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What I Actually Did On Maternity Leave

Author: Charlotte O'Shea

During my maternity leave, I mostly sat on my backside.

Honestly. Due to the amount of time spent in front of the television (and the fact the post pregnancy water retention enabled my thighs to resemble a set of squishy decorative cushions) I almost moulded myself into the sofa.

In the first 8 weeks following Iris’s arrival into the world, I watched all 7 seasons of Game of Thrones. Yep, all SEVEN. Never watched it before, never been that interested to be honest, yet I became totally and utterly obsessed.

I consumed an inordinate quantity of malteasers, custard creams and sugary tea.

I looked at my baby. A lot. I sang to her, stroked her dark fluffy bonce, fed on demand and breathed in every ounce of her beautiful, delicate innocence.

I thoroughly enjoyed every fleeting moment.

After Mabel my eldest was born four years ago, I was in a very different place in terms of both my career and a seemingly resolute desire to fit into my pre pregnancy skinny jeans. As soon as I was given the all clear from my consultant (4 weeks post c-section) I was doing dance aerobics as though my life depended on it. I climbed aboard the “clean eating” train, I gave up caffeine, and was back to the daily grind a couple of days a week. When you run your own company, it’s rarely an option to take any kind of lengthy maternity leave, not only is the funding of it an issue, but there is the obvious question of who is going to take the reigns in your absence.

I genuinely thought I was doing the right thing, for myself, for Mabel and for the business. Getting back to my usual fit, ambitious and motivated self was a huge part of feeling like “me” again and gaining control of my new role as a working Mum.

Looking back I was bloody exhausted. I hadn’t given myself time to heal. I didn’t know it at the time, but my over enthusiastic planking, ab crunching and weight lifting, only proved to accentuate my diastasis recti (abdominal separation) meaning my core stability was shot to shit, and sometimes even the simplest of tasks, became an absolute ball ache.

This time around I was determined to take some much deserved rest. My second pregnancy was dogged with unpleasant side effects that I hadn’t experienced during my first. Sickness, pelvic girdle pain, tinnitus (I know WTF?!), acid reflux, nightly leg cramps, insomnia…..I was like a walking zombie by the beginning of 2018 and I couldn’t wait for my baby to arrive in a few months time so I could get off the merry go round of nausea and discomfort. Yes life with a newborn has it’s challenges, but it was a welcome relief to actually desire junk food, sleep (albeit random times of the day) and not have to compose professional communications with clients, whilst simultaneously knocking back Gaviscon like it was going out of fashion and throwing up in the downstairs loo.

I hired a new PR & Marketing lady who would also be managing various customer accounts in my absence and set up an interim team structure that meant at least for the outlined period of my maternity leave (I aimed for 3 months off and a gradual return from June – Iris was born on the 3rd March) the company would run as normal.

From the moment I arrived in hospital to the first day I “returned” to my desk, I honestly didn’t really think about work at all. Instead I enjoyed sitting on my arse, watching Game of Thrones, eating all the confectionary.

Of course James, Mabel, Iris and I had visitors, lots of lovely visitors! But they had to make their own hot beverages, bring their own treats and nobody out stayed their welcome. And I made sure there were days when I didn’t have to see anyone at all apart from my tiny bundle of joy. Selfish or not, some days I just wanted it to be her and I. I did the bare minimum amount of laundry and cleaning required.

I’m not suggesting that you should use maternity leave as an excuse to resemble a sloth (although if you want to, who cares – it’s such a short time in the grand scheme of life) providing the weather was ok, I did go for a walk around the village most days so Iris and I could have some fresh air and I could ahem… think about what was going to happen in the next episode of GOT.

In the evenings I made the effort to have a relatively healthy meal – which included various vegetables. I also drank as much water as I could – inbetween the oversized mugs of English Breakfast. And I tried (but often failed) to eat an apple/orange/nectarine a day. We all know essential nutrients and stretching your muscles are pivotal in the body repair process yada yada. But I did absolutely no exercise at all until I felt my body was ready. I managed 10 minutes of beginner level pilates, when I felt I had the energy, and not until a good few months after Iris was born.

Did I fit into my jeans as soon as I did after the arrival of my first born? No. Did I give a flying whatsit? No. I just bought bigger jeans. And with a flare leg. ALWAYS a flare leg – so. flattering.

My maternity leave was perfect. For me. I don’t regret a single second. And I hope if you are reading this, and yours is impending, that you take the appropriate time to heal. You just grew an entire human. Listen to your body.

Take the biscuit, It’s calling your name.

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41 thoughts on “What I Actually Did On Maternity Leave

  1. Lovely post Charlotte. It’s always come across like you regretted going back to work when you did with Mabel, so it’s good to read that you hopefully rectified that a bit with Iris. However, bear in mind that if you hadn’t worked so hard the first time round then you might not have been in the position to take more time off the second time round! So hopefully it’s all worked out in the end xx

    1. Hi Katie! yes you would be absolutely right – `I did always regret it. I have taken a much more manageable approach with Iris. I think I need to start on Grey’s Anatomy! x

  2. Oh and also, my Mat Leave telly of choice was the entirety of Greys Anatomy. I’ve just started watching the current season & the theme music takes me right back…

  3. A timely reminder thanks Charlotte! I’m in the early days of mat leave with my little girl (my second) and definitely enjoying it a bit more this time round! I still sometimes feel like I should be doing more on my days just with her but most of the time as long as she’s had lots of cuddles and we’ve managed a walk and/or a coffee with a friend (fresh air and a chat keep me sane!) I’m happy at the end of the day. Bonus if I get the washing done too! And days with my toddler as well we just try to make it through the day with minimal tantrums (from all of us!) I’m working my way through all 8 seasons of Suits at the mo! Xx

    1. Amanda this sounds perfect! After about 3 months I did a sensory class with Iris, my friend Anna and her daughter on a Wednesday morning, afterwards we went to the pub which was within walking distance (!) it was as you say lovely to have a chat and get out of the house for a few hours x

  4. I’m glad you’ve remedied your misgivings about your first maternity leave with your second. For me, it was the other way around. I was lucky to get 15 months off first time by holidays, accrued holidays and bank holidays but quit prior to maternity leave with my second and moved the other end of the country. Because we didn’t have my income and because of the age gap and not qualifying for 15 hours childcare, I had both children at home with me ALL DAY. I didn’t get the sitting on my arse time I had with my first with my second because I had the eldest to entertain, keep busy and get out of the house.

    Do I regret it? Yeah a bit. I got a job easily on my return so we could have afforded the extra childcare but we didn’t know that at the time.

    Do I feel guilty for not having one on one time with the second? Yeah, probably.

    Can I do anything about it? No. Mneh. It is what it is right?

    I get the feeling you are building up to some kind of announcement here Charlotte. A scaling back of RMF and then a happier zen you at home? Are you about to retire??!

    1. Also not to burst your bubble re GOT but I find binge watching so much better than week by weeking. But you have to week by week otherwise everyone gets ahead of you and the damn Daily Mail side bar of shame spoilers you. But the anticipation builds more as a binge fest. Dilemma.

      We did 1-6 in a one-er but then season 7 week by week. Season 7 not so good.

      Season 8 better BRING IT BACK

    2. It is what it is – we can’t change the past, but hopefully remedy the future in some way. Ha – yep, I’m going to throw the towel in and emigrate to sunnier climes….does sound quite appealing 🙂

  5. Lovely having a Charlotte O’Shea post to read with my morning coffee hit! We have started to try for baby number 2 (with IVF) and you have made those early weeks sound like heaven to this tired, battled scarred mummy of a tantruming (but too gorgeous for words!) 2 year old. Fingers crossed we get pregnant and I can stockpile those box sets 😉

    1. I have all the love and luck digitally coming your way Sarah! I was very lucky in that Mabel was in nursery full time – I imagine juggling the two wouldn’t have involved GOT box sets! x

  6. Welcome back Charlotte! Completely the other way round over here! Baby no 2 is 9 weeks and I’ve long since devoured The Crown (more please!). I did the sitting, eating and generally not doing much with number 1 baby almost three years ago. This time I’ve taken up the ‘get moving, exercising’ mantra far far sooner. Do I regret it? Not yet!

  7. What a gorgeous photo of you and Iris! Sitting on your backside has certainly served you well! lol. Delighted to hear you enjoyed Mat leave. I head off in January for my second maternity leave and with a toddler in tow this time it is hard to imagine the dynamics at the minute. First time around I did very little, slept when the baby did (which wasn’t that often to be fair) and got through several sets of box sets.
    Looking forward to spending time with the toddler too! I currently work a five day week so feel like I have a lot of making up to do with her too. xx

    1. I’m sure it will be lovely Helen, you never know – your eldest might play for a bit whilst you watch telly, Mabel was never great at entertaining herself (still isn’t!) but I know a lot of littles that are x

  8. I have done the sitting on my arse eating all the sweet stuff I can find approach to both maternity leaves!
    I have made some local Mum friends this time around (we moved house after number 1) and they’re all talking about diets and getting back to exercise. I’m just sitting in the corner sniffing my babies head and wiping the crumbs off him 😂

    1. Ha ha ha! It’s enough to look after another baby, and wipe crumbs…I’m back to a bit of HIIT now but Iris is almost 8 months old x

  9. Sounds perfect Charlotte! Although I still can’t get into GOT. I watched Grey’s Anatomy in the early days of my maternity leave.

    I’m now in the middle of maternity leave, people keep asking me if I’m ready to go back to work yet; I used to be career focused but I haven’t thought about work since I waddled out on my last day.

    We’re still in bed, I’ve got a cup of tea and we’re just gazing at each other and grinning (and she’s got a handful of my hair). Although we’re past the initial housebound period, some days we don’t get out of our PJs and I still take naps with her. I had plans to do *things* while I was on maternity leave – I was going to paint the kitchen and grow some herbs – but they seem so unimportant compared to the singing and the playing and the cuddling. We enjoyed baby massage (more gazing into each other’s eyes, although she did smell like a roast potato by the end of it) and we’ve started going swimming, but other than that we don’t do any organised activities.

    I’m also just getting to know this new version of me, the softer version that cries because I’m overwhelmed by how cute the baby is 🙄 this version of me has a bigger bum and thinner hair but she seems pretty chilled about it.

    1. Lizzy this sound just like me! I laughed out loud at the growing herbs bit – I was all for learning new recipes, even bought some new books….think they are on a shelf somewhere. The roast potato….. 😂 Iris grins and laughs all day, I may sound like an arse but I simply like spending time with her more than nearly everyone else, so I do. She’s literally a ray of sunshine x

  10. I love this post, Charlotte – this sort of message is SO important for new mums. It isn’t about doing things a certain way post-birth, it’s just about doing whatever feels right for you and not feeling pressured by society and instagram to ‘bounce back’ quickly. I know this isn’t possible for everyone and that makes me sad – new mums are actually heroes and should get to do whatever they want basically.

    Also I’m well jel that you got to watch GoT all at once like that, must have been EPIC. I can’t waaaait until next summer for the final series, omg.

    1. Kate I can’t believe I never got into it before?! Kind of glad but also feel I’ve missed out on years of GOT related chat?!!! The last episode of the last season 😱

      And “Hold The Door”…..blew. my. mind.

      Then I had another biscuit.

      😉

      x

      1. I did have epic office chats going over the various ‘theories’ with a couple of colleagues HOWEVER bingeing it all means everything was fresh in your mind whereas I allllways spent the first few episodes per series going “Wait, what happened to that guy again? Are those two related? WHO IS THAT?” which wasn’t ideal.

        “Hold the door” was definitely one of the highlights, incredible and completely mental. Also the Red Wedding when, like, EVERYONE died was one of those “oh yes, GoT is unlike any other TV show” moment. To be honest, I’m still not over the fact that Ned Stark is dead (and if that’s a spoiler for everyone then you’d REALLY better hurry up coz you’ve got a long way to go before Season 8).

  11. This is music to my ears, I’m currently on mat leave with my 5 month old (seriously, how fast does time go?!) still in my maternity leggings (partly due to csection complications and partly because they’re so friggin comfy!) and am taking it so slow. I’m too scared to exercise properly – still suffering the effects of mammoth labour and complicated csection and felt bad that all I was doing was the physio exercises that I’ve been given. So I feel bad that I’m slobbong about, still a stone heavier than I was before getting pregnant and then I read this blog post. Thank you, we shouldn’t beat ourselves up about not ‘bouncing back’ and running around like a blue arsed fly taking our cherubs to every baby group going, it’s ok to devour box sets and eat malteasers – I recommend greys anatomy especially now the baby hormones have calmed down, it makes me cry every single time!
    Though you did also encourage me to go to the fridge and eat an apple 😂

    1. Ellie have a biscuit after the apple 🙂

      I haven’t weighed myself since I had to get weighed at my six week check, I just do as much as I can when I can and own a few pairs of spanx for when I need to go “out” and attempt to wear something fancy (hardly ever – although I do have a ball on Saturday!)

      5 months is nothing, it was 7 months before I even attempted HIIT, and that was only Joe Wicks beginners. It’s on Youtube and free. But promise me you will sit on your bum for a good while longer, and only get back into doing “stuff” when you’re good and ready x

  12. This is very inspiring, Charlotte! About to go on maternity ‘leave’ myself (although I’m unsure how much I’ll actually be able to detach from work). Will definitely be taking a leaf out of your book and prioritising sofa time with my babe when he/she arrives! x

    1. Sophie so excited for you!!!!! Have you got someone to run the boutique in your absence? If you have a good foundation/business in the first place, it should essentially run itself for a while. You can eat biscuits and and watch all the programmes in the interim x

  13. Interesting read on my lunch break on my first day back at work after my second (and last!) mat leave! 🙁 I’ve done 10 keeping in touch days so it’s not a huge shock to the system but it still feels like the most amazing 9 months is over. I didn’t really enjoy mat leave with my first (PND, no meds) but with my second it has been amazing (more PND but on meds, thank god!). Getting to know this amazing wee boy has been so much fun (although the first 3 months were tough, he screamed CONSTANTLY!), and getting to hang out with his big bro everyday has been a brilliant, unexpected bonus of a second mat leave that I wasn’t expecting. I’ve no idea how people watch box sets with a baby though, I didn’t manage it either time, toddler or no toddler, when do you find time, what did I do wrong?! 🙂

    1. Laura you didn’t do anything wrong! And I’m so glad this second maternity has been kinder to you. I didn’t go out all that much – so whilst Iris was napping/feeding/sitting on my lap I watched telly. I could have done more housework/joined in with some baby clubs/taken some pictures for instagram (No idea how some folks have the time/inclination for that every day with a newborn) but I chose to watch TV instead. I hope your return to work goes well x

      1. Aw thanks love, I do kind of wish I’d done more of that but I don’t think I’d have had the concentration span! Re runs of Friends which I know by heart were about as much as I could manage if I did manage to get them both down at the same time (rare!). Hope your return goes well too, it’s a thought but I think the reality won’t be as bad, and the prospect of multiple hot cups of tea (and biccies, obvs!) goes a long way!

  14. So glad you’ve had a fab maternity leave and love the honesty in this post. I just wondered how the age gap between the two girls played into this, do you feel you would have been able to do the same if Mabel was younger/or not in nursery full time? Just debating age gaps if we are fortunate enough to have a second child, and so many people have said to me that my second period of mat leave would be SO different to my first (in a negative way) and this is sort of a breath of fresh air to read! xx

    1. Honestly India, I wish people would keep heir bloody negative opinions to themselves, everyone’s experience is different and I have always made sure that I tell any expectant mothers I know about the good stuff 🙂

      We have a four year age gap, Mabel had a bit of jealousy in the beginning and then ignored Iris for a while as she couldn’t get a “reaction” back as such – but now they rub along nicely, Mabel entertains her sister with dancing, singing and generally being a small ball of energy (!) it’s all good fun, sometimes it’s exhausting admittedly, but that’s just life. Mabel being in nursery has definitely helped with me dedicating my time completely to Iris, but I have friends with smaller age gaps and and their kids nap together/play together etc so they have managed to make it work x

  15. This is my last week of maternity leave. I go back to work on Monday after a year off. I definitely ate all of the biscuits and cakes and sat down a lot. Who doesn’t love a good sit down?! I got through the entire series of Gilmore Girls which I’m pleased with. But I made sure me and my baby boy got out everyday for fresh air and we went to baby classes, still do. It’s all about balance. I’m not the same person after becoming a Mum and that’s ok. What I will take away from this last year are that naps are amazing! Especially when your 1 year old still wakes 5 times a night. I’m glad you had a lovely maternity leave.

    1. Hi Natalie, sounds as though you have had a wonderful year. It is all about balance, admittedly mine was swayed heavily towards biscuits and TV in the beginning, but now I’m balancing it out with more exercise and slightly less sugar 🙂

      I’m currently doing sing and sign on a Wednesday morning – I’m really enjoying it! as is iris it would seem x

  16. Charlotte it’s so so good to hear your “voice” and to read about your maternity leave which sounds idyllic. I think you were really courageous and it’s a measure of your confidence in your team and your business that you could do this and I’m so so pleased that it’s been this magical time for you. Also Iris is so adorable- her dark hair!! Those eyes!! I often look at my two and think how can the same parents produce such different children! Siblings are great.

    Unless you’re a Lannister.

    1. ‘Unless you are a Lannister” 😂

      DYING.

      Iris is actually going quite ash blonde (!) genuinely thought she would stay dark but no…my genes are clearly dominant 🙂 x

  17. This feels really bittersweet to read – I had two fairly close together and the cost of childcare was too high for us to leave our oldest in once the baby was born so I had them both at home full time. Which definitely had amazing benefits but meant that the baby just slotted into life with our toddler and I never had a period of hanging out at home with just the little one which sounds like it would have been lovely. But regrets are pointless and I still look back on that time with so much fondness even if it wasn’t particularly restful!

    Anyway, not to be a complete Debbie Downer! Your maternity leave period sounds lovely x

    1. Sounds wonderful Fionnula, and no, no point dwelling – there were times I thought I should have had Mabel at home with us both, and not at nursery. No matter what you do there will always be some level of guilt attached, it’s just part of motherhood I guess. Your two will be such good friends! x

  18. Ahh Charlotte, with 6 weeks left until I finish work to go on maternity with my first baby, this is so refreshing! All I get told is how ‘busy’ I’ll be. This has reminded me that at least to begin with, having a rest is ok!!

    x

    1. Oooh exciting Katie! After a few months I set myself an hour in the morning to “do” things, ie put a wash on, unload the dishwasher, tidy up (a bit ha!) and then I felt I could just do whatever for the rest of the day…balance and all that 😉

      You don’t have to be that busy if you don’t want, as much as I love my friends and family sometimes even going out for coffee just seemed too much of an effort…I just preferred to sit down, watch GOT, enjoy my baby and eat biscuits.

      I wish you the most wonderful time! x

  19. Love this Charlotte. I’m really hoping first time mum anxiety doesn’t mean I won’t have a similar experience.
    Gutted I’ve already watched GOT but at least I’ve got a load of biscuits.

  20. I am spending my mat leave chain eating Rowntrees Watermelon ice lollies. I was addicted to them in my final weeks of pregnancy with Evan (going into labour during the heatwave and missing one of the last episodes of Love Island was NOT fun) and the taste for them has never left me. I am always complaining I’m cold to my husband, whilst eating an ice lolly.

    On the whole exercising post baby thing. I found the six week check up from the GP utterly pointless. She missed my abdominal separation and told me I could go running again.

    This was and is a lie.

    The fact of the matter is that if you go for a run exactly six weeks after having had a baby you will only get to the top of the road before you realise you’re basically wetting yourself.

    Instead you should just stay at home, eat all the toast and all the ice lollies.

    On box sets…I started watching Power on Netflix (yes the one with 50 Cent in). The first two series were actually passable but 3, 4 and 5 beyond dreadful, however, I stuck with them purely because I have realised I will probably never get to finish anything again. So, for my last big accomplishment I chose to complete all of Power. She gets shot in the end but doesn’t die. There you go, now nobody else has to suffer through it.

  21. I’m super late to this – but hear hear!! Just back to work after my second (now 7 months), and had both at home for most of the summer, which was challenging to say the least and upped my consumption and chocolate and cake considerably… I still don’t fit in my clothes, and look back wistfully to the photos of me post baby number 1 when I was doing all sorts of exercise on mat leave and managed to fit into my old clothes quite early on. Sod it. I had a lovely time with my little boy, he is utterly adorable, and I didn’t want to give it up doing endless exercise. So be it. I have returned to work now for various reasons, similar time returning as for my first, and I’m happy. I know my two are well looked after, happy, content children. This is everything. So glad you enjoyed your time this year Charlotte.

    PS I watched all of The Bridge having never watched that before. Amazing. Also the subtitles are blinking useful while holding a screaming baby. 🙂

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