It all started when a colleague asked me if I was looking forward to my upcoming “vacation.”
“Vacation?” I looked at him quizzically. There was no trip to the Bahamas circled in red on MY calendar.
“Y’know, “Chufshat Leida.”
“Ohhhh.” Realization dawned. He was referring to “Maternity Leave,” literally translated from Hebrew as “Birth Vacation”.
Now, I know that the 15 weeks of absence entitled to a post-birth employee here in Israel versus the six weeks allotted in America surely constitutes a vacation, in comparison.
Which is why my head was suddenly filled with big plans of all I’d accomplish during my four months of impending bliss, upon the arrival of my third child, G-d willing.
Beach trip every week? Lazy mornings spent schmoozing at the bagel shop? Painting my kids’ room the perfect shades of pink and green? Finally getting around to throwing out all those pair-less Tupperware lids that bop me on the head every time I reach for a container? Sign me up!
The big day came, three weeks earlier than I’d expected — and that should have been the first clue that this was no vacation. Everyone knows vacations don’t just happen out of the blue, unless of course, you happen to live in a chick-flick.
But honestly, I was so glad to finally meet my incredible third daughter, that I welcomed her early yet blessedly healthy arrival (and secretly high-fived G-d for allowing me to get out of another almost month of pregnancy).
From the moment that little girl was born, it was as if an invisible sand timer was placed upon my head. As I lay in my hospital bed, writhing in pain from after-birth contractions, a little voice whispered, “You better pop those pain-killers. How else will you enjoy this time?”
A friend visited me in the hospital, and I mentally congratulated myself for utilizing my stay there in a sociable way.
Once I arrived home, I kept on inwardly questioning: Am I feeling better yet? When can I start Zumba? Will the weekly yoga class have a babysitter on premises?
Two weeks passed, then three. Every time Sunday came around, instead of taking pride in how many weeks old my baby was turning, I instinctively counted down: 14 weeks left, 13 weeks left, 12 weeks left, until I return to the office.
The days and weeks melded together in a blur. I went out for the occasional coffee with a friend, I was finally able to catch sales at the mall, and even go grocery shopping at a normal hour, instead dragging myself out late at night, after work.
But the DIY projects I had pinned to my mind’s Pinterest board? The much-needed kitchen cabinet organization? Perfecting my downward dog? Yeah, that didn’t happen.
What did happen, though, in addition to getting caught up on all the therapy, doctor, and dentist appointments I’d been neglecting for my kids, was that I fell in love.
I literally spent the majority of 15 consecutive weeks, giving my sleepless, waking-up-five-times-a-night, achy self to my daughter. We laughed. We slept in each other’s arms. We shared snuggles and tears. We bonded — hard.
I still felt the anxiety creep up every Sunday (14 down, one to go). Until yesterday. The moment of truth had arrived: Week 15. I got out of bed, opted for work attire instead of my spit-up splattered sweatpants, and apprehensively brought my precious baby to her metapelet (caretaker).
After a final kiss goodbye, I expected to drive out of that parking lot a blubbering mess. I imagined sitting behind the wheel, no hope for my mascara, bawling my eyes out for having to leave my tiny little boo behind and go back to real-life.
But no tears came. Because, I realized with contentment, I was not “going back to real-life.” I had just come from real-life — the realest life ever gets.
The life where it’s 2:30 p.mm and you’re sitting knee-deep in dirty diapers, a tiny little human wailing in pain and it’s YOUR job to comfort her. The life where you still haven’t eaten breakfast, even though it’s well past lunchtime, but your baby needs to eat and you lovingly feed her just so you can stare into her perfect face once again. The life where, even though she’s finally asleep, you just can’t bring yourself to get dressed or do laundry, because you’re mesmerized by the rise and fall of her sweet little chest, the way her Cupid’s bow lips purse with each exhale.
Society, and its tendency for expectations of over-achievement, makes us think this after-birth period is meant for golfing and partying with the girls. A time when you don’t need to clock in at 9, you may as well dance the night away, and sign yourself up for every spinning class you can get your hands on. This is the same societal norm that expects us to instantly shed all that baby weight and “get back to ourselves” as fast as we’re able. But sometimes, we must ignore society’s nagging voice in the background, and simply do what WE expect of OURSELVES.
Sitting in my car, with no infant in the backseat for the first time in almost four months, it struck me. I was now going back to work after having built up an arsenal for both my baby and myself of four straight months of undistilled love. That love and those memories of our blissful early days together is what carries me through the workday, and what will make it so darn exciting to wrap her in my arms at pickup time. And to me, that is more euphoric and calming than any island getaway.