While maternity leave during a pandemic sounds like a nightmare, it can actually be the biggest COVID blessing.
It’s 2021— it has been a full year of unprecedented everything. If you’ve managed to make it through this pandemic without a therapist or medication, I applaud you because I’ve needed both to simply hold on. Nothing has gone as planned, and our way of life has forever changed. We’ve learned new things about ourselves and the people around us. However, there has been one positive thing to come out of this pandemic year: my maternity leave.
COVID changed my maternity leave, but not in the ways you’d think. While COVID ruined several other things in my life, maternity leave wasn’t one of them. From working from home my entire third trimester, a virtual shower, and no visitors once the baby came, to say this pregnancy was different from my first is a massive understatement. But what I wasn’t prepared for was to love my second maternity leave as much as I did. With my first, I was READY to go back to work at the end of 12 weeks. I was ready to put on real clothes and have adult conversations. I knew around week six that SAHM life was not going to be in the cards for me. I also felt some strange need to still be “productive” during my 12 weeks off work. Like I needed to prove my worth and show that becoming a mom wasn’t going to slow me down, I did non-profit work, I cooked dinners, I started a diet plan, I worked out – all to prove that mom-Rashida could still do all the things. Looking back on it, I didn’t enjoy the 12 weeks because I didn’t really allow myself to. Going into my pregnancy with P, I told my husband early on that I was going to be better about “just sitting” this maternity leave. Little did I know that a pandemic was coming, which would force me to do just that.
In the weeks leading up to my daughter’s birth, I was spent. This was in the peak of quarantine, so my husband and I were trying to manage working our full-time jobs from home as well as parenting our full-time toddler. I was in the group of very unlucky women who feel sick their entire pregnancy, so to say I was burnt out by June doesn’t even do justice to the level of tired that I was. Mentally and physically, each day was a struggle. And then, on June 6th, I got a release mentally and physically when Parker entered the world in a three-hour blaze of fire. From the moment she entered the world, there was a sense of calmness to me. I felt instantly relaxed. My toddler was back in daycare, and I didn’t have to work for 12 whole weeks. The only thing anyone expected of me was to keep this tiny human alive, a task that doesn’t feel as scary the second time around.
COVID-19 meant no hospital visitors and very few visitors out of the gate when we got home. If this had been my first baby, this might have broken my heart, but as a second-timer, this turned out to be amazing. No trying to schedule visitors around breastfeeding. No feeling the need to entertain anyone. Just me and my little family quietly adjusting to our new life as a family of four. No pressure to get out and about – there was no place to go anyways. No stress about my body bouncing back right away – I had no one seeing me in person to comment. No stress about cooking – small businesses still needed us to order all the takeout we could afford (ha!).
My days were filled with just me and my daughter. Our schedule was whatever we (ok, she) wanted it to be that day. It was a lazy 12-weeks. If she wanted to be held all day, fine. I’d set the iPad up in her room with a glass of wine and crush endless TV while I rocked her. We had a quarantine pod of friends we saw on weekends to break up the isolating feeling that often comes with maternity leave … but even that brings me to the best thing to come out of my COVID maternity leave … my hubs was working from home the entire time. His office was set up in the basement to help him be able to separate work from dad life, but having him home was truly a Godsend. He could give me naps, he could run errands, he could handle baby girl while I pumped (which if you’re an exclusive pumper, you know this is clutch). He gave me breaks to workout and shower in peace.
By the end of my maternity leave, I legitimately felt whole. My soul felt nourished. I felt healthier mentally than I had in months. And maybe that’s it. The calm of those 12 weeks held next to the utter exhaustion of the 12 weeks in quarantine prior just can’t compare. I wasn’t ready to return to work at the end because I was afraid it would offset the balance of the happy little life I was living. I knew I still didn’t want to be a SAHM, but I just wasn’t ready to leave the bubble baby girl and I created (cue maternity leave in America is a joke rant).
So yes, while like the rest of the world, I’ll be leaving these COVID times with a good amount of PTSD, I’m also leaving it grateful for the maternity leave full of wonderfully slow weeks it allowed with my second babe.