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HOLLY WAINWRIGHT: "A letter to my scared friend who’s going on maternity leave today."

My friend and colleague Nicolle went on maternity leave with her first child this week. I don’t think there are many weirder feelings than the one you get when you walk out of your workplace on that day, however you feel about your job. It’s this very clear definitive line between the life you know and the life that’s waiting for you. Anyway, our kitchen catch-ups were never long enough. So I wrote this for her. Maybe you can pass it on to someone who needs to read it… 

Friend, it’s okay to be scared.

You’ve spent more than 30 weeks being told to relax, not to worry, don’t stress.

It’s hard not to stress when you’re pregnant. You’re literally carrying the precarious future in your uterus. A big squirming, wiggling bump of Things That Could Go Wrong.

And they do go wrong. And you know that. Because we don’t live in a world any more where women hide their grief about baby stories that didn’t end with arms cradling a pink-and-blue-striped bundle. Thank God.

It’s a wonderful, culture-changing thing that we now recognise all the tiny tragedies that women were burying deep for so damn long. But it also means we are always swimming in stories of the Worst Things.

So, it’s okay to be scared. It’s a perfectly normal response to such a high-stakes experience as pregnancy. Stress if you need to.

Side note: Things pregnant people never say. Post continues after video. 

Video by MMC

And birth. You’re currently in exactly the stage of pregnancy – the end bit – where everyone is delighting in sharing their war stories with you. Or the war story of their aunt’s sister’s best mate. Marathon labours. Stitches. Back-seat births. Poo. Pain like you’ve never felt. Insensitive obstetricians. Harried midwives. Big babies. Little babies. Beeping machines. Giant needles. Dads saying the wrong thing, doing the wrong thing.

Who doesn’t love a birth story? I have been boring people for years about how my clearest memory of my son Billy’s birth is that, once he was safely out of me and I slowly came back into my body and looked around, I saw a man in a leather jacket standing behind the midwives and the student doctors, staring. Never did found out who that guy was.

Right now, feel free to ask those people to stop. Your story is about to start. And it’ll be just yours.

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But the other thing you’re scared of is who the hell you’ll be on the other side.

Because with every power in the universe willing a healthy baby into your arms, that’s not the end. It’s the beginning.

maternity leave advice
Holly Wainwright with baby Matilda. Image: supplied.

Someone wise (my Mancunian mum) would always chastise me when I’d talk about whether I was ready to “have a baby”.

“You’re not having A BABY,” she’d say. “They’re only babies for a second. You’re becoming a parent. Forever.”

She was right. And who even knows, before they are a parent, what kind of parent they’ll be.

I don’t mean what adjective you might attach to your parenting “style”, even though everyone’s going to try to force one of those on you.

Are you a Routine Mum? Feed On Demand Mum? A Sleep Training Mum?

Are you going to be a Career Mum? A Stay At Home Mum? What about a Helicopter Mum? A Tiger Mum? A Snowplough Parent? A Hot Mess?

I don’t mean that. I mean who you very are when everything in your world has changed.

There’s no way of knowing that until you’re there.

I know women who lived for their jobs before their babies were born. Who said they would take six weeks off, max. And they did exactly that. Their happy babies folded in and went along for the ride.

And I know other of those women who couldn’t fathom why they’d cared so very much about a job. Why it had seemed such an enormous deal to take a break from it for a few months. They never went back.

And I know many more – most – who sit somewhere in the middle. They discover that a baby is far more than a handbag that you can put under a desk (although, sometimes they are that) and that these “priorities” that everyone talks about are much more complicated than they imagined.

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You can’t plan for that. Because some of that will be up to the child you haven’t met yet. They might be delighted to be left with Dad or Nana or Day Care Lady, they could be a sociable, chilled-out little human. Or they could not be. Every kid is different, and there are few things more confronting than being told that your child is, but it happens to plenty of us, and that will affect our choices as much as what we want for ourselves. Because, you know, parenthood.

Holly Wainwright and Christie Hayes chat to Midwife Cath about new parenthood and what to expect in the first few days after giving birth on Mamamia's Year One podcast. Post continues after podcast. 

And of course, ‘choice’ is the word we throw around when it comes to women and work after children, but it’s bullsh*t. Most of us don’t really have choices about work, or, if we do, not doing it isn’t one of them. No one really talks about men having a “choice” about whether they work after babies, do they? Funny, that.

So let yourself feel who you are when the dust settles. And be prepared that it will evolve. It’s not a choice you’re going to make once. What shape life and work take, and how they’re going to fit together in your family is something that will continually shift under your feet.

But what I want to tell you most, friend, is that you’re going to be amazing at this.

Packing up your desk today, you might not be exactly where you thought you were going to be when you woke up on January 1, 2019 (baby, what baby?), but there’s no doubt you’re going to throw yourself in to this, with your strong, loving partner by your side, and you’re going to kill it.

You’re going to be confused. And tired. Your body will be forever changed in many little ways. You’ll be stressed. You’re going to cry a lot. Everyone around you is going to drive you crazy, including your baby. Especially your partner. You’re going to question everything. You’re going to watch a lot of TV.

But I have never met a new mum who wasn’t doing her messy, stressy best. And that doesn’t end. Our newsfeeds are full of horror stories but the school gate is full of parents kissing their kids and holding them close and saying, “Have a good day, I love you”.

And you’ll be that. You just will.

We’re all scared of change. It’s fine. But this is the profound change. The big one. The good one.

There is nothing else like this in the world.

And your baby is the luckiest. Because they get to be born to you.

This story originally appeared in Holly Wainwright’s weekly newsletter. You can get more stories like it by subscribing to her weekly newsletter, here. You can also follow Holly on Instagram, here. Facebook, here. Or buy her novels, here.

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