Apologies to parents who love being on parental leave, but I’m just going to say it: mat leave sucks.
I gave birth to my first child in July 2018, and after surviving postpartum depression and the awful newborn phase, I settled into my new normal. You know, figuring out what his wake windows were (if you don’t know what wake windows are, I hate you), teaching him how to “sleep independently,” washing bottles, doing laundry, crying while pumping, crying because the baby’s crying, changing dirty diapers, attempting to coax baby to lift his head, crying out of loneliness. Need I go on?
Every day was my personal Groundhog Day, and every day I would collapse into myself like a dying star. I wondered if something was wrong with me. Why wasn’t I enjoying mat leave as much as the moms I saw on Instagram? (Answer: they aren’t, either.)
“I felt detached from myself and my surroundings.”
I resented my son for making me feel isolated from the rest of the world. Because of his nap schedule and his constant need for breastmilk, formula and solids, I was stuck at home, alone, for most of the day.
Despite going out while my husband was at work, I felt detached from myself and my surroundings. Every day I could feel my brain neurons fizzle slowly and pass away. I tried to schedule something that would take me outside of the house, like the weekly baby music class, but the forced merriment and the songs (there’s only so many times you can sing “The Wheels on the Bus” before you want to scream) were mind-numbing. I was so bored.
Without having to work my brain muscles every day, like I did at my job as an online editor, I let my mind dry up like a date.
And then one day my son started crawling, and our house felt several sizes too small. I had to find a place where he could crawl to his heart’s desire without falling down stairs (the gate installed at the top of our stairs was kinda ineffective). Enter: the library.
Now, I’m a book nerd (you should see the pile of books ready to topple over on my nightstand), but I haven’t taken out a book from a library since I was a teenager. Back then, I could often be found trailing behind friends with my nose buried in the yellowing pages of a library book. I would take out a dozen books, whip through them all, return them, and then take out a dozen more. Sweet Valley High, Nancy Drew, Goosebumps and Hercule Poirot mysteries were my books of choice.
And then I graduated high school, and then university, and started making my own money. And I bought books. Lots and lots of books. So many books that after my shelves were filled, I stacked them on the floor in my bedroom and living room. I didn’t take a single library book out until six months into my mat leave.
The library closest to me — S. Walter Stewart in East York, Ont. — is a 20-minute walk, across from the East York Civic Centre where I went to my weekly support group for moms, and a short distance from Michael Garron Hospital, which I frequented a lot because it has a Tim Horton’s near the entrance.
The first time my son and I entered the library, I was intimidated by the quiet. It wasn’t silent; there was a low, steady hum punctuated by the sound of fingers tapping away on computers. Everyone looked so serious. Why wasn’t anyone talking to each other? Was this really a place I wanted my baby to be? What if he started crying and everyone would stare at me and judge me for being a bad mom? Thankfully, there was a kids section.
I found my way downstairs where the children’s books were, and I was immediately put at ease. The floor was covered in stars and planets; there was a rocket ship that could easily fit a few babies and a parent; a massive board book bigger than my baby was nailed to the wall; and a huge room just for children was filled with board books, well-worn sofa chairs and Duplo blocks. It was perfect.
I set my son down on the floor and I found myself able to relax for the first time since... well, since before I became pregnant.
Here he could crawl around at lightning speed without me having to check over my shoulder every five seconds. Here he could “pick out” books to bring home. Here he could play with new toys. Here I could browse Instagram and Facebook on my phone and not feel guilty for not playing with him. The library was his babysitter, and I fell in love with her immediately.
We left with five board books and my first library card since I was a teen. I was giddy with excitement, something I hadn’t felt since before I had a baby.
Pretty soon we were going to the library two or three times a week. I loved that my son started laughing as soon as he saw the rocket ship. I loved that he learned how to put a puzzle piece in the correct spot. I loved our quiet babysitter.
Then I realized that libraries were for adults, too. I had been so focused on making sure my baby was happy and entertained that I didn’t even think to use this wonderful resource for myself. I started browsing the shelves on our way out, perusing the new releases and staff picks until I found a cover that stood out to me. The first book I took out was “The Farm” by Joanne Ramos, a dystopian novel about a company that “farms” out women, mostly immigrants, who get impregnated by rich clients who want a baby but can’t (or won’t) conceive themselves. I finished it in three days.
When my mom told me the library had a website (a website! This really was 2019!) where I could put books on hold, it was over. The first time I used it I put 10 books on hold. As I eagerly waited for my books to come in I would refresh the holds page on my profile, watching as my name climbed the queue.
For the first time in months, I felt like myself again. I was feeling actual pleasure from doing something just for myself. It was a revelation.
Now that I’ve been back at work for a few weeks, I’ve been thinking about that time in my life when I would be stuck in a never-ending rotation of boredom. There’s a lot of things I miss about being childless, but I’m glad that having a baby reignited my passion for the library and for reading.
October is Canadian Library Month, something I just learned about, and I’m spending extra time being thankful for our local libraries. I feel so fortunate that we have this free resource that encourages us to be excited about learning, and I hope I pass on my passion for reading to my son.
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