We know a lot about maternity leave.
We know not enough time is given to women in the United States. We know there isn't enough support for new mothers. We know it's hard and exhilarating and again, too short.
But there are a lot of things expectant mothers about to take time off of work after having a baby don't know—and a lot of things we don't know to expect.
We spoke to seven mothers and asked them to share what they wish had known before taking their maternity leave.
What surprised you?
1. "Financial and marriage stress on top of my own journey into motherhood was really way more than I was prepared for."—Morgan Storicks
2. "When I took time off I had no idea how complicated things would get outside the home. I only realized how they would be inside. For example, my employers refused to grant me the unpaid yearlong maternity leave that's in my contract and my disability insurance told me I had the green light to go on maternity leave, only to take it back and not give me a dime. I spent the next eight months fighting both." —Emily Stone
3. "I became a mom, a cook, a maid, bookkeeper, etc."—Wendy Gaukel
4. "I also was not prepared at all for how isolating it can feel caring for a baby 24/7, how you can quickly lose any sense of who you used to be—and who you will be going forward."—Morgan Storicks
5. "Get ready to be lonely and scared a lot. Babies are so fragile and nothing will prepare you for the hormone surge. You feel like something terrible could happen at any time"—Nataly Stein
6. "It is definitely much more tiring than I realized it would be."—Tanesha Sherrill
7. "Nobody tells you that you'll question everything you do. You'll Google it because as a first-time mom you don't know shit."—Wendy Gaukel
What was the hardest part?
8. "The lack of sleep, my poor injured body, breastfeeding (which hurt at first), crying…made things intense."—Emily Stone
9. "'Taking time off' isn't taking time off. It's learning a new trade/job that is harder than working in any field. You make no money, you're constantly working and you don't get to take mandated by law breaks. Your work hours are 24 hours a day/seven days a week. When I did go back to work as a Physical Therapy Assistant it was so much easier than staying home."—Wendy Gaukel
If you could do it all over again, what would you change?
10. "If I had to do over again, I would spend more times cuddling him, taking him for long walks…Not trying to get the dishes put away and the laundry done."—Jennifer Brownfield Lewis
What about sex? Was there any?
11. "We couldn't have sex for quite some time (nine weeks?), but once we sleep trained Madi at four months (took six weeks!) sex resumed to normal."—Emily Stone
Do you have any advice?
12. "Go to marriage counseling first to prepare for how drastically becoming parents will change your dynamic, how going from near-equal income earner to him being the primary source of income drastically change our lives."—Morgan Storicks
13. "Sitting at home will make you crazy. Don't be afraid to leave the house, that isn't good for anyone."—Nataly Stein
14. "Have a plan for when you leave and return to work. Don't be afraid or ashamed to rely on your network of family and friends for support with the baby."—Tanesha Sherrill
What did you miss about working?
15. "I missed the adult contact. I missed feeling being part of a team. At times I felt very isolated and alone—even when he was screaming for his bottle."—Jennifer Brownfield Lewis
Can you sum it all up?
16. "Fatness, loneliness, and exhaustion. Wow, I sold that didn't I?"—Jennifer Roberts
17. "Showers every day don't happen. Combed hair? What's that? You're lucky if your get your teeth brushed by noon."—Wendy Gaukel
18. "But it's all so worth it. I am lucky enough to literally watch my daughter grow and develop right before my eyes. I made her laugh for the first time. I've helped her learn to sit up. I am watching her learn to crawl. It's incredible."—Morgan Storicks
This story is part of Spring.St's Back to Work series. You can find more here.