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Research and maternity leave: My story (part 3)

In previous posts in this short series of entering motherhood as a research, I described the challenges I faced during my pregnancy. Even though I had a textbook-perfect pregnancy, and quick and painless labor and delivery, I had my share of struggles: I was so tired during my pregnancy, and it took me some effort to accept that I would not be seen lifting heavy barbells while being very pregnant – which had always been what I expected from myself.

Just like I had some misconceptions about pregnancy, I did not know what to expect for my maternity leave. I had 12 weeks of maternity leave, and they flew by. The first weeks I spent in my home country, arranging my daughter’s paperwork, before returning to Ecuador for the remainder of my leave. My expectation was that, since I wouldn’t be that tired anymore, I’d be able to resume workouts right when my gyn/ob gave me the green light. I did not expect that I’d be planning (well, planning is not a good word here, as there was little to plan) my entire day around the feeding times of my baby (sometimes just 20 minutes apart), that I’d still be very tired, and that leaving the house without the baby would be a logistic nightmare, involving sitters and figuring out where and when to pump.

Returning to the box did not happen – and it still has not happened. I joined a 30 day yoga challenge during my maternity leave, and managed to find some time for yoga (with the baby) while I was on leave. As I returned to work and my days got even busier, that time for myself went through the window. My maternity days was filled with growth spurts and cluster feeds and nappy changes and accidents and endless laundry. I thought I’d have time for leisurely strolls with the baby and coffee dates with friends, but very little of that came into existence. I thought I’d have time for pampering myself in the spa.

Clearly, I had no idea of what to expect of life with a newborn. I’ve nominated myself for the title of the world’s most clueless mom. To my defense, I did not have younger siblings, my sister does not have children, and babies were always a very abstract thing to me. I had never changed a diaper until my baby’s first diaper change in the hospital. I positively know nothing about parenting. I thought newborn babies were boring because all they do is eat and sleep – never did I imagine I’d have so much fun with my baby. But here I am, momming around as best as I can.

As I didn’t know what to expect for life with a child, I had informed all my students and coworkers about my maternity leave, and told them I coudn’t promise I would work on anything during my leave. That was a smart move, since somewhere between weeks 3 and 10, Adeline did not sleep and would nurse up to every 45 minutes at night, so my brain was very foggy. I had to do some work though – journal editors can’t wait a few weeks when they send you the print proofs of your article.

My first work-related activity after my maternity leave was a conference in the USA, so I had to prepare my presentations and revised version of my paper during my maternity leave. It was nearly impossible to get anything done with my baby around, so at some point I had to ship her off to my sister-in-law to get any work done. I also had to make sure there was enough food for the baby for the days I’d be gone, so I spent a few weeks trying to get the hang of pumping and building a stockpile of frozen milk for my absence. Double electric pumps are extremely hard to find in Ecuador, so I struggled with a single electric of poor quality until somebody could bring me a better pump from the USA. I found that pumping at 4 or 5 am (“stupid o’clock”) was the only thing that worked for building the stockpile, and it was exhausting.

Since I also wanted my maternity leave to be a special time to spend with my little human, I enrolled in a baby massage class and took some postnatal mommy-and-me yoga classes. I’m glad I did so, as I wouldn’t have had the time for these when returning to work. I tried to enjoy spending time with my cloud of love as much as I could, but sometimes I felt the pressure of all the work accumulating in my mailbox. Some people were kind enough to reply to my out of office reply notifying them about my maternity leave that that is very nice and everything, but that they have something really urgent that I need to take care of right now. I never deactivated the notifications of my mailbox on my phone, and in hindsight I probably should have done so.

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