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Maternity leave, a moment for rest and reflection

drawer with baby things

This start of spring marks my return to work after four months of maternity leave. It was an immense joy and privilege to be able to fully enjoy my daughter’s first months of life. At the same time, this break proved to be full of challenges, as I like routine, certainty, and efficiency.

I had plans for my maternity leave, but ultimately I ended up doing “nothing”. First by necessity and then intentionally, I lived by the rhythm of my little one.

The fact that a newborn has no concept of time (they live in the present) or obligations (they expresse their needs without embarrassment) made me integrate many concepts which, I admit, were until now mainly in my mind. Here are a few:

  • Time passes whatever our state of mind. You might as well be present and savour every moment. Lately I've been thinking a lot about the Japanese concept of mono no aware (物の哀れ), which expresses nostalgia and the impermanence of things. We often don't know that we are doing something trivial for the last time. For example, it was only when I saw that a favorite pyjama had become too small that I realised that the previous time had been the very last time my daughter would wear it.

  • Taking the time is not wasting time. By slowing down, I learned to appreciate the process and not just the result. We are often in a hurry, which makes everyday life stressful. During my maternity leave I took great pleasure in spending entire days without commitments. This allowed me to meet new people, discover new paths, learn new things...all while doing everyday things. While going to the pharmacy one morning, I came across a gentleman who had just picked quinces from his garden. In addition to filling my bag and sharing his family recipes, he delighted me with stories from our neighborhood (and his daughter-in-law is Japanese like me!). A chance encounter that reminded me how taking our time can enrich our days.

  • Empty spaces create calm. Not only does emptiness help us calm the mind, whether in our home or in our schedule, keeping empty space allows us to better manage the unexpected. More concretely, this means giving yourself plenty of buffer time before an outing or dedicating a shelf as an “inbox” for gifts while you find a place for it in your home (or elsewhere). Beware of the “always in a hurry, always late” phenomenon.

  • It's enough to do what you can, even if it's not everything you want. We are encouraged to be ambitious, to want and achieve everything. Not only is this impossible, the very idea is unhealthy. Let’s be honest with ourselves about what we can do and say “no” or “maybe” to the rest. Changing or even canceling plans is a privilege that most of us should allow ourselves more often, new mothers or not. By consciously deciding what we are going to do, we minimise the anxiety of having to do everything or the guilt of not having accomplished everything we wanted. Even Marie Kondo recently said she prioritises time with her family more than tidying up.

  • Let's keep a mindset of kaizen (改善) or small daily improvements. A trick that works to put my daughter to sleep may not work the next day. Storage may no longer be suitable when clothes sizes change. Staying stuck in your habits or mentality is not good for anyone. Flexibility is a strength.

  • Gratitude leads us to contentment. Let's stop looking outward, whether it's those around us, the perfect people on social media or even our self-image. Let’s just be content, let’s be comforted by knowing that we are exactly where we need to be. There is no need to always live in ecstasy (how tiring that would be!). Let us be kind, patient and grateful to ourselves. Let us value and thank our loved ones, our home and our objects that support us every day.

Yuri Saito on maternity leave


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