So in France the maternity leave is 10 weeks, yes, two and half months. Most people generously extend this with their annual leave, up to three or four months. As a Nordic mama, I took a few extra months of parental leave and now I’m already back to work, which I find actually quite relaxing in comparison to the maternity leave. My initial plan was to enjoy my maternity leave sitting in a sunny park, drinking take away coffee and reading magazines while the baby is sleeping in a stroller. Or have coffee with girlfriends while baby sleeping next to me peacefully. Well I did have quite a few cups of coffee, alone and with friends or hubby, even in the park, but usually this scenario included a curious little one wide awake, ready to have a meltdown any moment. During the first months I also walked countless kilometers through Paris with a baby in a carrier as he disliked the stroller, which is not so much fun as it sounds in those early weeks post partum (luckily French social security pays for getting one’s pelvic floor fixed.)
Some people told me that I will have time for myself during the first months when the baby is sleeping the most of the time. Muahahaha, our baby was wide awake long stretches of time straight after we got back from hospital, needing constant attention. The most time was spent actually figuring out how to put him to sleep. Some people might start a new project during their maternity leave, such as learning a new language or writing a book or a blog. I barely had time to order sushi during the first months.
Little did I know that babies can be fussy most of the time. They have physical growth spurts and mental growth leaps when they require more attention. Then they can get upset after vaccinations or when they are sick, most are irritated when they are teething. Even easygoing babies can get cranky at these times, but the ones who are already demanding, need even extra attention. And these phases are frequent, actually it is more rare to have some calm days in between. Oh and did you know that during the first 3 months most babies have stomach pains and colic wits? No, I did not know either.
Luckily from early on our little muppet was very curious and communicative, and when he soon started to smile, we did forgave him everything, such a charmer he is. Now at 7 months he’s a big boy, sleeping and eating well and getting more independent so it’s a very different ball game. But in the beginning there were some rough days, for which I have developed survival strategies.
- Go out. No matter how tired you are, always go out to get some fresh air and fresh ideas. If you can have a cup of coffee with another mama / daddy for some peer support, even better, but even a chat with sales person or a granny will do. (Yes, unlike in Finland, in France people actually strike a conversation when you are out with a baby)
- Take a shower every morning. Even if the little one will cry a bit despite your desperate attempt to place his bouncer close to the shower and sing to him, it is worth it to feel fresh.
- Forget about reading morning news in peace. When the little buddy gets upset after following me preparing coffee and breakfast, I take him in my arms and we drink coffee together (not him yet) and sometimes I read newspaper headlines out loud to him. He knows already a lot about Saudi Iranian conflict and the implications of Hizbollah interfering in Israel, so he can soon impress his peers in the day care with all this knowledge.
- Forget about reading paper books. I have started to read e-books with my phone, as you can easily do this while breastfeeding. I tend to avoid reading child psychiatrists and likes that might make you feel guilty for not looking your kiddo in the eye while breastfeeding – hello, this is the only moment of peace! In the first weeks after baby’s birth when everything was confusing, Yösyöttö by Eve Hietamies and Vuoden mutsi by Satu Rämö and Katja Lahti were life saviors (sorry non-Finnish readers, I’m not sure if these have been translated). You need a good laugh at that stage. Later I found The Wonder Weeks also helpful.
- After singing Saku Sammakko, a Finnish children’s song, a five hundred times in one day – by the way the song is a bit sexist, Hillevi Hiiri running away with that musician Hepokatti Heikki instead of good old Matias Myyrä and saying that woman is always a woman – I decided to make him listen all the Finnhits (and some world music too). Our favorite is Pariisi – Helsinki by Jari Sillanpää.
- I do some yoga and exercise with Youtube videos while baby is napping, I rather use the 30 minutes that he finally sleeps to clear my head rather than clean. I like Sarah Beth postnatal yoga classes, especially this one and I did Lucile Woodward post-grossesse series that my French midwife suggested. You will find only 15 minutes long episodes so there are no excuses.
- Instant glow beauty serum by Lumene – some people actually thought that I have slept through a night during the past 6 months, I wish… Thank god for the hormones whatsoever that keep me going. And coffee. Lots of coffee.
Now being back to work I can only say that despite the rough start, the past 6 months were the best time. For all new mamas and daddies I’d say relax, eventually they will grow up and cry less and eventually they will fall asleep every time. For the Finnish mamas I wish that you enjoy the long maternity leave, but remember that in some parts of the world the leaves are way shorter, so don’t feel guilty if you sometimes miss the calmness of the office. And the fact that you can actually finish your lunch in peace.