Pregnancy/Maternity

Are you having an emotional maternity leave?

How is your maternity leave? Are you happy to have time with your baby or is it a period of questioning?

The maternity leave in Quebec is a precious moment and a privilege. It allows mothers to spend time with their babies during their first year. It also allows them to recover from pregnancy without being as stressed about going back to work after a few weeks as our mothers (or grandmothers).

A maternity leave obviously has many advantages ranging from rest to the possibility of extending breastfeeding. It gives the opportunity to be present and to witness all the stages of development of your child. It seems rewarding, doesn’t it? Is this what you have you experienced?

Indeed, some new moms are in perfect harmony with their baby. Field trips, courses, activities, nothing stops these new mothers happiness! But as they are reading this, many others sigh and realize that this is the way they imagined their maternity leave before it proved less fulfilling than they thought. Why were they not entitled to these ecstatic emotions? Instead, they felt bitterness, anger, disappointment, guilt, or a feeling of not being an accomplished woman. Some can also add financial stress related to the salary change to this list. Some emotional trends are constant in women who have experienced maternity leave in this way. Three main stages can be outlined:

Striking loneliness

You have stopped working, but people around you keep leaving every morning for work. They come back later only to get stuck in their evening routine. All the while you never leave in the morning. Your spouse does. You and your baby become inseparable accomplices, but sometimes the lack of discussions with adults is draining. The days seem long for some women. Even if they wanted to ask a friend to visit, he would work and would not be available. And in the evening, you and your friends with kids are busy with the evening routine: dinner, bath and sleep. Loneliness can come with sadness and melancholy. It is not easy to bear for all, especially when it becomes permanent. It even poses a risk of postpartum depression when it gets too heavy.

Depreciating self-worth

During your maternity leave, you become a stay-at-home mom and therefore, you develop a routine with your baby to accomplish daily tasks. Although it's easy in our society today to find recognition through work or other activities, the first months of a baby are often making moms feel housebound because of the numerous feedings or because of the fatigue that results from short nights. This feeling of being at the service of everyone and of becoming the only dependency of your baby can harm your self-worth. Some women do not like to feel like a housekeeper and to lack challenges. It makes them feel worthlessness or invalid. Your body image and the lack of time to take care of yourself may also contribute to the reduction of your self-esteem. Returning to work can be very challenging when your self-esteem is lost. Worse even, this decimated self-esteem can make socializing even harder and lead you to further loneliness as described above.

Questioning

There are women who, for their part, are overwhelmed with questions. Career choices, lifestyle, relationship, everything is questioned as a whole or in part. This can be very stressful when, at first, you only wanted take a year off work and get back to normal afterwards. Is it the feeling of being useless, the lack of recognition, or the time taken to think carefully about what you really like and want that made you wonder if everything was in place? These assumptions may be true for you and for many women who experience deep questioning. You're in no rush and you can focus at last on what you really like. You can have a better perspective on your future. Another very common phenomenon is wanting to quit a job to devote yourself to the education of your child. It is true that in one year, your little darling will seem very young to be in daycare. A vast majority of mothers feel terrible about leaving a part of the education of their child to a stranger. This fear can be heartbreaking. This is why some mothers question their work. What if she stayed with the baby? Thinking about a career change or a reduction in working time (four days per week, part-time work) can be an attractive option.

How could I grow during my maternity leave?

First, although it is called a maternity "leave", you might find that this is not very relaxing. It is a time for you to get used to the lifestyle that awaits you. But don’t worry, as weeks go by, you will get used to it and you will have a good time while parenting.

Still, if you find that frustration, sadness or bitterness are taking an important place in your life, read these few tips:

  • Prepare a budget suited to your new salary to avoid stressing when your income will decrease.
  • Go to the park, you will find other moms who want to talk to adults too.
  • Sign up for parent/child activities to meet other mothers.
  • Find a project (renovation, crafts, gardening, training, etc.) to keep you busy.
  • Do not stay at home because of your baby. Take the stroller, the baby carrier, and diaper bag and keep doing what you did before.
  • Some mothers have found comfort on forums or blogs. However, be vigilant because false information can circulate and the anonymity of forums can bring its lot of discomfort (no filter, identity theft, intimidation, etc.).
  • If you are in a questioning period, a good old list of pros and cons is useful!
  • If you are excessively questioning your future, you can see a counselor. It could allow you to see if you are made for this change or not.
  • Do not forget to go out on your own or as a couple.
  • Use your brain (strategy games/logic, courses, etc.).
  • For those who feel useless, you can volunteer or simply make yourself available for school or daycare activities for your other children.
  • Have dinner with your former colleagues. This will entertain you and even give you the opportunity to assist a colleague on a file, increasing your sense of purpose. If it doesn’t go too well, it can still remind you to appreciate and enjoy your time off before you return!
  • If you have dark thoughts or feel increasingly unhappy, do not hesitate to consult. No one is immune to postnatal depression. Ask for help sooner rather than later to limit damages.
Véronique Boisvert
Clinical sexologist, psychotherapist, doula

Veronique Boisvert holds a BA and an MA in sexology. She works  in a private practice as a clinical sexologist and psychotherapist to treat marital and sexual difficulties. As shehas always been passionate about the perinatal field, she also followed a doula training and  now gives a prenatal class, assists parents during the delivery and offers them support  after. Her professional experience and research has led her to specialize in postpartum disorders. That's what inspired her to write the book  Bien vivre ma période postnatale : prévenir les difficultés et devenir une maman heureuse (meaning “Living my postpartum period well: preventing problems and becoming a happy mom”). You can find more information about her practice and clinic on her website (in French only).


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