Not everyone is lucky enough to be able to stay home to experience a “fourth trimester” or “lying in” after they welcome a newborn. Whether you live in a state that doesn’t require companies to allot for an extended maternity leave, work in a field that doesn’t allow much flexibility in this area, or simply prefer going back to work as soon as possible, I understand the conundrum that many moms face in this area one way or another. Heck, if I could take a year or more off per child, I would; but, as always, these decisions are extremely personal, taking into account the emotional, financial, and physical well-being of all involved (and, in our case, we just can’t do it financially).

So, today I’m sharing what my plans are and how I plan on spending it – and if your plans aren’t the same, that’s MORE than fine. This is what’s working for our family this time around and, while I’ve experienced a mixture of support, assumptions, and disgruntlement from work, I’m at peace with it.

I should be able to take an extended leave of 12 weeks. It’ll be financially tight for awhile (particularly given the holidays – another reason to add to the pros of getting Christmas shopping done early!), but since it’s been added to my contract as an option (depleting any remaining banked sick/personal/vacation time first, then becoming unpaid, but still) and since I’ll be having a C-section, I appreciate any extra time to not only recuperate but to experience and meet this little one.

While I don’t think I’m “built” for a true lying-in (which might or might not resemble drinking warm bone broth and losing all track of time while staying in bed snuggling the baby; I have an amazing husband, but he’ll have to return to work far sooner than I, and we DO have two other littles to keep an eye on when not at school or my mother-in-law’s during the day), the concept behind it is awesome and there are some lessons to be drawn from it.

I don’t think I experienced a fourth trimester with my first two; I hadn’t heard about the concept until a month or so after my second was born (I was actually asked to work on an article about it while I was trying to kickstart a side writing career, and here I was doing the OPPOSITE of what these sage experts were suggesting), and I found myself nodding in agreement.

Here are some ways that I’m hoping to take better advantage of maternity leave and truly experience a fourth trimester, and that might help others (whether on leave or not!) to be a little more intentional with their families…

Put the focus on people – namely, the baby and the rest of my immediate family. I’ve noticed lately that my stress level has improved when I allow myself to be in the moment with our kiddos and my husband (and not allow myself to get overwhelmed by outside factors that simply won’t matter in a few days or weeks or months). Paying attention to the specialness of the people that surround me and take time to appreciate them verbally or with a hug during the day helps EVERYONE.

I know baby snuggles don’t solve the world’s problems (especially things like postpartum depression), but focusing on finding out who this third little person we’ll be helping along through life is the main goal of this time.

Along with this, giving attention to the other kiddos (not to mention my husband) are just as important, too, to hopefully avoid the subconscious jealousy issues that pop up as the family finds its new groove.

Make self care a priority. Are moms notoriously awful at this or what?! I know I am. During this pregnancy, a common theme has been, “I don’t even remember I’m expecting half the time.” Totally true. I’ve overdone it; I haven’t rested enough, I haven’t stop and reminded myself to drink more water, I haven’t gotten up slowly or at the right angle (oops, ouch), and so on. Dang.

So, however I have to break that mental wall down, I will do my best to get my 3 meals a day (or 5 snack-like meals, most likely) and drink enough water. When possible, I’ll lay down when the baby does (seriously!). I’ll request that a friend or my sister stops by so that I can grab a quick shower. The house will still stand if it’s a mess, but I need to feel my best to care for these people the best.

Accept the offers of help. Sometimes an offer of help is just a sweet gesture. There are a few folks, though, who TRULY want to help. Like, they’re aching to make your life easier, and not just to get some extra time with the baby. It’s because they happen to love you and your family.

I was raised with the, “I’ll just do it myself” gene, but particularly post-C-section, I know that I’ve been known to vacuum or bend for laundry or do dishes WAY early…and it’s not fun after the fact. So, I might just make a brief list of the simple day-to-day chores that I normally work on in case someone wants to throw in a load of laundry or put away some dishes when they come over. I know every little bit will help and this might help me to actually relax and not focus on the stuff that’s not getting done. 😉 (I send myself to my tip #2.) And, again, if it doesn’t get done from time to time, it’s not the end of the world.

Ignore the guilt for the time being. Again, this is my own hang-up – guilt that the house isn’t clean like it should be, guilt that I said “no” to going to that event, guilt that I’m relying on people for help (or requesting that we skip some visits), guilt that we’re missing out on favorite family holiday events, guilt that we’re eating more pizza (or ANYTHING not homemade) than we should…etc.

As much as it’s impossible to erase the guilt, I won’t allow it to run my decision-making or make me question the time I’m spending with the little one (and his or her siblings…at home…doing nothing).

Don’t focus on what I “should” be doing. This one goes hand-in-hand with the guilt factor.

The fact that this “fourth trimester” coincides with the holidays is a tad challenging. I SHOULD be wrapping…or baking pies…or making homemade candles to go with gifts (why do I genuinely want to do this? I need to let it go) or a million other things.

I hope to use, instead, the motto: “I SHOULD BE HERE, IN THIS MOMENT, WITH THESE PEOPLE, AND ENJOY IT.” Even saying it to myself (or aloud) to bring myself back down to earth might help. And, y’know what? Even those of us who aren’t on maternity leave can learn a little lesson from it.

Oh, and as far as the holidays? As long as the kids’ gifts are set, the tree is up (any additional decor is icing on the cake and totally not needed), we’re good – and it doesn’t matter if we’re eating frozen waffles on Christmas morning. Who (aside from myself) will notice?

Nourishment but through easy, simple food. Sure, there will be pizza. There will be canned soup and sandwich nights. (I mean, it’s all organic at our house, but still…) There will be breakfast for dinner. Whatever. But, overall, I will strive to eat the things that are best for baby – and myself.

I’ve had a hard time finding teas that actually have stuff that a) I enjoy the taste of and b) the baby could have. (And don’t get me started but this time green tea was off limits! WHUH?!) So, those things that I avoided diligently will be back but on full display. Green tea. Salad with feta or bleu cheese (soft cheeses, I’ve missed you!!!). Wraps with nitrate-free cold cuts. Fresh fruit bowls and smoothies (watermelon, woohoo). The rare, post nursing glass of wine!!! (I hadn’t been drinking this because I was still nursing my second when we got pregnant, so it’s been A LONG TIME!) The list goes on, but seriously. Simple but good.

Listen to the baby and my body. Overall, this self-awareness and pulling myself out of that fog that we sometimes fall into post-baby to focus on both of us is key.

I’m really good at pressing on and doing too much normally…or pregnant. Luckily, a baby (and, to be honest, an incision!) is really good at letting you know when you need to drop what you’re doing, right? This is a great reminder in the importance of being present in all parts of your life and truly reminding yourself of what’s important.

So, have you experienced a lying-in or fourth trimester? Do you have any regrets over how you spent your maternity leave? I’d love to hear your experiences (or hopes, if you’re still expecting) in the comments!