parent opinion

OPINION: 'Women are being sold a myth. Trust me, maternity leave is not a holiday.'

I have a bone to pick with the great maternity leave myth. The myth that new mums will be spending our days having coffee with girlfriends, being cultured at mums and bubs movie screenings and enjoying all the cute baby cuddles while wearing designer activewear and feeling blissfully happy. 

I bought the myth hook, line and sinker, and was truly shocked when the harsh reality of life with a newborn slapped me in my sleep deprived face.

A year ago, I sashayed away from my well paid, corporate marketing role into maternity leave with a smug smile on my face. The dream was about to begin! No more 9-5, no more commute, no more repetitive report writing or weekly team meetings, no more office politics or awkward colleagues.

Watch: The horoscopes as new mums. Post continues below.


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Bring on the freedom of deciding what I wanted to do each day, wearing activewear while pushing my pram around the park in the sunshine, seeing friends for coffees and playdates while bub slept peacefully in my arms. 

That’s what maternity leave is like, isn’t it? 

And the funny thing is, it sort of is what maternity leave is like. My maternity leave was full of coffee dates with friends. It was full of playdates. It was full of activewear and pram walks.

But it was more than that. 

Because that’s just what you see on the surface (and by surface, I mean Instagram). Why aren’t we talking about all the things women have to grapple with that aren’t so glamorous?

For me, what was most confronting was how much becoming a mum rocked my sense of self. I was truly expecting to stay me, just me with a baby. Instead, there were months of uncomfortable soul searching - who was I now I was a mum? How do I related to my “old” friends when I have nothing to talk about besides feeding schedules and nap times? Am I boring people talking about my son too much? But what else do I have to talk about because I’m with him 24/7? Will I ever feel like “me” again? Will I ever love my new body like I’ve been told I should? Am I being vain for even caring about that?  

Then there’s the lack of independence. The obvious physical independence if you’re breastfeeding, as you really can’t be away from your bub for more than a few hours. But also the financial independence. I’ve always earned my own income and it’s tough to suddenly be reliant on my partner to provide for me. 

As women, we’re told to not financially rely on a partner, but we’re also told to take up to 12 months of often unpaid maternity leave to care for our children.

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Personally, I had to learn to put my pride to one side and accept the fact that we’re a team and right now, my husband is contributing financially to our team way more than I am - and that’s ok. 

But I do pray for the day when the government realises that paying benefits based on household income rather than individual circumstances is outdated, and really impacts women’s ability to remain financially independent. But that’s a whole other story.

I was also surprised with just how boring the days can be. It took a while to feel comfortable with the fact that I can still love my son and be a great mum without loving every minute of the day. There’s A LOT of repetition - feed, nappy change, play, sleep, tidy up, washing etc, repeat ad nauseam. 

As a community, we’re not taking enough about the “other” side of motherhood. We are doing future mothers a disservice by perpetuating the maternity leave myth. We're also devaluing the contribution these women are making to our communities by downplaying the “job” that is maternity leave by referring to it as a holiday. 

With everything the last year has thrown at me, I can honestly say that my maternity leave has been the best year of my life. It definitely wasn’t what I expected, but days with my son give me more fulfilment and joy than any day in the office ever has. He is my biggest achievement and I am so proud of the boy he’s growing into and the mum I’m growing into.

To all the women who are expecting maternity leave to be like the myth they’ve been sold, it might be. And it might not be. You can’t really predict how parenthood is going to thrust itself upon you. But a holiday it definitely won't be.

Do you agree? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Feature image: Getty. The image used is a stock photo.

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