I debated whether to write a blog entry while on maternity leave as I am not currently practicing music therapy and this blog generally has been about my professional work. But then I realized that my identity as a full time board certified music therapist has now changed to a full time board certified music therapist/working mother. My professional identity has certainly shifted since Charlie was born in December, and maternity leave was an important time for me to adjust to this shift. So here is my report:
- It is very strange to go from working 40 hours a week, energetically leading music therapy groups with over 100 different children, to sitting at home trying to keep one child alive. My job dramatically changed overnight. I was so used to being extremely active and involved in the well being of so many children that it was quite a shock to find myself alone in my house with one child. And my only goal every day was to make sure Charlie ate and slept and that I maintained at least some bit of sanity. Most days went pretty well, but there were certainly rough days as well.
- Getting out of the house became a priority for my own sanity. Whether it meant going for a walk with the stroller or waiting till my husband got home and then running errands on my own, fresh air and a bit of freedom were essential for me! I also started going to a weekly new moms breastfeeding support group and this saved me! While I had minimal issues with breastfeeding, just the pure act of getting together with other women going through the same overwhelming experience was incredibly therapeutic. I learned so much from them, and I highly recommend all new mothers find such a group so that you don’t feel so alone those first exhausting weeks.
- Everyone asks about sleep – Are you getting enough sleep? Is he sleeping through the night? Are you always napping when he’s napping? No. No. And No. But I found my body quickly adjusted to this never-fully rested state. Plus since I wasn’t leading 20 preschoolers in multiple music sessions or chasing after toddlers all day, I didn’t need as much rest. Charlie and I had pretty low energy days and therefore I survived on less sleep.
- Physically I definitely had to deal with some new changes. I found that my singing voice was certainly out of shape having not sung “for real” in several weeks. I hadn’t even used my speaking voice nearly as much as I was home alone with Charlie all day and didn’t talk nearly as much as I would at work. When I returned to my church choir job 7 weeks postpartum, I definitely struggled to get my voice back to its usual strength. I simply had not been using my vocal cords or breathing muscles nearly as much as when I was working so everything was a bit exhausting. But on the plus side, I really had struggled in the last trimester with standing and singing in a choir because of being pregnant and all of a sudden that wasn’t an issue anymore! In the fall, I had to remain seated most of the time when I sang in the choir or else I would get dizzy and short of breath. But once I returned in February, I suddenly could take deeper breaths and had no trouble standing for an entire rehearsal. What a pleasant surprise!
- My guitar callouses on my finger tips disappeared. Not exactly career-threatening but strange nonetheless! When I first was learning guitar, I was so proud when I finally developed callouses on the tips of the my fingers on my left hand; it felt like such an accomplishment! And after only a few weeks being at home, not playing the guitar, I felt a little sad that I had lost my badges of honor.
- During my maternity leave, I had grand plans to write all sorts of new songs, practice the piano all the time, learn the ukulele, read up on new research, etc etc. And now twelve weeks later, none of that happened. Oh well.
- I was surprised by what songs came out of my mouth when I started to sing to Charlie. For me, picking lullabies or a song to soothe him during a diaper change wasn’t something I had planned out. “You are my sunshine” instantly became a staple and I have no idea why. It’s a music therapy standard for sure but I don’t think my parents used it as a lullaby. But nevertheless it popped into my head. A quite annoying song from the musical Bye Bye Birdie also became one of my greatest hits these last three months. “We love you Conrad, oh yes we do. We love you Conrad, and we’ll be true. When you’re not with us, we’re blue. Oh Conrad we love you.” In the show, which I musically directed several years ago, the posse of teenage girls sing this little ditty over and over again to their heartthrob rockstar, Conrad. It’s incredibly annoying to say the least. And yet, that is what I started to sing to my little Charlie, substituting his name. Lately as Charlie has become much more responsive physically and vocally to music, he’s loved Laurie Berkner’s “We are the Dinosaurs” and “Itsy Bitsy Spider.” And if I or my husband sing “Solla Sollew” from Seussical he almost always coos along.
- And lastly, and most importantly, we all survived the 4th trimester! Every new parent should be given a medal at this point. For real. Maternity leave is not a vacation. Instead it is 12 week long on-the-job training/crash course for this brand new career of motherhood.
Tomorrow I put my music therapy hat back on and hurl myself back into the workforce full time. I’m certainly anxious on many levels, but I keep reminding myself I love what I do and Charlie will be in excellent care. But it does seem unfair that parents have to go back to work so soon during such an important part of their child’s development. Excuse me while I get on my soapbox briefly, but now more than ever I believe in increasing funding and government support for much more paid parental leave (that’s right – dads and partners deserve bonding time as well!). 12 weeks is just when infants are truly blossoming in their development and we mothers are finally starting to feel a bit normal again. I am lucky enough to have taken 12 weeks but many moms have to go back even sooner. We are truly doing a disservice to our children and ourselves by not allowing parents to have more options to stay at home with their children if they want, and I applaud employers who are taking the initiative to support their employees family choices. Stepping off my soapbox, I am so grateful for these last three months. I constantly remind myself how incredibly lucky I am to have had such a wonderful time bonding with my little man. I can’t wait to pick him up after my first day at work, take off my music therapy hat, and put on my newly minted motherhood hat.