December 31, 2013

8 Lessons Learned After 8 Months of Maternity Leave

maternity leave

2013 was the best and most challenging year of my entire 29 years on this earth. It was the best because after a very tough pregnancy and 5.5 week hospital stay, I had two perfectly healthy identical twin boys, Nolan James and Evan William (aka, the #littlebabies).

Words can’t begin to describe how incredible it has been to watch these little dudes grow from less than five pounds at birth to 22 pound 10-month-olds with insanely vivid personalities…and they’re crazy smart (I know, every parent says that, but come see them and you’ll see why I say that!). If you care to read more about my birth story, go for it.

But, this year wasn’t all rainbows and unicorns. I was very honest when I wrote about my struggle with postpartum depression. I’ve overcome it, but many challenges have stuck with me throughout the rest of the year, and I struggle every day to chip away at my weaknesses. My hospital stay was so.incredibly.difficult. I’m glad I took as much time off work as I did to care for the #littlebabies and get physically/emotionally stronger, but when you love what you do in your career and spend eight months away from it, you feel incomplete.

To cap off the year, I thought I’d share the eight lessons I learned during eight months of maternity leave. These aren’t all related to parenting. Hopefully some of these life lessons will help you if you’re currently going through something difficult, or if you hit a few bumps in the road in 2014.

1. I’m much stronger than I ever thought I was. If someone would have given me a glimpse into my pregnancy future before it happened and told me everything I would have to endure and overcome, I would have never believed them. When the doctors told me I potentially had two more weeks to stay in the hospital before delivering than I initially thought I had, I had the biggest pit in my stomach. I honestly didn’t know how I would survive another two weeks. I didn’t think I had the strength to do it. It ended up being a little less than two weeks, but I did it. And I’ve gotten through every other obstacle that has come my way this year. Just when you think you don’t have the will to push forward, you dig deep and muster up the courage. It is possible to overcome what seemingly feels impossible.

2. I’m much weaker than I ever thought I was. I consider myself a strong person. I went through a very difficult few years in my early/mid twenties. I thought if I made it through that, there was nothing else I couldn’t conquer. Well, I still believe that, but I was a bit naive about the difficulty of future challenges. I’ve given in to my weaknesses too many times this year. I recognize that. I have given myself pep talks at the end of the day and committed to not acting or feeling a certain way the next day, but then something inevitably pushed down on my weakness button and caused me to buckle. I think as long as you continue to recognize your weaknesses and work at them, you may never 100% overcome then, but you can successfully manage them. That’s what I’m working toward. It’s totally unrealistic to expect perfection in any aspect of your life.

3. Having a support system in your life is vital. I wouldn’t have made it through this year without the support of my husband, family, friends and my work family. Period. No matter how strong or independent you are, everyone needs at least one person they can lean on and 100% trust when life gets tough. I am beyond grateful for every person who supported me and my family this year. If you could use a better support system, build one now before you need it! And it goes two ways – you need to support others before you can expect support in return.

4. 50/50 balance doesn’t exist. Aim for efficiency. If you think it’s possible to achieve work/life balance, sorry to burst your bubble, but it isn’t. There will always be something you feel is lacking – you aren’t home enough with your family, you didn’t put enough effort into that new client project, etc. Aiming for harmonious balance is setting yourself up for failure. Instead, try to find efficiency in your life. Be as efficient, productive and successful as possible with everything you do in life. You’ll miss the mark some days, and that’s OK. But you’ll feel a huge weight lifted from your shoulders once you choose the efficiency mindset over the balance one. I promise.

5. Seeking advice is important, but your gut/heart will never lead you astray. I did what most other first-time parents do – I got as educated as possible through books, research and other parental advice before the #littlebabies arrived. I revisited earmarked pages in books frequently during the first few months when I had no idea what I was doing (or what they were doing!). I got sidetracked and confused by advice from others, sometimes welcomed, other times not. The times I’ve listened to my gut have been the times I felt the best about the decisions I’ve made. I’m not saying don’t listen to others. I received phenomenal advice from people I trust, and I am so appreciative of that. But, I’m glad I’ve stuck to my guns on several occasions and chose to do what I felt was right. I won’t always be right, and neither will you, but sometimes good old intuition and instinct will be your best guide.

6. Letting go is one of the hardest things to do, but you must try. I’m the poster child for a Type A personality. I credit it for why I’ve been so successful in my career. However, some of those career strengths have morphed into parenting weaknesses. Babies are amazing little creatures, but sometimes no matter how hard you try to “go by the books” or do what you think/know is right, whatever you’re trying to accomplish isn’t going to work. And it can be crushing. This is one of those things I may never be very good at, but I’m working on getting better. I’ll probably never be the type of person who lets things roll off her shoulders and who doesn’t dwell on whatever is bothering her. But learning to let go, even just the slightest bit, is very healthy. When you feel the anxiety/stress start to creep up, choose the calm approach as often as possible. Deep breaths work magic.

7. Slowing down and appreciating the “little things in life” is essential. This is another one of those lessons I’m still working on. I’ve always zipped from one thing to the next, but most days I feel like my power button is turned to a crazy high speed. Here are two examples of what happened to me when I didn’t slow down:

  • I was tired one morning (let’s be honest – I’m tired just about every morning), and I was hurrying to get down the stairs holding Evan because he was really hungry. I was going too fast, and I fell down the top two stairs and hit the landing in the middle of our stairs. Thankfully, I didn’t dropped Evan. But I just about passed about because I was terrified, and I ended up with the most painful (and hideous) looking bruise. You can bet I gingerly walk down the stairs every time I have a baby in my arms now.
  • MAL and I went to breakfast a few months ago, and I ordered pumpkin pancakes. Our server must have only heard me say pancakes, because I got plain pancakes. But, I didn’t even notice they were plain until I already ate half the plate. I was too busy thinking about a million things, talking to Mike and checking something on my phone. Ridiculous, right? True story.

Now that I’ve been working on it, I’ve noticed I’m able to relish more in the small, yet incredible moments that frequently happen when you have a lot of life blessings.

8. What doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger. This is a mantra I’ve firmly believed in for a long time, but this year pretty much moved it to the top of my “life lessons” list. I told this to a friend of mine who is only a few years older than me and who is battling breast cancer right now. I know things happen that are so utterly terrible that you haven’t the faintest clue how you’ll get past it and come out the same person. But you can. And you’ll be a better and stronger person because you battled and conquered.

Your turn. What’s something you’ve learned in 2013?