This week I went back to work. Full time. Away from my lovely boy 5 days a week.
My mat leave was nothing like I expected. I think I had this sort of dream image of being a lady of leisure and going out for lunch everyday, having this spotless house and keeping on top of the washing pile, reading so many books with all this free time I had, having this fab group of wonder women mum friends, and looking fab while doing it.
That’s not mat leave at all. Mat leave is sleepless nights and early mornings. It’s bleeding nipples, stretch marks, and still wearing your maternity leggings. It’s days where you don’t eat and days when you don’t stop eating. It’s laughter and beautiful memories, but it’s sadness and isolation too. It’s getting to know this little human who is an odd mix of you and the person you love, and finding out what they need and what they like and that there is no guidebook to this whole ‘parenting’ thing.
My labour was pretty straight forward, but it was my recovery I struggled with. No one warns you about recovery or talks about how difficult it is. Through the pain of healing stitches, the learning how to feed and the general coping with the sudden change of lifestyle, you forget about everything else beyond the bubble of you, partner, and baby. My whole ‘first phase’ of maternity leave was littered with anxiety and doubt as you do become so absorbed in yourself and your little one. I was constantly concerned that I wasn’t good enough for the bundle of perfection in my arms and that my every decision would impact him in some way. However, I was lucky enough to be surrounded by people who told me they were proud of me, and my stage of self-doubt didn’t last long.
For me the next ‘phase’ was loneliness. I loved spending every moment with my son, but sometimes I craved the attention of other adults and a conversation about something other than babies. I’ve got hobbies, I’ve got interests, and I just wanted anyone to talk about them too. I was lost. I got pretty fed up of people only acknowledging Ted and not me, whether it be in the street in passing or a group setting. We come as a package. Without me, there is no Ted, and when you go some days with no adult interaction other than with your partner, things like that hurt. Then there are those moments when you decide to grow some courage and attend a baby class or meet with other mums, and you’re left feeling deflated by judgmental, unnecessary comments. And then it’s just you and your baby and the rest of the world.
I like to think I then entered my ‘phase 3.’ This phase is a great phase for me. It’s where I learned what to care about and what just is not worth it. It’s when I realised what matters and what I deserve, and of course, what Ted deserves. I just had fun, and I grew up a lot. I realised other mums weren’t as scary as they seemed and that I’d only met an unfortunate minority. I realised it didn’t matter if I left the house in leggings and trainers with no intention of doing any sort of exercise. I realised that a happy mummy equals a happy baby. And that’s when I was brave enough to start my new venture with this blog and start sharing my experiences with others and encouraging others to do so.
Honestly, being back at work is great. For about half a day it felt like I was the new girl again, but it wasn’t long until it felt like I’d never left. Questions were flying my way and I could answer them and answer them confidently. The baby brain I thought I was going to return with wasn’t actually there and I’ve since remembered my strengths. I think I forgot how much brain I actually have.
But most importantly, I feel like I’ve got a bit of me back. Yes, I’m Ted’s mum, but I’m also Alice. I’m still the Alice who is super clumsy. I’m still the Alice who could eat her body weight in cheese. I’m still the Alice who can recite every Spice Girls song to you off by heart. I’m also a partner, a daughter, a sister, a friend, a colleague. I’m more than just a mum, but I love that that is now a huge part of my identity. I’m calling this my phase 4, and this is the phase where I’m going to have to learn how to juggle everything.
The worst bit about it all is how much I miss Ted. I miss singing ‘row row row the boat’ and ‘if you’re happy and you know it’ 20 times a day. I miss cleaning up the ridiculous amount of mess after every meal. I miss our cuddles and I miss napping together. But I know those things haven’t been taken away from me and that we still get to do them, just less often.
He is truly the happiest, most charismatic, cheeky boy I have ever met, and I’m so grateful and thankful to him that I get to do this for me and for us. The last 10 months have been an absolute privilege, and I can’t wait to see him grow and mature into the clever, kind and funny little man I know he will be. I’ll treasure this time forever, every ‘first’ and every perfect day had along with the bad days too. I love you, Ted. Thank you for being the best, and sorry that I won’t always be there when you bump your head or maybe when you walk for the first time, but I promise you that doesn’t mean I love you any less. To a happy future, and a wonderful ten months of getting to know each other.