The Working Mom: Maternity Leave Is Not a Vacation

Can we stop calling maternity leave a “vacation”?

I have a newborn and a three-year-old. I worked until the day before I had each of them, and then- only after I had gone through two long labors and deliveries (and the fun that comes with the aftermath), did I begin my maternity leave.

Leading up to both maternity leaves, fellow professionals would ask if I was ready for my “time off.” Others would say they were jealous that I could “check out” for a few months. And then there were those who would say, “enjoy your vacation.”

The only thing my maternity leave has in common with a vacation is that I will cry when it is over. Otherwise, this is the complete opposite of a vacation. When I think about vacation, I think about relaxing. Maybe I’ll get to read a book or watch a movie. If it’s a vacation without kids, I think about sleeping. When I think about vacation, I envision restaurants where other people cook for me and hotel rooms where people clean-up for me. I get to make memories with my kids, which they will hopefully cherish in years to come. When I think about vacation, I am inherently at ease.

On maternity leave, I am lucky when I sleep for more than two hours at a time. I consider it a gift if I have a single cup of coffee without forgetting about it four times throughout the day. I feel as if I’ve won the lottery if I am able to take a 5-minute shower without an audience. I haven’t read a single book, and I’ve hardly watched a 30 minute show without interruption. I am the opposite of being at ease. I am constantly on edge.

Forget about the mess that is 6am-8am, while trying to get my toddler ready for her day. That’s a story for another day (and was already a blog on its own!). But let’s start at 9am, when on vacation, I’d be setting up my lounge chair at the beach. Instead, I commence a newborn feeding. It takes me an average of 40 minutes to feed my son. I put him down and begin the real work. I wash bottles and pump parts and dishes from my daughter’s breakfast. I’m breastfeeding, but I would like to have some semblance of a life without being on call every 2-4 hours, so I am also pumping. Pumping is another 20 minutes, at a minimum. At best it’s now 10:30am. I start to collect the laundry. I’m distracted by my daughter’s bedroom, which looks like a teenager tried on 72 outfits before going to school. (Oh wait, she did.). I start to make her bed. The baby starts fussing. I ask him to hold off on his crying, but no dice. I’ve made her bed, but I stepped on six babydolls to get back to the baby. I hold him. I beg him to stop crying. I remind myself that he is supposed to be my only priority right now. He finally gives in to me. I put him back down. I see the pile of unwritten thank you notes on my kitchen counter. I decide I’m going to focus, sit down, and write them. All of our friends and family were so generous, the least we can do is thank them. I write one thank you. I open my phone to find the address I need, and I’m distracted by the 6 text messages and 4 emails I haven’t answered. I do so. As I move on to the next thank-you note, the baby starts crying again. I look at the clock. It’s 12pm. He’s due for his next feeding. Ok, I get that done and then I can focus. I feed him. He falls asleep, so I pump for a short while. I wash the bottles and pump parts. It’s now 1:15pm. I haven’t eaten breakfast. Or lunch. I decide to make myself something quickly. I realize the dishwasher hasn’t been emptied. Do that. Reload it with everything that’s in the sink. I now see we have no groceries. Make a mental list of everything we need. Make myself “brunch,” which is nothing like the brunch I’d be having on vacation. Back to collecting all the laundry. I hear the baby again—he has had a blowout that requires not just a new diaper, but a new outfit, and the bouncer has to be cleaned. Do that. It’s now 2:30pm. I promised myself we would go for a walk today because it’s so nice out. I change into something that’s socially acceptable (clean yoga pants), and I check the diaper bag for the necessities. I am putting my shoes on, when the baby starts wailing. How is it already time for him to eat again? He’s had three meals in the time I had less than one. I feed him. I change his diaper. I get him ready for our walk. It’s now 3:45pm. I have one hour until it’s time to get his sister.

We walk. Except it’s nothing like a walk on a beach. It’s a walk where my mind wanders to my mental to do list, and I spend all of the time beating myself up for the things I cannot seem to accomplish. Why can’t I get anything done?? How do the days escape me?

We pick up Brielle and go to the park. She is upset because I brought her the wrong snack. There is yelling and crying. There is apologizing and hugging. I’m unsure if it’s a parenting win or a parenting fail, but we’ve moved on.

As we head home, I realize we have nothing on the agenda for dinner. I’m thankful for the Seamless App (and I am sure Seamless is thankful for me). We get home at 6:30pm (which would be happy hour on vacation) and the baby is due to be fed. I feed him. We get baths accomplished, which is a circus act. Bedtime for the toddler- another circus act, but one that involves rings of fire, throwing knives, and a walk along a tightrope.

It’s now 9:00 p.m., and I can barely keep my eyes open or form coherent sentences to have a conversation with my husband. I’m beat. Mentally, physically, and emotionally drained. I will feed the baby once more before I crash, and I will feed him two more times before my toddler (and husband) wake up to start this Groundhog Day all over again.

I may not be showing up at the office, but I assure you this is work. This is real, hard, challenging work. It’s not “time off.” I’m not “checked out.” And, it’s hardly a vacation.

Ashley Vallillo Manzi lives in Hoboken with her husband, three year old daughter, and newborn son. She is a family law attorney with Ziegler Zemsky & Resnick. With focus on prenuptial agreements, divorce, alimony & child custody, Ashley sees her role as "helping someone arrive at a new beginning." On the weekends, Ashley and her family love to go out for brunch, playing in Church Square Park, or chasing the birds along Sinatra Drive. With lots of friends and family (her siblings live here too!) this family is always on the go.