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The Truth About Maternity Leave

By nature, Denise Salt is a take-charge kind of person. A legal assistant in Phoenix, AZ, Salt is competent and confident on the job. "At work, I can handle everything. I can fix everything. I'm in total control," she says.

But now at home, on the last day of her four-month maternity leave, Salt is feeling humbled. Her time with baby Alec wasn't at all what she'd expected it to be. "I thought this baby would come out laughing, happy all the time. I had our days all planned," she says. Salt fantasized about taking her baby for leisurely trips to the grocery store, then preparing gourmet meals while he cooed and giggled nearby. She pictured herself nursing peacefully, then lying down to rest while Alec dozed in his bassinet. As much as she likes her job, Salt looked forward to four uninterrupted months of what seemed like the ultimate vacation: time off with her first baby.

"I didn't have a clue!" she says now. In reality, Alec was a colicky infant who didn't like going to the grocery store -- or anywhere else. Instead of getting dressed up for outings and napping between feedings, Salt lived in baggy sweats and hopped from one baby chore to the next. "There were days when I didn't even brush my teeth until four in the afternoon," she says. Instead of feeling competent, Salt often felt frustrated and hopeless. But on the eve of her return to work, is she ready to give up the structureless days and numbing routine of baby care and embrace the comforting predictability and sense of accomplishment she gets from her job? Well...

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