There’s something that I’ve assumed for a long time, but that I’ve been waiting to really claim as truth until I was a bit further in. But now that I’m 8 months into a mat leave, I can say it: the second half is WAY better.
With my first kidlet, I went back to work after six months, and my husband got to take paternity leave. I remember being very jealous of his experience, and assuming that the second half was the “good half” that I just didn’t get to take. I remember wishing we could have swapped halves, so he could take the first months of sleepless nights and never-ending breast feedings, and I could take the 6-12 month window with its boundless curiosity, increased mobility, and longer stretches of night sleep. So with the second one, it wasn’t even a question of sharing parental leave. I was taking the WHOLE. DAMN. THING.
I did wonder though, as I went through those first six months again with little R, whether I had bitten off more than I really wanted to chew. Through sleepless nights, struggles with naps, painful breastfeeding challenges, and anxieties over weight gain (not to mention hormones and postpartum recovery), I suspected that I might actually be happier going back to work rather than dealing with at-home mothering for the whole year. I worried that the second six months would be just as bad as the first. I worried that an ugly fear would be revealed as an ugly truth: that it wasn’t the halves of the year that made the difference, but the parent taking the leave – that maybe my husband was just more suited to full-time caregiving than I was. [Cue socialized mom-guilt over not instinctively loving every single second of motherhood here.]
Fortunately, I’m happy to report that, at least in my case, I was RIGHT! (Woo hoo, how many times do we really get to say that about something to do with parenting, mamas? Excuse me while I shout it from the rooftops.)
The 6-12 month window really IS the better half, I firmly believe. I started to see a shift right after R turned 6 months, and I thought maybe it was just a phase, but now that we’re going on 8 months, I’m sure of it. It is SO MUCH BETTER! My little guy wakes up for one feeding most nights, but sometimes sleeps all the way through. He belly laughs when I tickle him and flirts with his twinkly blue eyes when I fetch him after a nap. He can often play on his own with toys quite happily for twenty minutes at a time, after which he crawls over to me with a big smile and pulls on my leg. I’m convinced he’s started using his own versions of two of the baby signs I’ve been showing him for weeks, and nothing makes my heart glow like receiving his communication. We’ve gotten into a good rhythm of breakfast, play, nap, and taking outings where he smiles and coos at strangers to brighten their day.
Now I know that this is not the case for every mama and every baby, and I count my lucky stars that this one sleeps fairly well and generally has a happy temperament. There are also things about life with R that still challenge me (I haven’t become a Stepford pod person!). There are days where he refuses to nap unless in the stroller, his continuing resistance to taking a bottle, his frequent clinginess as a “Mama’s boy” which means sometimes I can’t put him down or pass him to anyone else.
But I’m going to bask in this reassuring victory all the same. There WAS a light at the end of my tunnel; it wasn’t a mirage. I’m going to be grateful each day that I live in a place where a year-long maternity leave is in line with workplace law, because it’s good for my baby, good for me, and good for my family. I’m going to ride the rest of R’s first year out doing my best to focus on the fact that this is a special time I’m fortunate to have with him.
Whatever your particular mom-tunnel is right now, I promise you there IS a light at the end of it. It might be really far away, it might be only a little brighter than the darkness, but it IS there. And I’m sending you speedy vibes to get out of that tunnel asap, because from a mama who just came out into the sun, I know the tunnel sucks, and it’s really, really nice out here.