motherhood

11 Things I Didn’t Expect about Maternity Leave

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I’ve now been back to work longer than I was on maternity leave (have been for awhile actually). Those 10.5 perfect weeks of baby bonding time seem so far away now. It was a whirlwind of not knowing what I didn’t know. Through my sleep-deprived fog, I wished for time to stand still. It didn’t.

Looking back, those days were filled with joy, tears, laughter, frustration, and many situations our hospital baby classes didn’t cover (though I would recommend those helpful classes to everyone – our sincerest thanks to Brenda!).

Here are 11 things that I didn’t expect about maternity leave:

1. For the first month, you will live in practically one spot. 

Give or take a month anyway. It was a month for me. From the day we brought Emmanuella home from the hospital (October 27) to Thanksgiving, my designated spot was parked on the left side of our couch in the living room. I didn’t plan to live my entire existence in this spot, and yet stayed there, day after day, (mostly) all day long. Or it at least felt like that. The reason? You’ll want to be somewhere super comfortable. Since my baby breastfed every 2 hours, I wanted to be in the most comfy breastfeeding seat. Emmanuella is almost six months old and I STILL hangout here (I am not afraid to ask you to move if you’re in this spot either).

2. You won’t feel like you get anything done. 

Except you are. You are keeping a human alive, which is kind of a big deal. It just doesn’t feel like much. Most of the time newborns are asleep (if you’re lucky like I was), so it’s a lot of watching the baby to make sure she’s breathing. And when she wakes up, you breastfeed, change her, and let her sleep again. This cycle repeats itself over and over, and slowly you get more little glimpses of awake time and personality.

I slowly figured out that in between feedings, I could do ONE thing. Whether that be to wash a single load of laundry (but definitely not have time to dry it, fold it, or put it away), put dishes in the dishwasher, or take a shower, I could only choose one. So I had to choose wisely. I’m still eternally thankful to the many people who brought us food in those early days. I NEVER had to cook. #blessed

3. Your hormones will still be out of whack.

While I never dealt with full-blown PPD (a very serious matter – and mamas if you are, PLEASE get help), my hormones were still crazy. It was a constant roller-coaster ride of sweet baby bliss and I’m-so-exhausted-can-I-please-just-cry?. It takes time for your hormones to level out, but they will. It’s a slow process that can only be aided by time.

4. There are a lot of doctor appointments.

I had no idea that my calendar would be so FULL! Now, admittedly, we did have extra appointments for Emmanuella’s hip dysplasia treatment. But it seemed like we were constantly going to the pediatrician, orthopedic pediatrician, or hospital for hip ultrasounds. But even without the extra ortho visits, we went to see our good friend and pediatrician Dr. Ted a lot (and she was healthy)!

5. Sometimes you’ll spend an entire day paying bills.

This is perhaps the number one thing I was not anticipating. There was one day in particular that I spent 8 HOURS paying bills. Again, we had more bills than average due to extra appointments, harness and brace fittings, and ultrasounds, but I just wasn’t expecting the sheer multitude of bills. Why every single thing seems to be billed separately is beyond me.

6. Coordinating visits is hard.

Everyone wants to see a new baby. Of course they do. But my goodness does it take a lot of thought and effort to make sure everyone gets the baby time that they want (and you want them to have). This is made harder if family is coming from out of town and will need to stay at your house to visit, as was our case. Thankfully, our families were very flexible and understanding that everyone could not come at once. Dustin and I even decided that we would take four whole days to be with Emmanuella by ourselves before having any visitors (except for those blessed people who brought us food). Our immediate families visited in the hospital, and then left so we could have our parent bonding time. It was a beautiful time that I look back on with fondness and so much gratitude.

7. By the time you’ve figured things out, it’s over.

Emmanuella was an incredibly easy newborn but we were still first time parents with a lot to learn. Adjusting to life as a family of three was incredible and full of joy, but not without its challenges. I had to learn how to function on little sleep. Emmanuella and I were still getting to know each other. I didn’t know what each little cry or expression meant yet. We were both learning to breastfeed which came easily at first… until it didn’t and we were both crying. Ten and a half weeks in, I finally felt like I had the whole mom thing down. And it was over. There was no time to bask in the glory of this huge success.

8. You’ll get jealous of other countries.

I was a big fan of baby forums, especially a What to Expect group of moms that all had babies in October 2017. These moms hailed from all over, including foreign countries. When we US mamas started talking about going back to work, the Canadians and Australians started chiming in with sympathy. I haven’t looked thoroughly into the maternity leave laws in these countries, but many mentioned that they would be spending 6-12 months with their babies… paid. Sigh. I made sure not to research that further because my jealousy would not be becoming.

9. Life might be easier than you expected…

In our case, we had the world’s happiest baby. Emmanuella is easygoing, and has been since birth. She’s happy to eat, happy to sleep, happy to play, happy to cuddle… you name it and she’ll go along with it. I don’t know how we were blessed with this angel-child, but we were and I’ll take it.

Other parents had warned us about how difficult it would be, how the the incessant crying would drive us to the edge of our sanity and how sleep deprivation would make us crazy, but that wasn’t our experience at all. I adored the newborn stage. If I could guarantee that all my babies were as easy as Emmanuella, I would have four. (Note: Some babies are really difficult because babies are unique individuals with different temperaments. I do not mean to say that being a mama is a piece of cake because, y’all, #momminainteasy. It’s just that in my case, my expectations if this life being SO HARD were not the reality.)

10. …But sometimes it might feel like just a small task is so much.

Yes, I had an easy newborn. But I still remember feeling overwhelmed sometimes. The first couple weeks I felt like I had SO MUCH to do… and I really didn’t at all. The thought of even taking a half hour to go on a walk seemed like a daunting task that I didn’t have time for (mostly because of that every two hour feeding schedule we were on). And I still had to find time to shower. And “sleep when the baby sleeps” (I was really bad at that). And every other little thing that I thought I had to do. I now realize I was putting too much pressure on myself. Basically my only priority should have been keeping my baby content and loved.

11. You’ll miss it more than you can ever imagine.

Tomorrow, my baby will be six months old. I don’t know how half a year has passed so quickly, but she didn’t stay a newborn long. I now have a giggling chatterbox who rolls all over the place and steals the hearts of everyone she meets. While I miss those sweet newborn days, I will still love my precious Emmanuella Joy no matter what age she is. Being her mama is the greatest blessing I could ever receive.

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Photo courtesy: Marshall Arts Photography

family, motherhood

4 Parenting Lessons I’ve Learned from a Pavlik Harness

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Today my baby girl graduates from a Pavlik harness to Rhino brace. For the past 6 weeks, my little love bug has been confined by straps of felt and Velcro, a sight that wasn’t always easy for me to see. The new Rhino brace will still be confining, but we’ll at least be able to take it on and off for diaper changes, baths, car rides, and to steal unhindered snuggles every once in awhile. We’ll be able to give Emmanuella baths again. We’ll be able to see her feet again! These seem like such little things, but as we mark the halfway point of her treatment for hip dysplasia, these are things that can (and should!) be celebrated.

While the Pavlik harness and its challenges are not something that I would wish for other parents, I have to admit that our time with this device came with many lessons, some of which were incredibly valuable to me as a parent.

Lesson 1. It’s okay to grieve over what you’ve lost. 

We never expected to have a child with hip dysplasia. Neither of us had even heard of the condition or understood what it meant at first. But we soon found out that our newborn wouldn’t be exactly as we pictured her. All of those precious newborn clothes in her closet wouldn’t get worn. We were being sentenced to six weeks of snap sleepers one size up (and leaving a few snaps undone at the bottom). And we could forget about bath time for awhile. And seeing her precious, tiny feet. We wouldn’t be able to hold her certain ways (Dustin’s favorite janguar-on-a-limb hold was out). The news of Emmanuella’s hip dysplasia meant that the ideas we had of the newborn state would be altered slightly. It is natural to grieve over a loss, including a loss of your expectations. So take that time. Let it out. Cry. I did one day while looking at those adorable clothes with the tags still on. It’s okay to be disappointed that things did not go according to plan. What’s not okay is when the grieving lasts forever. Because…

Lesson 2. You will adjust to the circumstances you’re given.

Really. You will. I feared that cuddling and breastfeeding would be awkward and diaper changes frustrating when working around the harness. It turned out that my fears were unwarranted because we adjusted to life in the harness just fine. When my sweet baby snuggled against my chest, I forgot that the harness was even there. And sure diaper changes are an extra challenge when you have to get a diaper under two sets of straps on each side. But you get used to it when that is the way life is. Now if you timed me changing Emmamuella against another new mom who didn’t have to work around a harness, I’d probably be just as fast. Because I’ve learned my way around it. Obstacles sometimes aren’t nearly as threatening as they seem at first.

Lesson 3. Parents of children with special needs are superheroes. 

For a short period, we have a child with a special need. And it has given me so much respect for the parents who take care of special needs children for a lifetime. It takes a lot of time and energy to ensure you baby is receiving the proper treatment, even for something as minor as hip dysplasia. Emmanuella won’t remember her time in the Pavlik harness, but we will. We will remember the constant specialist visits and ultrasounds (and the extra bills that came with them). We will remember getting home from one orthopedic pediatrician visit across town, just to get a phone call that said come back to the hospital right now for an ultrasound or you’re not getting in for another two weeks. Most of the time it wasn’t that bad. But there were moments. And those who devote their lives to making sure their children are receiving the medical care they need deserve an award.

Lesson 4. Health is a gift. 

In 6 more weeks, Emmanuella will hopefully be finished with her treatment. If her ultrasound is clear at that time, there is a 99% chance that her hip will be healed for life. This is the outcome we’ve been praying for since her birth, and right now everything is on track. There will still be follow ups for a couple years to make sure that her hip is growing correctly, but our months of a harness and a brace will be over. Having gone through all this, though, I will not be taking our child’s health for granted. A healthy baby is a gift. Our own health is a gift as well. And this experience will serve as a reminder to take care of our bodies and treat them like the temples God intended them to be.

Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought for a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies. (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)