How Women Who Don't Take Maternity Leave Damage Themselves and Other Moms
I just had my second baby. It was easier in that I wasn't freaked out by every sniffle or oddly colored poo, my husband didn't offer an opinion on everything and I somewhat knew what to expect in the delivery room.
But it in so many other respects it was the same or harder: hormones going ballistic, aching back from the heavy breasts and constant hunching over, and oh yeah, the toddler older sibling. But somehow the fact that I had done it once before put me under the deluded assumption that I was invincible and that recovery would be a breeze. Big mistake.
The highlight of technology today is that it allows you to be connected, always. It's a tremendous boon to working mothers, being able to be check in from anywhere and stay tuned in via our (i) gadgets of choice. But as we all know, the downside is being unable to ever switch off, as is evidenced by the fact that I was responding to emails less than 24 hours after my daughter was born. "It's so great never to have to feel disconnected" I thought to myself in those early days, feeling like a bit of a superhuman from all the adrenalin. But my celebration was premature. 2 months in of checking email in the bathroom and writing articles while nursing (picture that posture: babe on boob, mum rounded over her to type on her computer - insanity!), I have reached the inevitable burnout.
In India, where I am from, mother and baby are subjected to mandatory confinement for forty days. The rationale is that's how long it takes for the woman's insides to heal and for the baby's immunity and strength to build. They firmly believe that if you don't rest for those forty days, your body never full regains its strength and ailments will plague you for the rest of your life. The Indians know something about science and medicine for sure. Even in the Western world, it's not a coincidence that the first doctor's check-up post-par tum is at six weeks.
Sharing your body with another life is an unimaginable amount of work. And that's if you have a normal and uncomplicated pregnancy. Carrying a baby to full term is no easy feat for some women: my first ended at 35 weeks due to a premature rupture of membranes and my second involved an emegency cerclage at 22 weeks. I finally delivered a beautiful, healthy girl at 39 weeks but I had 17 weeks of constant stress and worry. Is there a consensus on how long it should take to recover from that?
If you haven't actually had a baby, it's hard to understand the physical and mental turmoil it entails. Even the most well-meaning husbands don't fully get it. And when new mothers like myself don't give ourselves the time required to recover, we are doing ourselves and others a huge disservice by undermining the magnitude of what we have just accomplished. Yes, it's an accomplishment. Right up there with your "Employee of the Year" badge, or huge promotion. And like one does after every win, you rest on your laurels. Briefly. Except with childbirth, you don't get to rest. The first three months with a new baby are more labor than labor itself, because your life is now ruled by another being, sucking the nutrition out of you, keeping you awake all night, amidst your battle with emotional inconsistencies, housework, and 15 pounds of excess baggage. That's why that three months maternity leave at minimum is so critical. (In more enlightened societies in Europe and Australia women take a full year off). If we give it up this necessary privilege we are sending a grossly incorrect signal to the world.
I am my own boss, and I just gave myself three months off.