I’m a little over halfway through my maternity leave and have figured out some things which I wanted to share with my future self and anyone else who might happen across this page. God willing, I will be on maternity leave again sometime in the next few years, and if my memory lately serves as any indication I won’t remember a single thing from these three months, so I’d better record it now while I have the chance. There is tons of advice out there for maternity leave, things like “sleep when the baby sleeps” (which is a good one!) and “put the baby on a schedule” (which didn’t work for us at all), but this list is the stuff keeping me sane right now that I don’t want to forget. Your mileage may vary, as they say.

1. Give yourself a routine. Any routine.
This is totally different than “put the baby on a schedule”. It’s not even “put the baby on a routine”, although that one is helpful, too. I am someone who thrives on ritual, and I have found that it is helpful to me if I do some of the same things every day at roughly the same time. For example, make a pot of coffee in the “morning” (aka, whenever I get out of bed the last time), and start out the day by checking my to-do list (see #2). Do something routinely every day that you do only for yourself, for your sanity, and to remind yourself that you exist as a person separate from your tiny partner in crime.

2. Make a to-do list, then ignore most of it.
After spending a year as an intern, a lot of administratrivia has piled up around us, along with some long overdue correspondence. Add to that the mountain of thank-you notes I now owe people, the bills and paperwork associated with a new baby, and everything which accompanies moving house and job, and you have a pretty heft list of things to do. I’ve long been a fan of David Allen’s Getting Things Done, which advocates a system of to-do lists broken down by project (to oversimplify), and one of his key points is to collect these to-dos and ideas out of your brain so that you don’t have to keep fretting over them. I embraced this early on and dumped all of the piled-up things I need to accomplish into my things-to-do software. It’s a very long list. Instead of looking at the whole list, though, I’m picking one or two tasks a day to move into my “Today” list. It’s slow going, but I am making headway on long-outstanding things, I feel productive but not overwhelmed, and I’m not stressing out over all the things I should be doing but can’t manage while taking care of the baby. I should have done this a lot sooner, and I’m hoping this is a lesson I can carry through beyond maternity leave into working-mom-hood.

3. Get dressed in the morning.
Seriously, put on actual pants and a shirt you wouldn’t mind going to the store in. For that matter, brush your hair and teeth. This is along the same lines as FlyLady’s Get Dressed to the Shoes, although I can’t stand shoes so I skip that part. I’m not talking dressed to the nines here, I’m just saying it made a huge difference in how I felt after I started making an effort to put on something other than lounging-around-the-house clothes. The first couple of weeks, forget it — there’s too much recovery going on, and too many leaks from too many sources on both mom and baby to justify anything other than jammie pants and a nursing tank — but after that, this has been another sanity-saver. Who knew a pair of jeans would make me feel human again?

4. It’s like a surgery rotation.
Sleep when you can, sit when you can, eat when you can, …use the restroom when you can. (Surgeons are more vulgar than I’ll type out here.) There’s a survival mentality of taking care of an infant which is awfully close to following around a senior surgical resident. (With all due deference to senior surgical residents, of course. Ahem.) That is to say, in both cases you aren’t entirely certain of the schedule, since unexpected things happen and the nap/surgery may run much longer than expected or that feeding/conference could end up being cut short for some reason. Similarly, they may squawk and fuss, but they’ll live if you leave them without you long enough to visit the restroom or grab something to eat. When the opportunity arises to take care of your own needs, do it. Right that second, and without guilt. Maslow’s hierarchy rules here, and you need to remember to put yourself ahead of the vacuuming, dishes, blog post writing, or anything else that might distract you from being able to be fed, rested, and fully ready to take care of the items higher up on the pyramid.

5. The baby will figure out his patterns… eventually.
I thought the baby needed to be on a schedule from day one. I am certain that for some mothers having the baby on a schedule from day one is helpful, however, this has not been the case for us. There were definitely days around week three when I questioned whether my child would ever manage to settle on a pattern of any kind, much less a predictable one based in a 24-hour diurnal cycle. At week six, when the baby emails started out, “By now, your child will probably have settled into a routine…”, I was despairing of all hope for sleep or sanity. Yet here we are, running up on two months, and I have realized that my son has decided to take a long nap at roughly the same time every day, that he goes to sleep at roughly the same time, and our mornings are roughly predictable. It’s a very rough schedule, but it’s a schedule nonetheless. I imagine it will change, then change again, then change some more, as we go through this year and the years to come, but I’m starting to believe that yes, it will turn into a schedule and no, I’m not doing something wrong that we haven’t regimented his life by now. Hang in there and have faith, it works out eventually.

6. Be gentle with yourself
There will be days that you don’t get anything done except feeding and changing the baby. Many of them. That’s okay. There will be days you’re in tears at the thought of leaving him, and moments (not days, yet) where you wish you were already back at work. Also okay. It’s okay if the Today to-dos don’t get done, or if neither you nor the baby makes it out of pyjamas. I’m horribly hard on myself under most circumstances, but I’m trying very hard to quash that critical voice for the time being and just be here with this baby and soak him in to the best of my ability.

It’s been an interesting ride these last few months, from surviving the last few days of internship while very pregnant right through yesterday’s two-month immunization experience. I don’t expect it to get any less interesting as time goes by, either. My little guy is already showing off his personality and preferences, not to mention a stubborn streak a mile wide. I think our mothers will have the satisfaction of watching both BWB and I raise a child just like us, which it the best blessing and worst curse I think a mother could ever give. I’m assuming that next time we do this, it will be completely different — after all, no two babies are the same. I’ve seen enough friends and patients go through this process to know it’s rarely the same game twice. I am hoping, though, that some of these lessons, particularly the ones about how I, personally, handle this period of time the best, will make next time less of a guessing game and more a time of discovery. Time will tell, I suppose. In the meantime, I’m going to enjoy the second half of the leave I have right now.

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