My Baby Keeps Ruining The Serenity Of My Maternity Leave

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Maternity leave sounded so appealing. Having spent my whole life studying or working and still being on a treadmill toward the next professional milestone, months and months of “time off” seemed surreal. I figured I would make the most of my mat leave; I’d seize the days and enjoy my retreat from the working world. I’d be a calm and collected mother who did interesting things with a baby companion. I’d take advantage of outdoor concerts and yoga classes for mothers, walk and window shop until my baby weight magically vanished, visit with friends and linger in cafés while discreetly nursing my baby.

Was I ever naïve! I realize now that planning your maternity leave is about as productive as planning your own delivery. No drugs, please, you may tell your doctor (or empathetic midwife). I’d love to listen to Enya – the old stuff. Can we do it under water? But if your baby’s heart rate drops mid-labor, the background music changes to something out of Cape Fear and you’re getting delivered as soon as humanly possible. If that involves a sterile O.R., a bunch of surgical tools and highly non-organic medications, well, tough.

So women plan and somewhere, I believe, God laughs. Because what I got that first time around was a beautiful baby who cried nonstop for the first three months of her life. When I say nonstop, I mean exactly that. Once the absolutely incessant crying stopped, the crying-at-the-drop-of-a-hat stage began, most notably on car rides. It was beyond my tolerance to navigate the world with my precious cargo in the backseat screaming so loudly that I half expected the window glass to shatter.

I joined a Mommy & Me group led by a community health nurse but dropped out midway because the drive to her house took 15 minutes. By minute seven or eight of screaming I would turn around and drive back home. I joined a Mommy & Me fitness class, but the setup – babies lie quickly in their bucket seats, moms jump to the perky pop tunes – didn’t suit my little bundle of angst, who wailed as soon as the instructor pushed the play button.

I tried to walk the malls, eat the tuna salads, do the things that seemed to be the substrate of a busy maternity leave. None of them were any fun when set to the soundtrack – or threat thereof – of a wailing baby. My neighborhood was well situated, but not for long leisurely walks. Anything worthwhile had to be reached by car, and car rides equalled torture. Thereby, anything worthwhile required torture. It was sad mathematics.

I went to my aunt’s house for one successful visit. The baby seemed somewhat subdued on the way there and actually did not cry – much – during my stay. She fell asleep obligingly in my aunt’s arms and by some miracle, stayed asleep while being transferred back to her car seat. As I backed my car out of the driveway I felt a euphoria fueled by sleep deprivation and a glimpse of a possible future, a time when this baby would not cry, would not scream, a time when I could…

I didn’t finish that thought because I felt the sickening crumple of metal on metal and realized I had backed into a car parked across the street from the driveway, so deeply that the passenger door couldn’t be opened and a small crowd of people from the adjacent public tennis courts came to watch the show. To his credit, my husband didn’t begrudge me the few thousand dollars it took to repair both cars. I think he realized how lucky he was not to be the one on maternity leave.

Fast forwarding to my second maternity leave, when I adopted a new approach. I found a nearby exercise class and went solo whenever I could. I didn’t even check the listings for Mommy & Baby movies like I had first time around. I declined offers of lunches out, explaining that my baby didn’t really behave well lying in a stroller while I ate Greek salad. In fact, I would rather wait six months to eat that bloody Greek salad than try to wolf it down while attaching a nursing drape around my neck or jiggling a crying baby.

Initially apologetic for my survival strategy, I became more vocal about it over time. I didn’t do Mommy & Me, I explained, and neither did my babies. At home I was happy to be all Mommy, but for my treasured pleasure outings? For those, I was all Me.

(Photo: iStockphoto)