Andrea Galligan's first maternity leave was a long nine months with little variation. The next time around she decided to bring playtime into the mix
Working across time zones in a previous job, I assumed I’d a good handle on juggling workload. But nothing prepared me for the physical demands of a newborn who operates on a gruelling 24-hour work-cycle. Birthing a new person, recovering from physical exhaustion and expecting to feed and tend to another entity around the clock, as a first-time mother, something more than my Fitbit wasn’t computing.
With no time to reboot the system, I stumbled through the mental fog, desperate to meet my baby’s needs.
Time slowed down, day blended into night and with no context as to when these insatiable demands would be met, normality seemed forever off-limits. Looking back at my first maternity leave, I was under-prepared in many key areas.
"My prevailing memory of my first maternity leave: a very long nine months of baby surveillance with little variation"
Colour-coded baby clothing and all the latest safety tech wasn’t going to protect me from the psychological tsunami that was coming my way.
When a routine was finally established, that I felt I'd made my own, I was sticking to it, no question. There’s no shame in leaving spontaneity at the door when you have tiny pockets of down-time to play with, crammed between baby-related to-do-lists. And that’s my prevailing memory of my first maternity leave. A very long nine months of baby surveillance with little variation. A rigid reality of my own making.
What wasn’t obvious to me was that the time spent tending to babies and children can double as parental creative time as well. Their art supplies, biodegradable glitter and unicorn stickers can be complemented by beautiful stationery procured from this ludicrously scrumptious list. The tasks in my diary that I often pushed to the end of the day before, were now something I enjoyed working on as my budding Piccasos scribbled beside me.
"In the UK, 75% of children spend less time outside than prison inmates"
And not only that, the classes that I once sought as space for me, were replaced by bringing baby along to the park and downward dogging with abandon or using local green spaces to simply clear the mind. Fearne Cotton’s Yoga Babies, illustrated by this talented Irish artist, served me inspiration on the really wet days.
At the weekends, getting outside the confines of the city became a non-negotiable, and a noteworthy achievement given how insular I’d once been. Meandering through bog, parkland or vegetable patches of a week-end, allowed all the members of our family to connect with nature and download calmness as a result.
In the UK, 75% of children spend less time outside than prison inmates, and with the time constraints of commuting, workload and childcare, this statistic is sadly not that surprising.
Maternity leave became the perfect time for me to make getting out into nature part of my baby routine, no longer a slave to the parenting guidebooks.
Finding farm animals to feed, collecting shells on the beach or stalking deer in the Phoenix Park got us outdoors, dirty and gave our overworked washing machine a real challenge for once.
3 hacks to help flip children’s playtime into adult downtime
1. Making their play my play: Time is a finite resource when running a home and parenting two children. By working on my journal during children’s art time, I was adding ‘me’ time to a schedule that once felt overwhelmingly child-focused.
2. Experimental meditation: Meditating while minding a new baby can be tricky. Babitation is the fun practice of being mindful while simply watching and mirroring a baby’s movements for as long as they are open to participating!
3. Family comparisons: Often living away from our families means we can be at sea with our newfound responsibility. I enjoyed hanging out with this minimalist family in Missouri and their attitude to simple living resonated with me, as did the journey of The Michalaks from hectic London to the more relaxed pace of Bath.
Next article: Andrea covers the topic of promotion while on maternity leave and the final return to work.
Andrea Galligan is a Content Creator and Communications Professional. She lives with her husband and two children in Dublin 3. She promotes the benefits of healthy outdoor play on her Instagram account @numu_dublin
Photograph: @Numu_Dublin instagram