The Truth About Maternity Leave

You may have big plans for your time off from work -- from sewing curtains to making scrapbooks -- but are they realistic?

Introduction

Maddy Morrissey, a Website designer in Herndon, Virginia, can laugh now when she looks back on her ambitious maternity-leave plans. She had every intention of chronicling each day on film, making her own birth announcements, and repainting the nursery a lovely pistachio green. As it turned out, the film wasn't developed for a year, her daughter Erin's bedroom stayed its original blue, and the beautiful birth announcements are still sitting on a shelf.

What got in her way? Oh, just a few unplanned events, including a C-section that limited her mobility for weeks; a painful little toe, broken when she hit her foot against the wall on the way to a middle-of-the-night nursing session; and several trips back to the hospital to treat Erin's severe jaundice. "My coworkers were jealous of my maternity leave," says Morrissey. "They kept saying, 'You're so lucky to have three months off,' as if it were some sort of vacation in the Bahamas! It was the complete opposite."

Like most pregnant women, you're undoubtedly looking forward to your much-deserved hiatus from work -- but be prepared for surprises that can sidetrack your best intentions. What's more, you'll probably discover that the weeks fly by in a whirlwind: Just as you're starting to feel settled and are really enjoying your baby, it will be time to go back to work.

When my daughter, Zoe, was born two-and-a-half years ago, I had all sorts of fantasies about what she and I would do during the ten weeks I was taking off from my newspaper job. The reality? If I managed to bathe both my daughter and myself on the same day, it was a major accomplishment. But now, thinking about what I didn't get done, I have no regrets. And neither should you, if you don't quite get around to brisk walks through the park, Oprah's latest book-club selection, or spring-cleaning your house from top to bottom. Here are some good reasons you can't do it all.

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