Maternity leave is a rare gift. It is incredibly trying and demanding, as well as confronting and triggering. In a moment you are pushed outside your comfort zone and, for months thereafter, to your limits. And yet, it is perhaps the only opportunity you’ve had in your adulthood to date to press pause on “the rest of your life” as you focus on keeping a little human alive. It may be the first opportunity you’ve had, in particular, to have some breathing space from your career and reconsider the journey you are on, professionally and personally. With that in mind, how do you make the most of your maternity leave as an (ordinarily) busy working professional?

For starters, do not for a moment worry about the time you are “taking away” from your career. Everything and everyone will be there when you get back, in some fashion or capacity. Women often remark that when they return from maternity leave, people ask them (mistakenly) whether they were on vacation, not realizing how long they had been away or what they had been doing. Things will tick along without you. Also, you will cultivate and strengthen so many skills during your maternity leave (read: flexibility, problem-solving, patience, to name only three), all of which are entirely relevant and transferable to the workplace. You are growing exponentially as a person, and will return to work with so much more to offer than you already possessed.

Next, embrace the unique journey you are on. Nothing can or will prepare you for becoming, and stepping into, your identity and role as a mother. This journey is sacred, and is to be acknowledged, honoured, and deeply respected. Go in with the mentality that maternity leave is something whole and complete in itself, rather than a break from something else. Maternity leave is the something else. It is when, for example, you will see your child’s first ever laugh, or first ever steps. When you will feel a new kind of love. When you will feel love so hard your heart may explode. 

Then, after many bleary-eyed days, followed by many bleary-eyed nights, when you feel you have gotten into somewhat of a groove, you may begin to consider what else you can bring into your existence on maternity leave that you wouldn’t have had time or inclination for usually. Some women, for example, take up painting during baby’s nap time, others have written books, and more still have learned to – breathe – just be still. No longer being confined by the strictures of one’s job can leave space for all sorts of creativity and newness to flourish. Look inward and ask: what will I welcome into my life?

You may also feel you want to give thought to your current job and the career path you’re on. You are a continually evolving and growing person, especially as a mom. You may consider what it is you really want to do with your life, what will feel worth spending time away from your child for. Follow your curiosity, and keep an open mind and heart. Clarity will come.

Finally, use your maternity leave to get to know yourself all over again. Discover yourself all over again. Fall in love with yourself all over again. You are now a warrior who has birthed another soul and given life to another person. Let the changes in your being wash over you, like waves crashing to the shore. You make the most of your maternity leave by embracing it for exactly what it is, a new realm of unchartered experiences – messy, imperfect, extraordinary – all part of your becoming, and forevermore being, a mother.