LEIGH CAMPBELL: After a year off with my son, here’s what I’d tell my pre-maternity leave self.

I’ve just returned to work after having (a little over) a year away from my job to birth and raise my baby boy. I put on my ‘nice clothes’, did my hair, and even wore heels - albeit very low and sensible.

In the weeks leading up to my return to the office I found myself reflecting on my year of maternity leave. I think about how it was so different from what I imagined it to be like, and what, if anything, I’d do differently if I got to live the same year over again.

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Maybe you’re heading off on maternity leave soon. Or have a friend that is. I know when it was my time I’d wish I’d had more truthful insight. So I’ve made a list of all the things I’d tell myself roughly this time last year - full belly, anxious heart, with no idea what lay ahead of me.

You won’t become an avid baker (or even a good cook).

I had visions of afternoons spent baking away in the kitchen, using almond flour and sourdough starters to whip up delicious healthy treats for my husband and offspring (with sun streaming through the window and Nora Jones playing softly in the background, obviously). Maybe I’d even get one of those little cake stand things with the glass lid and we’d each have a civil slice of carrot cake every afternoon with a cup of tea.


In reality I baked about as often as I baked pre-baby, which was twice in 12 months, both times from a packet. 

Ditto with me trying new complicated dinner recipes with exotic ingredients. In reality I stuck with the same tried-and tested meals I had always made, mostly meat and three veg or a pasta dish that required about eight minutes of prep and was a solid two out of 10 on the effort scale. 

(Note: none of this applies to the food you cook for the baby, of course. When they start solids you’ll buy organic apples (and learn how to stew them!!) and puree grass fed beef for their lunch while you munch on a stale Cruskit).

You should join your local Mother’s Group.

After you have your first baby your local council will place you in a ‘Mother’s Group’, a weekly meeting where new mums (or primary care-givers) meet each week from when the babies are about six weeks old. You do a bunch of 'lessons’ about early development and then the group is set free into the big scary world of parenting to become friends and navigate said scary new world together.

I attended my first official Mother’s Group class but did not go back. I had a legitimate reason (day and time didn’t work for me), but truthfully I also didn't see the point. Why do I need to listen to a bunch of women I don't know whinge about babies I don't care about? I have friends with babies, they can be my Mother's Group. 

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Fast forward to the end of the ‘official’ lessons and I had a call from the nurse at the clinic noting that I hadn’t attended the rest of the meet-ups, but would I like to be added to the Whatsapp group? “No, thank you,” I said, and hung up.


Next minute someone added me to the Whatsapp group! Of 13 mothers talking about poo and vomit and which brand of nappies are currently on sale at Coles.

And I am thankful every single day that they did.

That group of women welcomed me in, no questions asked, and became my lifeline over the past year. Because it turns out my other friends who have babies were useless. 

I’d ask my friend (whose baby is four months older than mine) when she dropped the dream feed, or how to transition to arms-out, and she would say “dunno, can’t remember”. 

Because baby amnesia is a thing - as soon as you pass a stage and move onto the next you forget all about the stage before because that info is useless to you now and your brain is full of new information. 

But my Mother’s Group? They were right there in the same trench with me. We were my enlisted platoon, wading through nappy rash and immunisations and teething all at the exact same time. That group of women had the answer to every query or were the shoulder for every worry. They still are. So join your local Mother’s Group. 

You won’t be taking many strolls pushing the pram in Lululemon sipping a latte.

Whose fault is it that all first time mums think maternity leave will be all about laps of the local park in designer leggings, with other mums in designer leggings, sipping coffees and enjoying the sunshine? Who perpetrated this lie? WHO?


I did a total of ONE walk around Centennial Park in my favourite Cotton On leggings, on their 12th wear yet three weeks from their last wash, and yes I was wearing designer but it was my sunglasses and they stayed glued to my face to hide my red-rimmed eyes thanks to the four month sleep regression. 

The walk was lovely! For about seven and a half minutes, then it got really windy and my baby started bawling and my friend's baby shat all through her pram and we all went home.

You’ll realise that every baby shower gift you gave before becoming a parent was totally impractical.

Before I had my baby I used to buy teeny tiny size 0000 jeans from Zara as a baby shower gift. They were unisex! And so little! And so chic! I would pat myself on the back for being the thoughtful, stylish gift giver I believed I was.

Ha. Hahahaha. 

I now know there’s a reason why there was always newborn size left in the store. Because newborns do not wear jeans. They wear onesies. With a zip, not press studs, thank you very much. 

You’ll miss (parts of) your old life. And that’s okay.

No one wins a prize for guessing that life looks pretty different after having a baby. But just because you know it’s coming it doesn’t make the shift any smoother.

I really missed the spontaneity. Being spontaneous was how my husband and I kept our marriage exciting. Last minute weekends away, hours spent in cocktail bars getting tipsy while we waited for a table at a fabulous new restaurant which didn't take reservations. Long lazy mornings bouncing from pilates to coffee to a peruse of the shops.


It’s not the actual dinners out I missed. It’s the ‘being able to’ whenever I felt like it. It’s the excitement, the lack of responsibility. 

The “am I still fun?” minus any form of impromptu frivolousness (plus the cost of a babysitter which most times equals “let’s just stay home”).

 If I’m honest I am still learning this one. I’m learning it while I also give myself a break for loving my child but not always loving being a parent. And that’s okay. 

You’ll worry (too much) about the washing and the groceries. 

Fight it as you may, household chores replace meetings and deadlines as your sense of purpose. Winning a client brief used to give me a rush of accomplishment, but on maternity leave that client brief is two brimming baskets of washing and a trolley full of nappies to lug home. 


I really wish I didn't let domestic duties become my measure of nailing maternity leave. I think of all the summer days when I could have taken my son down for a walk near the beach or a play in the sand. But instead I told myself I was failing if I didn't keep on top of all the chores every single day. Because that was my ‘job’ now.

But it wasn't. Raising my son was the reason I was off work, not to keep house. I wish I’d done less chores and more time out in the fresh air. 

If you’ve made it this far, thank you for coming to my TED Talk. Basically, you’ll just be you, but on maternity leave. 

You’ll feel lonely and left out, and at the same time like you've joined the most life-fulfilling club you didn't know existed. 

You’ll be able to do things with a bottle of dry shampoo even hairstylists can’t manage. 

You’ll love some days and hate others and before you know it you’ll be back at your desk thinking ‘wow, where did that year go?'

Looking for a new parenting podcast to listen to? Dropping on July 22, Mamamia's new podcast Me After You hosted by Laura Byrne explores stories of identity and motherhood. 

Can you relate to Leigh's list? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Feature image: Supplied/Leigh Campbell.