Feelings about going on maternity leave

Today was the first day of my 16 to 20 week maternity leave. I’ll write more later about the more administrative details; today I was having all sorts of feelings about going on maternity leave and legally not being able to work for the next few months.

Since I work in HR, I read A LOT about the different gender equality policies around the country and around the world. Which companies have the best male/female ratio, which country gives the most maternity leave, which countries give parental leave for the father, which countries have quotas for female board members . . .

I don’t think there’s really a “best” answer. I can say that while it’s very reassuring to know I won’t lose my job because we chose to have a baby, and we won’t go into debt because of hospital bills, it’s also frustrating that I can’t continue to work longer when I am perfectly capable of doing so. I’m not sure how imposing a long break for women is supposed to help them gain workplace equality.

Not that I am at all upset to have this break! And it’s something we knew would happen, so it was a deliberate choice (well, as much as timing these things can be deliberate) to have a baby very early in my career rather than wait until I was more established. But I still had a few big projects I’d been working on for a while that I had to pass on to other people, which was extremely hard to accept. It feels like there’ll be this big blank in my CV and I’ll always have less practical experience in the field than others my age. So I really want to use my “time off” to continue developing skills and knowledge (languages, computers, policy, etc.) that I can put to use once I go back. (Those of you who are moms are probably laughing yourselves silly at my naïveté thinking I can study German vocab while sleep-deprived and nursing a colicky newborn. Don’t break my utopian bubble just yet, pretty please!)

I’ll actually be going back as soon as possible, since my husband is going to work part-time for a year instead of me at the end of my maternity leave (this option is made possible thanks to Luxembourg’s parental leave policy). It means taking a step back in his career as well, which we discussed at length before deciding what to do. The way we see it, he’ll get a “break” and get to spend more time at home than he otherwise would with his crazy hours. The housework/baby burden will hopefully be slightly better balanced than what often happens, making us both more efficient at work. (Again, no breaking my bubble moms! Trying to go into this as positive as possible!)

In the long term, we realize it will probably mean less money and less promotions for both of us, but making our family a priority now, before we have to make bigger career choices, seemed to make sense to us. In 20 years, will he really care that it took him an extra year to get a promotion when he was able to be so involved with his son’s early life? And I’m sure in a few years I won’t give two figs about these “empty” months in my CV when it meant being able to take care of our new baby myself instead of leaving him with strangers when he’s just a few weeks old.

I do realize how incredibly lucky we are to even have these options available to us. But the one option that wasn’t available was for me to continue working as long as I could physically, which annoys me. It would have saved the government money, and would mean a higher salary potential over the course of my career as well, which is also good for the government, since it means more taxes. It would have saved my company money since they’d need a replacement for less time. Even the train company would make money from me keeping my commuter pass longer.

Coming back to this idea of equality, maternity policies aren’t even fair to all women, since not everyone has children. If a company doesn’t replace a woman on maternity leave, it means more work for others without increasing their pay. The same goes for men and parental leave. Everyone knows the time isn’t being spent lounging around on the beach, and that having children is just as much work as a full-time job, if not more. (Ok, probably definitely more work.) But that doesn’t mean those you leave behind at the office aren’t feeling a bit of resentment seeing you walk out the door, or that when you come back you won’t feel some as well for all the opportunities you missed. I feel like the only way to be really equal is for everyone to get an extended period off at some point during their career, so that the career advancement and workload issues apply to everyone. (This is an insanely impractical suggestion, I know, but hopefully the reasoning behind it makes at least a little bit of sense.)

Most of these confusing ramblings are the result of the guilt I feel for getting this time off when it seems like I did nothing to earn it other than do what humans have been doing forever, and when so many other women around the world don’t have my options. I am grateful, I am annoyed, I feel guilty, I feel relieved, I want this, I don’t want that, I want everything . . . Basically all the feelings I can expect once I’m a mother, right? So if maternity leave is supposed to help me prepare for motherhood, it seems like I’m off to a good start!

 

Holiday birthdays

My husband’s birthday was this week, and I felt bad that I wasn’t in the best shape to fête it like we usually do. He was still on vacation most of this week, but went back to work on his birthday, which confused me, since if you have the choice, who wants to work on their birthday? But I don’t really know how people feel about “normal” birthdays, since I have a holiday birthday.

I was born on Christmas, which was a great present for my parents but has not always been easy for me. There are good things, like never having to work, and the food is always yummy, and people are in a festive mood. There are the bad things, like less presents, but as an adult you’re not really allowed to say that because by now you’re supposed to understand that Christmas is about more than just presents, right?

Growing up, my parents always said they would make me whatever I wanted if I didn’t want to eat the turkey with everyone else (though I rarely took them up on it; turkey and mashed potatoes is fine by me any night!) And I was very particular about my cakes (purple strawberry, cupcake cocktails). In France, since we don’t host the dinner ourselves, I have no say in terms of menu and dessert and even cake choices, which has been hard. But again, as an adult, you’re not supposed to make a big deal about things like this. It shouldn’t matter what you eat, Christmas is about being with family and celebrating other things besides whiny little you.

Despite not really knowing exactly when the bébé will come, he could theoretically be born on either July 4th or 14th. At first it seems like this would be pretty cool. But then I really think about it, and there would definitely be drawbacks. Yes he would have fireworks and we wouldn’t have to work, but unless we hosted a party, friends and family would probably already have other stuff planned that day. Or they’d all be on vacation (though this is a problem with all summer birthdays). And any party would pretty much have to be a barbecue. And if we didn’t throw a party, it would be hard to find a restaurant open that day if we wanted to go out. And eventually he would realize that all the celebrations and parades have nothing to do with him.

It seems like little, stupid things to care about, but if your birthday is supposed to be a special day just for you, holiday birthdays are hard because you’re automatically sharing it with everyone else. And it does seem like people try to avoid them as much as possible (though that might have more to do with hospital staffing than the mother’s choice):

(The chart and interactive table are just for the states; I would love if someone did something like this for France!)

In the end, birthdays are something you have very little control over, other than how you choose to celebrate. And holiday birthdays come with lots of built-in celebrations and traditions that you may or may not like.

But for my husband and his “normal” birthday, celebrations this year involved inviting his family over today and cooking for them, followed by a leisurely walk in the sun along the river. And really, when I think about it, that’s the same thing we do for mine: eating, talking, and spending time with loved ones. So no matter what birthday bébé ends up with, we’ll always try and do the same! (And if it is a holiday, and he doesn’t want barbecue, I’ll make him whatever else he wants to eat).

Unexpected things about pregnancy

There are lots of things I expected to happen while pregnant. Even without reading baby books, you see in movies and on tv things like morning sickness, fatigue, moodiness, gas, weight gain, etc. Then you start to read the books and you learn about even more “fun” stuff to expect like acne and heartburn. Or, in my case, two books: “What to expect when you’re expecting” and a random French book that is no help at all except to help me keep my dates straight. Maybe not reading a lot of different books is why there were still a few unexpected things about pregnancy for me. The few friends who’ve been pregnant in the past few years added a bit to my knowledge, but unless you see or talk to someone every day, there are lots of things you’ll never hear about.

And I know everyone is different, and I’m sure there are more surprises to come as I enter my third trimester, but there are a few things that really didn’t even enter my mind as possibly happening during pregnancy.

Like belly size. It changes! At first, it’s all bloating, which is so hard to accept because you’re just excited that you’re pregnant and even a tiny little bump seems so cool. Then one day, it totally disappears and you freak out when you wake up with a flat stomach and wonder if you can call the hospital with the symptom of “no more belly” but then you google it and it turns out it’s perfectly normal because everything that you saw before was just bloat and not the baby because he was only the size of a chickpea. Phew!

But belly size also changes during the day. Just like pre-pregnancy, you wake up with a smaller belly than you end the day with, depending on what you eat and do during the day. And then there are days you look gigantic for no apparent reason, and others you put on a hoodie and you don’t even look pregnant at all.

This is probably all because the belly is squishy, not hard. I’m not sure why this was so unexpected, but I wasn’t around pregnant friends enough to make a great study of their bellies. Also, I’m not one of those people who feels the need to touch a pregnant belly (besides my own), so if you judge just by looking, they all look round and hard, right? Not at all! I feel like I hear “basket ball” or “bowling ball” or “beach ball” associated with pregnant bellies, but that’s not really what I see on a daily basis. It’s definitely getting “harder” as the baby gets bigger, but at first, it’s weird to feel so much give and elasticity, you wonder if there’s really anything in there besides all the extra tacos the baby “made” you eat.

I knew that my belly button popping out was a real possibility. But I didn’t expect it to be such a slow process, and, just like belly size, to vary by day. You hear “pop” and you think of popcorn, a sudden POP! But thankfully there’s no noise, just a gradual depth reduction that might be my least favorite thing about pregnancy (I know, weird choice, right? But I didn’t realize how much I liked my belly button until it started changing). Mine is still an innie (just barely!), but I don’t know for how much longer.

Besides the unexpected discovery of new and mysterious aspects of my belly, I also wasn’t expecting to be quite so limited in what I can do. I was very active before, and have continued to exercise, but it’s more the daily things that are unexpectedly hard. Like stairs! So many stairs! At the train station, at work, up two flights to my apartment . . . I can walk or swim for an hour, but after five steps I am done!

And putting together furniture, one of my favorite things, takes way longer than before. This was really frustrating for me, since I am used to control and used to knowing my body’s limits. To be suddenly incapable of so many things I enjoy was extremely hard, despite “knowing” that my body is changing and using lots of energy to grow a baby. But I’ve finally gotten used to taking breaks every 20-30 minutes and just accepting that it will take two days instead of two hours to put a room together, and leaving 10 minutes earlier for the train to account for multiple breaks on the stairs.

There are lots of things I expected but haven’t happened. People have been pretty good about keeping the unsolicited advice to themselves, but maybe I am lucky and just know chill people. Or maybe they are waiting until he’s born . . . No belly touchers, no comments about weight, no side eyes over what I eat. So I still feel like overall, this is a normal, boring pregnancy, thanks to everyone mostly treating me the same, or at least, like a competent adult who doesn’t need to be reminded to not eat sushi. The unexpected things are more on the physical end, and no one can really know for sure what your body will or won’t do!

My not-so-hard, ever-changing baby bump.
My not-so-hard, ever-changing baby bump.

Grown-up talk

Remember when you were little, and listening to what the grown-ups were talking about after dinner was soooo boring?

Or remember in college when you would be around older siblings/cousins/TAs/whatever, and you were like “I’m so glad I’m still young and can have fun and don’t need to worry about things like IRAs and mortgages and babies?”

Last night we went out for a friend’s birthday, and while there was talk of upcoming concerts, and TV, and football (both American and soccer), there was definitely a lot of grown-up talk as well. People buying houses, changing jobs, looking for a good crèche.

And actually, I didn’t mind so much or find it boring. I must be a grown-up! When did that happen??

I gave lessons to a woman my first few years in France, and she was about 6-8 years older than me I think. I never asked her exact age, but she made reference to her 30th birthday when I was 23. I don’t remember if we were reading an article or discussing an expression like “mutton dressed as lamb” (still looking for a good French translation for that one) but she said she never felt the need to act or dress younger. She was totally fine with her age and was happy being an adult, being taken seriously at work, being able to do and have the things she wanted.

I, in my early twenties, smiled on the outside, and rolled my eyes on the inside thinking “yeah right, you’re just telling yourself that because it actually sucks getting older and you’re trying to reassure yourself.” (Well, I was thinking something similar to that, but less mean that it seems to have come out here.)

But now that I have reached my late twenties, I kind of understand what she meant. I wouldn’t say my “youth” is entirely over yet, but I don’t feel any much fear or regret about getting older. I enjoyed a certain kind of fun a few years ago, now I enjoy a different kind. One that involves sleeping a lot more, but also staying in actual hotels when we travel and ordering drinks without worrying if we’ll have enough for dinner as well. Our conversation topics have changed a bit, but our friends have changed right along with us, so it’s not like we’re alone in this. And I think that’s what scares you when you’re younger, is that you see older people individually, and you think of your individual life compared to theirs. But by the time you’re that age, everyone you know is the same age too, and it’s not so scary. Everyone’s life is kind of the same. Yes, there is a moment of panic when that first friend buys a house/gets married/has a baby (which is an even bigger moment if you are the first!) but it all evens out after a few years.

It’s not comparing our lives to our friends’ lives really, more like, finding ourselves in similar situations. Just like in middle school, everyone had pimples and braces at some point. If you were the first, everyone noticed more, but then it was over sooner for you, and you could pass on your sage advice to your friends.

So as “boring” as a younger me would have found it, last night was a perfectly nice evening out with friends, talking about the things that interest us and what’s going on in our lives, just like we’ve always done.

20 weeks pregnant – halfway there!

So here I am at the halfway point of my pregnancy! 20 weeks in, 20 weeks to go. I have been very lucky to have what I consider a fairly boring, normal, nonexciting pregnancy so far (knock on wood!).

While there was some definite queasiness the first few weeks, I didn’t throw up at all. No serious aversions besides yoghurt and eggs, which seems to have gone away. No crazy cravings, except preferring salty over sugary the first trimester, which also seems to have gone away and chocolate is back in my diet almost daily. This mild sweets aversion early on probably helped keep my weight gain in the acceptable range.

I’ve also managed to stay active, which I know is definitely helping with the weight gain. No running, since I had stopped running regularly a few months before I got pregnant, but lots of walking, elliptical, weights, yoga, or at least a little 10 minute video most days. I’ve been to the pool a few times, since my doctor’s advice for any aches and pains is to go swimming. As the weather gets warmer, I’ll hopefully swim more.

I seem to get symptoms one at a time, rather than all at once. So one week it was back pain, then another it was heartburn, another dizziness, then breathlessness . . . but it’s never super bad, and never every day, so about 80% of the time I forget I’m pregnant and I tend to blame symptoms on other things. Like, I’m definitely very tired most days, but I was tired before, and it’s winter so less sun which affects me a lot. Or like, I had weird digestion issues before, and winter food is heavier, lots of cheese, so I just assume stomach stuff has nothing to do with the baby.

I don’t know where this dislike of “blaming” the baby for things is coming from, but I’m sure it’s cultural to a certain extent (L wrote about cultural differences recently). So maybe I am trying to find reasons I am causing this, rather than someone/something else. Or it could just be that I still don’t totally believe that I am pregnant (I mean really, I can find an excuse for nearly every single “symptom”!), and I am having trouble picturing a baby in there/in my arms.

Though I think it’s also just kind of how I am. I prepare for things really well and then deal with them, knowing that I did my best to plan for different outcomes so whatever happens will happen. I am reassured by my research that my “I just don’t believe it” feelings are normal, so I’m not going to spend a lot of time trying to make myself feel a certain way about things. If it becomes more “real” in a few weeks, once the baby starts moving around, cool. If I still don’t believe it until there’s a bouncing bundle of joy that looks a little like me (but hopefully more like my adorable husband!) in my arms, then that’s just when it’ll happen for me.

So when people ask how I’m doing, I know that these confused feelings are not what they’re talking about! They want to know about the morning sickness and weight gain, and they almost seem disappointed when I say things are fine, like they’re expecting some horror story. The only really scary thing(s) so far are my boobs, which are out of control! I could pretend the tenderness in the first few weeks was because of too many pushups (despite not having done any) but I can’t ignore the size. Neither can my husband! But that’s not really something his mother’s friends, or my colleagues, or our banker, want to hear. I also think they don’t want to hear about my acne that hasn’t been this bad in 10 years (and it’s everywhere but my face, ew) so I instead I mention the lack of stretch marks on my belly so far (KNOCK ON ALL THE WOOD).

One thing everyone seems to enjoy are weekly bump pictures, and we’ve definitely been doing that. I seemed to “pop” around 16 weeks, so I’m sure there’ll be a more noticeable difference in the weeks to come than there was in the first few months. But still, looking back at week 5 and now at week 20, I can’t deny there’s definitely something in there, and not just too much tartiflette. (And holy cow, was I ever skinny four months ago! I’m thinking I should maybe hang onto some of this extra weight . . .)

Weekly Bump Photos

 

Hopefully I can write that things are still boring, normal, and nonexciting in another 20 weeks (though I’m sure the delivery will provide some definite excitement)!