The Secret Hell of Maternity Leave – And How to Make it Better for Her

Here’s how to make the 24-hour days full of wailing and poo a bit easier for her.

Secret Hell of Maternity Leave

I took six weeks’ paternity leave and that time whizzed by in a blur of limited sleep, raw emotions and fear of the unknown: I will never forget it.

It was paired with immense joy, priceless bonding and a love I’d never thought possible, but I could see the end coming when I would have to go back to work.

It was time for me to go back to some semblance of normality and I knew things would be difficult for both my wife and I. I needed to switch my ‘work brain’ back on and operate at a reasonable level despite my sleep patterns going AWOL.

Meanwhile, she had to learn a complex range of skills that encompass the term ‘motherhood’ while dealing with extreme sleep deprivation.

Despite all that, I hurried home with a spring in my step. I hoped to see our son before his bedtime – it had felt like an eternity since I’d seen him.

My wife, usually so composed and stoic even in the most difficult of circumstances, met me at the door in tears. She threw herself at me before I could withdraw the key from the door, sobbing “I can’t do this.”

Bang. It was a harrowing moment. I had no words to offer her. Just a hug and a hope that the next day would be better, and the next, and so on.

Looking back, it’s no surprise my wife was in such a state after her first full day alone with our baby.

Those first few weeks are hard enough as a team, but when the responsibility all falls on one parent’s shoulders, it’s a whole new ballgame.

My wife had a year of intimidating prospects ahead of her. She would regularly go whole days without leaving the house or talking to other adults. And she would feel the immense pressure and stress of making sure our tiny human stayed alive – all while still recovering from the physical and mental effects of giving birth.

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I’m not saying men don’t do it tough – male postnatal depression is a real thing – and it isn’t always the case that mum needs support from dad in the first 12 months.

But for the majority of new dads, it’s a case of returning to work while our partners go 1-on-1 with the new arrival.

For my wife and I, that first year featured some incredible highs and harrowing lows, and in looking back, there were a few things I’d do differently to make things easier on her.

Maximise Your Parental Leave

Unfortunately, we don’t get the same rights as men in Scandinavia, meaning most new fathers are back at work in the blink of an eye.

Be up-front with your employer and see what can be done – perhaps combine your parental leave with some annual leave or leave without pay. (I’ve touched on the importance of parental leave in this DAD article)

Leave the Office On Time

Your partner will be looking at the clock and counting down the minutes until you arrive home just to get a break and to talk to someone.

There’s probably only 1 per cent of the workforce that simply can’t leave their workplace on time every day but for most of us, work really can wait until the next day.

If you really are snowed under, look to leave on time anyway and once all is under control at home, then get back into what’s needed on the work front.

NEVER Complain About the Lack of Housework

You’re probably working 9-5pm – she is working 24/7.

It’s not her job to clean the house and do all the cooking and chores just because she’s at home. The exhaustion is real, and the appeal of a quick nap or some rare downtime alone is completely understandable.

Be Kind When it Comes to Your Partner’s Appearance

She grew a human for nine months, pushed out something the size of a watermelon, and is now functioning on almost no sleep to keep your tiny human alive.

Anything you may think about how her body or appearance has changed, she will have thought 10 times over. Bite your tongue – don’t make it worse.

Never Refer to Maternity Leave as “Time Off”

Enough said. This isn’t time off – in fact it’s probably going to be the hardest period of your partner’s life!

Offer Her some Downtime

Whenever possible, see if you can take the reins and allow her to switch off. Not only does this give her a chance to recharge her batteries, it also boosts your dad confidence, which is vital.

Oh, and don’t refer to this as “babysitting” – it’s just you, parenting solo.

Find Time for Yourself when it Suits

You’re no use if you’re agitated or grumpy, so when it suits, arrange some ‘me time’.

You need to look after yourself with a run, surf, time in the shed, a beer with mates or whatever it is for you that clears your head.

 

Never has the term ‘happy wife, happy life’ been more apt than those early days of parenting, and every little bit helps.

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