our time has finished there. These classes were a lot more suited to Theo than me, as there was a lot of sensory play, lights and music. He definitely enjoyed it as he got older and was able to sit up and enjoy the classes more. It was also nice to see him interact with other babies at these classes, and I was able to chat to other lovely mums while I was there. No matter what baby class or group you attend, there is always an opportunity to meet someone new and have chats – it’s not always about the babies, however they do enjoy it too!
We also attended some local groups, and a free six week course set up by the Health Visitors. These were lovely too, as it was nice to meet people living nearby and other mums with similar age babies. These aren’t something I attend on a regular basis, however it’s nice to know that the groups are around and I can go whenever I feel like it.
Reflecting back to the beginning of maternity leave, I personally feel that it has got so much easier and so much more rewarding. Theo is now almost nine months old, showing his personality and interacting with us. I appreciate each and every single day I have off with him. Maybe it’s because I know it is all coming to an end – I’m not sure? Or whether at the beginning it was all such a blur, it was hard to enjoy.
At the moment we try to get out most days, enjoy family days out and meals in cafes or restaurants. I used to feel anxious or nervous when we would eat out, but more recently, Theo loves sitting in his highchair in restaurants having his own food – meaning Sean and I can relax and enjoy our time too.
Theo is no where near as demanding as he was during the beginning. He is almost always content playing with his toys or coming on trips to the supermarket with me. Maybe it will all change and I will take my words back the minute he starts walking! But for the time being, this is most definitely my favourite age and stage that he is at.
I have learnt that each time you feel you have nailed parenting, something new comes along that you have to nail! I have also learnt that you don’t need to be perfect. If the washing doesn’t get done, or the baby doesn’t have a bath one day – so what? I enjoy the time I spend with him and the memories we make together. If I had one piece of advice to offer, it would be to keep yourself busy, try and get out and about, meeting new mums and babies so you don’t feel alone. Maternity leave can be a lonely time, but by having support and friends in the same boat it makes life a million times easier.
This past year has been the biggest rollercoaster of emotions. It has been the hardest year, but I can honestly say that I have had the time of my life with my favourite little person, whom this time last year was only someone we imagined and wondered about. To see him learn and grow has been an absolute pleasure and I am forever grateful that I was able to have such precious time with him.
Over the next few weeks we will begin on our new adventure, back at University and Theo starting nursery. At times I am sure I will find it difficult, but I’m looking forward to this next chapter in our lives and what it has to offer!