I went on maternity leave about a week and a half ago, and I have to say, it made me realise that I'd totally underestimated the implications of the concept of maternity leave, and how it can make women feel. When friends had started this period with their pregnancies previously, I just thought it was akin to them going off on holiday, time suddenly granted to focus on things they were interested in (and potentially underestimating the whole baby side of things!).
My leaving work (which in itself is a different concept for me, as I'm a freelancer, so there's no definite plan or structure within which to return to) coincided with the same weekend that we were making the big move, and transporting our lives full-time to Worthing, on the south coast. We've been living in two places for two years, or thereabouts, and it's always worked really well, providing the best of both worlds, the hustle and bustle and excitement of London, with the welcome contrast of total downtime and outdoor pursuits at the weekend.
So, in one day, I had a double whammy. No more working and feeling like an independent individual through making my own money. And no more London, no more my flat that I'd owned for 8 years. All change.
I'm going to admit, I had a bit of a freak out. It was short lived, one evening of wondering what the hell I was doing, coupled with all of the normal last minute fears of being about to give birth and wondering how all of the change of becoming a parent and a family would affect my (admittedly pretty selfish) existence.
I think what scared me most was (1) I felt that I was defined to some degree by these things - by working and being good at what I do, and living a busy existence in London, having the latest restaurants, galleries and theatre at my disposal whenever I wanted them; and (2) that the change would be one that would mean that I would be bored. That slowing down full-time, as opposed to a weekend contrast, just wouldn't suit me. That I'd be running screaming away from the sea-side, and spend more time on the train trying to get back to my old life than I ever had when I actually lived there.
The last year has been a big learning curve for me generally about the importance of slowing down. When we started to try to have kids, I knew I was potentially going to have issues (I have polycystic ovaries), and after some disastrous initial experiments with a more medical approach of addressing this, I decided to take the natural route and use acupuncture, diet, cut out drinking and generally look at my lifestyle to see if this helped.
When the first thing that my acupuncturist said (and actually a previous doctor had said the same, but I'd chosen to think he was an idiot) was that there was a high potential that I was exercising too much, doing too much, and generally putting too much stress on myself, I felt tearful at the idea that I'd have to let some things go (which should have been a warning sign right there). Referred to as many things, but ultimately relating to having adrenal stress, I agreed to tone down the exercise, and to just try and slow down a little.
I swapped circuits for yoga. I tried to take on a few less projects in my own time. I made myself get a decent amount of sleep. And I started to prioritise my spare time over long hours at the office. I got pregnant when we took a full month off to go travelling, no small coincidence.
And I liked it. I'd felt better than I had for years. My sleep was less disturbed. Things like my weight and general health just evened out naturally.
And yet, I felt the same wave of panic the other week, again at the thought that somehow I wouldn't be achieving as much, that my ambition would be thwarted by all of these new life changes, and I'd feel like I was living in a suburban nightmare.
I'm 1 1/2 weeks in, and obviously we are yet to feel the full brunt of everything the new baby will entail; and we have lots of other life changes we're considering at a broader level. But, rather than spending the last week and a half climbing the walls, I couldn't have enjoyed myself more. Sleep is at a bit of a minimum this late in pregnancy, so I've had naps (and they are awesome). After the first few days of crashing through my to do list, I've spent time just letting myself do the things that I enjoy, but never have enough time for. I've been drawing, writing, I've got outside and got fresh air whenever I can. I've cooked, and am starting to rediscover the love of food that pregnancy has all but killed for the last 9 months. I've read, rather than spent all my time on social media. I've had a bath each night, and listened to the various affirmations that I'm supposed to be preparing for the big event.
And again, I've loved it. I've felt healthier and happier than I have in months. No stress about meetings. No manic commute. No feeling like the day is over before it's begun when you're cramming in dinner at 9.30pm.
I know it will be short-lived, as we have a host of new responsibilities coming our way, but I say, appreciate the down-time. Cut out some of the projects that you feel are 'must-do's' because often that's self-perpetuated. Say No more often. You might just like it.