Can we stop calling maternity leave a “vacation”?

I have a newborn and a three-year-old.  I worked until the day before I had each of them, and then- only after I had gone through two long labors and deliveries (and the fun that comes with the aftermath), did I begin my maternity leave.

Leading up to both maternity leaves, fellow professionals would ask if I was ready for my “time off.”  Others would say they were jealous that I could “check out” for a few months.  And then there were those who would say “enjoy your vacation.”

The only thing my maternity leave has in common with a vacation is that I will cry when it is over.  Otherwise, this is the complete opposite of a vacation.  When I think about vacation, I think about relaxing.  Maybe I’ll get to read a book or watch a movie.  If it’s a vacation without kids, I think about sleeping.  When I think about vacation, I envision restaurants where other people cook for me and hotel rooms where people clean-up for me.  I get to make memories with my kids, which they will hopefully cherish in years to come.  When I think about vacation, I am inherently at ease.

On maternity leave, I am lucky when I sleep for more than two hours at a time.  I consider it a gift if I have a single cup of coffee without forgetting about it four times throughout the day.  I feel as if I’ve won the lottery if I am able to take a 5-minute shower without an audience. I haven’t read a single book, and I’ve hardly watched a 30 minute show without interruption. I am the opposite of being at ease.  I am constantly on edge.

Forget about the mess that is 6am-8am, while trying to get my toddler ready for her day.  That’s a story for another day (and was already a blog on its own!).  But let’s start at 9am, when on vacation, I’d be setting up my lounge chair at the beach.  Instead, I commence a newborn feeding. It takes me an average of 40 minutes to feed my son.  I put him down and begin the real work.  I wash bottles and pump parts and dishes from my daughter’s breakfast.  I’m breastfeeding, but I would like to have some semblance of a life without being on call every 2-4 hours, so I am also pumping.  Pumping is another 20 minutes, at a minimum.  At best it’s now 10:30am.  I start to collect the laundry.  I’m distracted by my daughter’s bedroom, which looks like a teenager tried on 72 outfits before going to school.  (Oh wait, she did.).  I start to make her bed.  The baby starts fussing.  I ask him to hold off on his crying, but no dice.  I’ve made her bed, but I stepped on six babydolls to get back to the baby.  I hold him.  I beg him to stop crying.  I remind myself that he is supposed to be my only priority right now. He finally gives in to me.  I put him back down.  I see the pile of unwritten thank you notes on my kitchen counter.  I decide I’m going to focus, sit down and write them.  All of our friends and family were so generous, the least we can do is thank them.  I write one thank you.  I open my phone to find the address I need, and I’m distracted by the 6 text messages and 4 emails I haven’t answered.  I do so.  As I move on to the next thank-you note, the baby starts crying again.  I look at the clock.  It’s 12pm.  He’s due for his next feeding.  Ok, I get that done and then I can focus.  I feed him.  He falls asleep, so I pump for a short while.  I wash the bottles and pump parts.  It’s now 1:15pm.  I haven’t eaten breakfast.  Or lunch.  I decide to make myself something quickly.  I realize the dishwasher hasn’t been emptied.  Do that.  Reload it with everything that’s in the sink.  I now see we have no groceries.  Make a mental list of everything we need.  Make myself “brunch,” which is nothing like the brunch I’d be having on vacation.  Back to collecting all the laundry.  I hear the baby again—he has had a blowout that requires not just a new diaper, but a new outfit, and the bouncer has to be cleaned.  Do that.  It’s now 2:30pm.  I promised myself we would go for a walk today because it’s so nice out.  I change into something that’s socially acceptable (clean yoga pants), and I check the diaper bag for the necessities.  I am putting my shoes on, when the baby starts wailing.  How is it already time for him to eat again?  He’s had three meals in the time I had less than one.  I feed him.  I change his diaper.  I get him ready for our walk.  It’s now 3:45pm.  I have one hour until it’s time to get his sister.

We walk.  Except it’s nothing like a walk on a beach.  It’s a walk where my mind wanders to my mental to do list, and I spend all of the time beating myself up for the things I cannot seem to accomplish.  Why can’t I get anything done??  How do the days escape me? 

We pick up Brielle and go to the park.  She is upset because I brought her the wrong snack.  There is yelling and crying.  There is apologizing and hugging.  I’m unsure if it’s a parenting win or a parenting fail, but we’ve moved on. 

As we head home, I realize we have nothing on the agenda for dinner.  I’m thankful for the Seamless App (and I am sure Seamless is thankful for me). We get home at 6:30p.m. (which would be happy hour on vacation) and the baby is due to be fed.  I feed him.  We get baths accomplished, which is a circus act.  Bedtime for the toddler- another circus act, but one that involves rings of fire, throwing knives, and a walk along a tight rope. 

It’s now 9:00 p.m., and I can barely keep my eyes open or form coherent sentences to have a conversation with my husband.  I’m beat.  Mentally, physically, and emotionally drained. I will feed the baby once more before I crash, and I will feed him two more times before my toddler (and husband) wake up to start this Groundhog Day all over again.

I may not be showing up at the office, but I assure you this is work. This is real, hard, challenging work.  It’s not “time off.”  I’m not “checked out.”  And it’s hardly a vacation.