Our Reading Lives

What to Expect When You’re Expecting to Read on Maternity Leave

Melody Schreiber

Staff Writer

Melody Schreiber is at work on a nonfiction anthology of premature birth. As a freelance journalist based in Washington, D.C., she has reported from nearly every continent. Her articles, essays, and reviews have been published by The Washington Post, Wired, The Guardian, The Atlantic, Pacific Standard, NPR, The Toast, Catapult, and others. She received her bachelor’s in English and linguistics at Georgetown University and her master’s in writing at the Johns Hopkins University. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram at @m_scribe.

Like most parents-to-be, I had a lot of crazy ideas about what life with a new kid would be like. When my little angel was awake, I thought, we’d read children’s books together several times a day, and while he slept (on his own, for several hours at a stretch), I would work and catch up on my own reading. (Excuse me while I go laugh and laugh.)

In any case, maternity leave seemed like the perfect time to reestablish a reading routine. I craved my old routine because I’d entered a reading slump right around the time I got pregnant.

Part of it certainly had to do with anxiety about the pregnancy; suddenly my thoughts were filled with all sorts of scenarios, both happy and sad, and it was hard to keep my attention on the text.

But part of it was simply logistics; I left my full-time job at the same time, and I no longer commuted for two-plus hours every day—what had been prime reading time. Instead, I used those extra hours to hustle more as a freelancer, and reading fell by the wayside.

But then everything changed, and quickly. My water broke at 27 weeks, and I went on hospital bed rest. The goal was to spend six more weeks in bed, to give the little guy some more time to grow. That didn’t go according to plan, either, but I did spend nearly three weeks under strict instructions to do as little as possible. A reader’s dream!

While I enjoyed my impromptu reading staycation, my relationship with books changed. I never returned to my previous routine and habits; instead, I forged new ones.

Beginning while I was on bed rest, I became choosier about what I read. Some books just couldn’t hold my attention, or took too much of it. I needed to be distracted from my worries, but not so much that the book overtook me, because I needed to be able to nap and relax.

So I began worrying a lot less about abandoning books. If it wasn’t a good fit, I just tried something else. I have no idea why this revolutionary approach didn’t occur to me earlier. But I tended to be a little obsessive about the time I invested in books; if I made it to page 100, I almost always kept going. Now, if it’s not working, I ditch it, no matter where I am.

This also means I’ve found myself more willing to experiment, to read more books outside of my usual genres. Just like having a kid, it’s expanding my horizons.

I also dismissed my usual sense of guilt about how I chose books. Before, I would keep careful TBR lists of what I “needed” to read next—new releases, critically acclaimed books, books that had been sitting on my shelves far too long.

But, beginning with my hospital stay and extending into the ensuing months spent taking care of my son, my list of “should-reads” loomed so high it toppled. Now, when I finish a book, I pick up whatever looks tempting. I never plan what I’m going to read next.

The Husband's Secret

It’s a risk—with my carefully curated lists out the window, who knows if I’ll like this Australian mystery? I didn’t even check the Goodreads reviews first!

But it’s beautifully freeing, to assess how I’m feeling in the moment and then find the book that seems most likely to meet my needs.

Because reading is all about meeting needs. And new parents have plenty of needs—many of which often go unmet, especially in the early months.

So treat yourself. Revel in that fun romance novel, and the next one, too. Dive deep into a nonfiction subject you never realized you were passionate about. Skip the laundry and the grocery shopping; it can wait one more day. Reading as a new parent can often feel luxuriously self-indulgent—and that’s precisely when you need it the most.