The End of an Era (Maternity Leave)

As my maternity leave hurtles to a close, I find myself more nostalgic than ever.

Remembering those early days when Bill and I were up every two hours to feed Maya, and the world was dark and asleep, and it was only our little family awake, bleary-eyed, exhausted, but happy.

Tucking my black robe away in the ottoman and smiling at how, some days, I was so tired that was all I could manage to wear (or how, on other days, I’d been covered in spit up so many times the robe was all that was clean).

Finding a leftover size 1 diaper and marveling at how it ever could have been possible that she fit into it.

Getting Maya ready for a nap in her crib and remembering how she used to be neatly tucked inside of her swaddle, nestled up like the tiniest, most delicious burrito. Then opting not to put her down for a nap in a crib and instead, letting her settle into my chest, watching her tummy rise and fall, and savoring every single second of the quiet naps on me.

There is so much.

And I am so lucky.

These last six months have been, without a doubt, the most beautiful, challenging, enriching, fun, emotional, delightful, and messy time of my life (she types, having just taken a quick break from eating her salad to clean up a barf spill that somehow escaped her). They have shown me that I am a stronger, better person than I ever thought. They have reminded me of the parts of me need work, but that I am full of love, and my heart is good.

The phrase, “The days are long but the years are short” has never seemed to ring more true. Some days I felt like I barely scraped by. Other days I was on cloud nine, high off the scent of baby lotion and the feel of baby skin and the sound of baby giggles. Sigh.

If I was a sensitive, emotional, sentimental person before (and I was), motherhood has amplified it. I am obsessed with making sure I savor everything, now, this moment, that moment, the upcoming moment, that! I never thought I’d be a good mom and I certainly didn’t think I’d be this kind of mom, the feeling kind, the type suddenly drawn to things emblazoned with “MAMA” and who has a necklace with her kid’s name on it and who buys matching mother-daughter outfits and whose phone is wall-to-wall photos and videos of her kid (and to my friends who I promised I’d never change, I’m sorry)—but here I am.

And I am so happy to be here.

This long leave granted me so much I wouldn’t have been able to have otherwise. I got to know Maya so well, learning her little intricacies, figuring her out, realizing what she liked and disliked (all of which changed the SECOND I thought I had it figured out, but it kept me humble, you know?). I was able to explore so much with her, taking her to museums and out for food and to bookstores and to shop and for long walks. We got to do a ton together just as mother/daughter and that felt really fucking special. I got to watch her grow and learn and change right before my very eyes. I got to see so many firsts. What a serious privilege.

And being home meant I could document that for Bill, too, who I have an obsessive habit of talking to all day long because I liiiiike him. Which was everything! Truthfully, my biggest fear with having a kid was that my relationship with my husband would change—that we wouldn’t be us, that we wouldn’t find time, that we’d fight, that things would feel off. But things are somehow even better and more magical. He has been so gracious, generous, and loving, in all the ways he always was (giving me back rubs and pep talks when I had a hard day; tucking me in every night even though he, too, is bone tired; listening to me talk about all my feelings) and in new ways, too (surprising me with mornings to sleep in; baking after she’s asleep and I’m tired but dying for some chocolate chip cookies; telling me I look pretty even when my body still doesn’t feel quite right; extending endless patience just when I need it).

And, now I get to watch him share all of the incredible parts of him—the things that made me fall in love with him—with our kid, and that’s everything. Seeing his face light up when she gets excited as he walks into a room. Watching him get on all fours and teach her to crawl. Their special moments together in the morning, when the world is juuust waking up, and it’s the two of them (plus Obi) and I walk in after my shower and get to catch a little glimpse. We made a family built off of this love. Like, damn. That’s on another level.

Bonus: we also get to watch our first baby, Obi, be cute and snuggly and sweet with our new baby, Maya, and my goddamn heart bursts all over again.

Though I’m excited to return to a job I love and for Maya to make all kinds of new friends in daycare, to expand the village of people who love her, and to learn a bunch of new things, I’m sad to say goodbye to the craziness of being in it 24/7.

I will go back to work in less than three weeks. Maya will go to daycare. Bill, who only got a paltry two weeks with us (ayyy, fuck the U.S. government for not making six months of paid maternity leave available for all parents), will continue on. Obi will go back to holding down the fort at home on his own. Things will settle and we’ll get comfortable in our brand new kind of normal.

But I will always look back on this time in my life as the most incredible gift.

Thank you, Bill, Maya, and Obi, for making it everything.

Published by Crystal Maldonado

Writer and lover of pretty things.

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