I had a lot of assumptions about maternity leave based on pretty much no real experience—I don’t have any sisters, cousins or close friends who had shared details on what to expect. Of course, I anticipated a lot of surprises along the way, but some things I thought were sure assumptions haven’t been true.
- I’d never change out of my Gap sweatpants
A few weeks before my due date I splurged on a few pair of Gap sweatpants and matching zip-up hoodies—I assumed that’s all I’d wear. WRONG. Turns out, after just a few days of sweatpants (and this was in the peak of the April 2020 quarantine), I felt so unlike me, that I started getting ready every morning and it made me feel a lot more like myself.
- I’d finally catch up on TV binge watching
I had a full list of movies and TV shows I planned on binging during leave. I typically don’t have a lot of time for TV, so I figured this would be my time to catch up. WRONG. I found that watching more than a few episodes of TV or more than one movie a day made me feel like I was home sick and put me in a funk. I had to find projects that I could do from the couch to avoid feeling down from too much TV.
- I’d be eating only premade meals
I stocked up on all my frozen favorites from Trader Joe’s (lots of their frozen orange chicken!) in anticipation of not being able to do anything more in the kitchen than warm up something in the oven or microwave. WRONG. Cooking is a way for me to feel creative; the kitchen taunted me as I sat on the couch with a full fridge just begging me to cook something up. Within the first week, I was back in the kitchen making basic meals, nothing very involved, but it still helped me bounce back to a sense of self-identity.
- I’d welcome the break from work
As someone who had never taken more than a week off work in a decade, I thought it’d be pretty great to let my inbox pile up without any guilt of keeping it charged and turned on, let alone actually checking emails. WRONG. Turns out by week three, I was craving having a reason to feel a sense of normalcy through work. For my start-up business, I “returned” to work much earlier than I had scheduled, and I found myself cursing that FMLA laws for my 9-5 job didn’t allow me to even check-in on projects or work on little things here and there.
- I’d not be using my planner at all
I had given myself the mantra of “grace” going into this time to empower me to not feel pressured to be productive. I have a business planner and a separate personal planner (any others obsessed with Happiness Planners?!) and I assumed the personal planner would be blank. WRONG. I found that making myself “get-to-do” lists every day helped me get out of the fog faster. I’d give myself a few items each day, like watering the houseplants, writing thank you notes, painting my toenails, etc. It felt so good to check them off, and it was a no pressure to-do list so I never felt like I had failed if I didn’t check everything off.
All these assumptions were based on stereotypes that I had read, seen or heard about maternity leave. But what I found after going through it myself, is that it’s more about finding ways to feel more like myself and “filling my cup” to keep me going through the ups and downs of navigating maternity leave.