I May Be On Mat Leave, But I’m No Domestic Goddess
I thought I would love maternity leave. I pictured lazy days in cute pajamas, nursing a baby while leafing through magazines (kind of like a stock photo come to life). I’d try out new recipes, work on “the baby book.” There would be long walks through the ravine, lunch dates, shopping trips. And when the baby napped? I was going to write a novel!
Man, was I ever wrong.
In the beginning, I found myself stuck on the couch in a ratty, milk-stained t-shirt while my baby gnawed on my breast for the fourth time in as many hours. When I remembered to surround myself with all the necessary devices (iPhone, iPad, magazine, water bottle, snack), I’d be content for a while. But after four days of mindless surfing, I was over it. I considered reading an actual book but the lack of sleep, combined with baby brain, made all the words too…wordy.
Meanwhile, my winter babies – one who’s now 3 and another who’s just 3 months old – put ravine walks on hiatus. And walking the mall was an exercise in frustration: not only was I too flabby to justify shopping (who wants to spend money on fat pants?), but I was broke to boot. Yeah, the whole “no income” thing got old fast.
Don’t get me wrong: I loved spending time with my babies. I loved bonding with them, witnessing their “firsts.” There were plenty of cozy naps, which was a treat, as was being able to do all those things I couldn’t while working full-time (you know, like making hummus from scratch and cleaning out the junk drawer – so satisfying!).
But pretty soon the domestic goddess I had envisioned transformed into a frumpy housewife. “This isn’t what I signed up for, “I’d think to myself, somewhat annoyed. As I learned rather quickly, being at home meant that I was actually responsible for the home. I could no longer ignore the laundry piling up in our bedroom or the toothpaste-crusted sink in our upstairs bathroom. When I was working outside the home, I’d let those things slide for days on end. But sadly for me, that was no longer an option.
Being maternally under-employed, I could not justify, let alone afford, to pay someone else to do my dirty work. And so a typical day consisted of nursing the baby, changing his diaper and doing housework – on a never-ending loop. Mixing things up meant visiting a new grocery store, or experimenting with new ways to remove baby poop stains (spoiler: nothing works). I’d tidy and clean as I went, throw in a couple loads of laundry and maybe – maybe! –squeeze in a gym class or coffee with a friend (baby in tow).
What I’m getting at is that maternity leave kind of sucked. And this realization was a bit of a slap in my feminist face. Try as I may to eschew forced gender roles, I couldn’t see a way out of this one. The reality is that I was the parent who could comfort my infants best, usually with a breast, which meant that the responsibility fell mostly on me.
I’m fortunate to have a supportive husband who is a partner in the true sense of the word – thrilled to do his part and then some, happy to have me at home or at work as I wish – but my maternity leave saw us falling into stereotypical gender roles. Someone had to watch the baby and assume responsibility for tasks essential and mundane. Sure, infants nap a lot, but while mine did, there were clothing bins to sort and carrots to steam (and mash and freeze). There was laundry to be done and toilets to clean. And, well, there was no one else home to do it.
A large part of my identity is based on my career. I was happy to put it on hold to do mom work, but didn’t realize i was assuming an entirely new, and equally demanding job: CEO of housework. Mat leave was supposed to be a break, not a job swap. Hard work and less pay. Who negotiated this deal?
Despite my venting, I do think that maternity leave is necessary and I feel lucky to have had the time off of work to bond with my newborns. I was able to recover from my c-sections, for starters, and I was also able to breastfeed my babies, which was important to me. Maternity leave, as I see it, is all about getting baby off to the right start in life. For this alone, I was happy to take time away from my career.
I just never realized it would involve so much housework.