About 4 weeks before I had to go back to work from being on maternity leave, all I could think about was going back. I would cry almost each day and night with dread, sorrow, loss, frustration, anger and a heavy heart. Why didn't we plan better, I would wonder. Why can so many of my friends stay home with their babies, but I can't? Is Olivia going to remember who I am? Is she going to think the sitter is her mom? Will she stretch out her arms with joy when she sees her care provider, only to cry with sleepiness and discomfort when I get home from work? How many firsts will she have without me? Her first giggle? The first time she rolls over? Sits up? Takes a step? Why won't my boss cooperate with a flexible schedule? Am I so under-appreciated after six years? Why, after being on a strict budget for 3 years, can't we make it financially if I stay home? I had a friend tell me the anticipation is worse than the actual act of going back. Sadly, in my case, the act is just as bad so far. This is my fourth week back at the office and I still cry almost every time I drop Livi off in the morning. I wonder throughout the day what she is doing, how she is doing. Is she crying? Does the sitter know how to rock her, bounce her, swaddle her, talk to her? Is she having fun? More fun than she has at home? Is she getting confused drinking out of a bottle instead of nursing? Piles of work clutter my desk. From 8-5 my mind is swamped with things to do, and swirling with work tasks mixed with longing for my tiny daughter. I don't even like my job. Another friend suggested that maybe I should try to find more meaningful work, so that while I do indeed have to work for the money, maybe it wouldn't be quite so bad if I felt like I had a purpose, like being in an office had meaning. A good idea to consider, but what could be more meaningful than staying home with Livi? Guilt racks my mind.
I asked my boss for multiple working solutions before the time came that I had to be back in the office. Work from home? Nope. Work part time? Nope. Work an hour less each day with a working lunch at my desk? Nope. Great. I thought big companies were leaning more toward flex time. If I get the same amount of work done, what is the difference where I do it? If I had time to surf the net and blog during work hours before baby (shhh), can't this actually be a part time job? Hey bossy boss, are you really willing to watch me walk out the door? I guess so. I'm sure I could find another solution. Maybe I could be a waitress on the weekends? Or a telemarketer 3 days a week? Stuff envelopes? Strip-I mean, dance in the exotic variety? Hmmm, maybe not. The Hubbs could get another job? Work during the summer instead of enjoying his time off with his two kiddos? I don't think so. Miraculously start selling his custom wood furniture? Hmmm....
Could we move to Alaska? Maybe we can stop saving, stop eating out, stop eating at all!, stop paying our bills, stop enjoying life. Hmmm.
In reality, work life is getting back to "normal" while what WAS normal for 3 months slowly drifts away. All of the above is true. Leaving my baby behind each day hasn't gotten easier, at the same time, it is what it is. I'm like a gerbil spinning the wheel. I've learned to wake up more than 2 hours before I have to be at the office so I can try to feed the baby, get ready, play with her, pump, savor each minute I have in the morning all while hoping I don't forget her blankie, her ellie, her milk! The Hubbs and I tiptoe around, trying not to wake the baby too early, (yes she sleeps in our room, no, I cannot fathom the day when she is thousands of miles away in her own room across the hall.) Then I realize time is getting away from me and she's not awake yet. How will I feed her, get her dressed, play with her before we need to leave? At the same time in the back of my mind I'm wondering when I'll be able to wash that bottle, pick up that rattle, mop the floors, wash the diapers. Did you know the sun is a magic? Not only does it give you a nice glow, warm your home, help your emotional disposition-it also erases poo stains from cloth diapers! Well, working mamas aren't home when it's sunny! So what is my solution? Lay those dirty diapers on the dash of my car during the day. Lovely. But let me tell you, when those spots disappear, it is worth any strange looks or questions I might get.
I've gotten used to chatting with the sitter in the mornings, learning more about her and her family, finding out what they do with my child each day. Each time I leave her, I wipe tears from my cheeks as I kiss Olivia goodbye and head out the door. I try to appreciate the normalcy of listening to NPR on my drive to work (a grown up voice in my days!) I Try to look forward to a coffee stop on Friday mornings. It's hard, though, hearing the reports on the radio through my sniffles while my tears spill onto my coffee cup. I take my camera every day so I can stare at my sweet girls face and watch videos of her talking to her rattle or her mobile. Not only that, but it helps me pump. Yeah, there's a real joy. 4-5 times a day I shut myself in a cold, dark, empty office filled with boxes so I can sit for 15-20 minutes trying to squeeze out two whole ounces of milk so someone else can nourish my baby during the day. How fun is it to run into my older male colleagues in the hall while I'm carrying this contraption full of milk? So far no one has really made eye contact with me, and I've avoided the need to fill the awkward silence with "need something for your coffee?" It's awesome washing all the parts and pieces in our shared kitchen when anyone and everyone can walk in for a refill or a morning snack and see me at the sink, scrubbing my "petal shaped" pump! Can't they make these discreet? A college friend of mine shared a story from when she used to pump at work. She came home after a long day, excited to see her little boy, put the lunch stuff in the fridge and the bags of milk in the cupboard! I think she probably laughed it off, but I'm sure I would have cried an ounce of tears for every ounce of milk that was ruined!
Of course everyone asks how the baby is, how I'm readjusting to work. Everyone is so sweet. Think that helps? Nope! It just makes me cry all over again. I'm not adjusting well. I'm swamped with work. I'm without my baby! How about the time I cried in a meeting with the CEO because 15 minutes earlier the sitter called to say Livi wasn't eating? Yeah, that was a real treat. I tried to bravely cover up my tears and red face, but of course one of the VP's had to ask if I was OK. OK, you ask? Oh yes, I'm fine. I'm just here, in a meeting to decide if we should raise the price on a stupid book, when really all I can think about is whether or not my baby is going to STARVE TO DEATH. But yes, thank you for asking, I'm OK. Thankfully the president quickly changed the subject, more out of sympathy to me than any real need to talk about whatever subject he broached.
My sitter is really sweet and thoughtful. She sends text messages throughout the day sometimes, to keep me posted on how things are going and what they are doing. Sometimes she includes pictures. I cherish those messages. A little connection with my baby means so much! One day she sent a picture of Olivia's back covered in a poopy blowout. Only a new mommy could say that would make her day! I loved it and immediately went to show the new girl in the cube beside me. I probably should have thought twice since she is a) new to the company and barely knows me and b) isn't a mom herself. I'm sure as I left her cube she was shaking her head, if not gagging, thinking what a crazy person she had only just met!
The other day I was quickly washing my hands in the bathroom (did I mention I'm in the bathroom at least 8 times a day because of all the water I have to drink in order to keep my milk supply up? Fun,) and as I glanced in the mirror I noticed that not only did I have spit up on my shirt but I only had mascara on one eye! (why didn't someone tell me?!)
I look forward to 5:00 more than I ever did before. I want to be completely present for Livi each minute that I'm home with her. We all know I have OCD when it comes to cleaning the house, but I'm slowly (yes, hubby, sloooooowly) learning to let things wait for weekend nap times. It's not easy cherishing the moments when the baby is sleepy and fussy and uncomfortable (thank you colic, whatever you are) while I'm home, but I remind myself that she needs me. Maybe I don't get all the play time and smile time and firsts. Maybe I can't be there for each nap she wakes up from. But whatever is going on while I'm there, I want her to see me smiling, feel me loving, and know that I am Mama.
Many mamas have told me there are pros and cons to both working outside of the home and staying home. Blah Blah blah. That's nice, and I'm sure it's true, but when you don't WANT to be working, it seems like pretty much everything about it is a con. So I want to take this time to try and pick out the silver linings from this cloudy life situation.
We have found an excellent sitter to care for Olivia. She has 6 kids of her own, so she knows what she's doing! She listens to us and genuinely wants to care for our girl the way we would care for her. She is gentle and loving and keeps us posted on how things are going. Her kids seem to love Livi, too. Plus, she compromised with us on her price, so we feel fortunate to be able to afford her. One dear friend reminded me, "you're not having someone else raise your daughter, you're having someone else love her." It's very hard to think of it that way, but I know it's wonderful to surround our girl with people who love her and to allow her to bring joy to as many people as possible.
I do have a good, reliable job with wonderful benefits. While that's all I can say about the job, it's something!
Through this past 3 months so many mothers have surrounded me with support, encouragement and love. From close friends to old acquaintances to almost strangers. Moms have a bond, not that they can't share with any women, but who do really understand each other. I truly hope when I'm a little farther out in this new mommy stage I'll be able to provide advice, comfort, support, encouragement, a listening ear, a meal, and more to other new mamas.
Lets face it, I have a wonderful husband. He feels so bad that I have to work right now. I know he wishes things were different and he would change them if he could. He is the best daddy, too!
By example, I'm showing Olivia that women are strong, capable, loving, motivated, and can and will do whatever it takes to support our families, however that looks.
Here are some quotes from a wise mom going through the same journey:
You are doing what you need to do to care for your growing family at this stage, and that is a labor of love, even if it doesn't look like the ideal mothering situation right now. It's still a loving choice.
Even if you have to keep working outside the home for a couple more years, your daughter won't remember it, and more importantly, your relationship with her won't be damaged by it.
You will always be the most important person to Olivia, even if she has other caretakers. None of them will ever take your place.
I posted these next to my work computer!
While I would like to embrace my situation and even thrive as a working mama, I don't think that's possible right now. But like I said before, it is what it is. Our family will try to always do what is best for us at each moment in time. I hope someday things will change and I'll be able to stay at home with my sweet baby girl. In the meantime, I'll keep running the rat race, looking for ways to make it easier, things to make time with family more special, and hopefully this working mama will someday thrive.