And maybe yours didn't either.
Maternity leaves are sacred and and more than once I questioned if 2020 stole this experience from mothers. Over the course of the year, I know I wasn't alone in hearing several versions of the following phrase, “Oh--I’m sure this wasn’t the mat leave you envisioned, huh?” usually said with a sigh and look of sympathy. And it’s true--if you had told me a year ago that my maternity leave would turn out this way, I wouldn’t have believed you. But, regardless of what your plans were this year, I can almost guarantee you didn’t spend the last 12 months the way you thought you would.
When COVID came barrelling down the the line in March like a freight train on fire, it felt like the world was instantaneously flipped upside down and no one knew which was was up. My cozy, quiet days at home with Austin were suddenly met with a closed daycare, meaning my two year old was home as well. Organized activities came to a screeching halt, parks were closed and we were told to see no one. And because no one understood what we were up against, we complied. So, along with having absolutely no idea what was happening in the world and what kind of risk our health was facing, we also had to figure out how to parent our children, all day, every day, without support. The maternity leave I assumed I would have for the next year quite literally vanished overnight. There was no camaraderie to share with other mothers, no quiet breaks in my day during nap time, and no support from loved ones. I was devastated.
And here I sat in devastation for a few weeks. Maybe longer. And then, as the stages of grief continued, I found acceptance. I molded something that resembled a routine for our days at home. And, eventually, I found enjoyment. And just as I figured out how to find the joy in these unprecedented times, the heavens opened. And by heavens, I mean daycare. As quickly as she was pulled out, my extroverted toddler was back at school, embracing days with her friends once again. And Austin and I were back to our quiet days alone. It felt like maternity leave had returned--albeit, looking a little different than I had once imagined.
As challenging as this year has been, sometime during those three months of isolation (probably nearing the end), I decided that I refused to look back on my maternity leave with regret; that I would choose gratitude for all this year has brought. We don't get this time back, and regardless of what it looked like or when it fell, one year at home with your baby is an incredible gift. To witness your child’s first year of life, a year where the rate of change seems impossibly fast, to feed the innate connection you have with this tiny human by staying so close to them--I am incredibly thankful. So thankful that timing doesn't matter. It is irrelevant. This is why to view my maternity leave with gratitude, rather than regret, hasn't been that hard.
Here’s the thing: this year wasn’t great. I know we are all trying to choose joy and live at a higher vibration (and for the most part, I have to actively work on these things too), but when it comes to my baby and my mat leave? They have been a gift amongst the turmoil. Almost like a completely separate entity of 2020. Welcoming Austin into our family, experiencing the newborn days as a more experienced, less-anxious version of myself (compared to my first run at it), being at home and spared the chaos of my workplace as my coworkers navigated the COVID waters--these were all gifts in a year that could have been (and was for many) much more challenging for me and my family.
For some new parents, they really felt the effects of isolation as they brought their child into the world. They were denied support in a time they needed it most, as well as many “firsts” they had likely envisioned in their head, and for those individuals, I am truly sorry. As wonderful as it can be, having a baby comes with many challenges, even in the best of times. I spent a lot of time this year thinking about new moms in particular, trudging through the fourth trimester while figuring out how to care for their baby. To say this is no easy feat is a massive understatement. Although there were certainly times when I could have used some extra hands, I had the advantage of knowing (kind of) what to expect. I think this was helpful (although if you asked me back in March when I also had my two year old home from daycare, parks were closed, and we were all stuck at home… I might have been singing a different tune). These sentiments are also extended to women experiencing their first pregnancy during this time--attending appointments and ultrasounds solo, not being able to share this experience with their partner. This feels incredibly unfair for you too. My only words of comfort are, know that they will be there for the finale, and what a finale it is. Worth the wait.
My mat leave meant joy and laughter in times when we all needed a little lift and distraction from the happenings of the world. Not even a global pandemic could take away the simple joy that a new baby brings to one’s life, and for that, I am so thankful. Because the love you have for a child is above all else. Nothing can rob you of that. So, no, I am not regretful that my maternity leave fell in the year 2020. I am grateful for the simplicity it allowed in a time when my life would have most certainly been more complicated. I am grateful that, during days that I felt resentment, sadness, anger, and confusion, I also got to feel the deepest love. And I think that’s pretty lucky.
If you welcomed a baby into the world in 2020, I know the experience wasn't what you had pictured in your head. And you might need to mourn the loss of that vision. That’s ok. Take some time to do that. Sit in your sadness and, when you’re ready, release it. Then, reflect on your time at home with your little one. How incredible has it been to feel like the world slowed down enough for you to really take it all in? To watch them change every day, right in front of your eyes? To enjoy lazy afternoons on the couch while your babe slept peacefully on your chest? To feel so much love in a time that has never needed it more? What a gift. So, rather than regret, choose gratitude. You and your baby deserve it.