OK, NOW WHO'S WATCHING THE BABY?
Deciding who will care for your baby once maternity leave runs out is a huge decision. There are so many factors to consider and questions to answer. Can you afford to stay home? Can you afford to pay for daycare or a nanny? Can you stand leaving your child all day? Can you stand leaving your career? Each mother will answer these questions differently and each mother will adjust to this new life differently too.
I found adjusting to my new life as a stay at home mom took some work. I missed and longed for my old, “productive” life and had to literally mourn it. My daughter was still in the NICU with no end in sight when my maternity leave ran out. At that time my life was consumed with the hospital and I couldn’t even entertain the idea of going back to work. By the time Violet and I were both home we had to adjust to our new lives and find ways to fill the day. I felt impulses take over and the need to do things that popped in my head right away. Some examples were; cutting eight inches of my hair, painting a room, gardening, rearranging and reorganizing my house, changing my workout routine, starting a business (CAFowkes Framing), and writing a blog...
I realized I was doing some of these things as a quick fix to develop a sense of accomplishment for the day. Trips to the grocery store, library, and play dates were not cutting it anymore. Many of my stay at home friends went through phases too. One friend called it her, “experimental phase” or I like to think of it as my “brave phase.” I had friends take up the following: real estate, selling skin care products, essential oils, diet and exercise plans, and create start-up companies. All of our attitudes changed after having babies and surviving each day. We are conquerors now; we can take on the world and are not afraid to fail.
On the other hand, I asked my working mom friends if this feeling of accomplishment that my stay at home friends missed each day is fulfilled when they are at work. Here are their stories…
Staci, mom of one
I had anxiety leaving my son for the first time to head back to work. I was able to find a daycare with great reviews, but nothing seemed good enough for my son. I was hysterical (thank god for xanax, I don't know what I would have done without that) the first day at drop off. It was a long ride to work and an even longer day for me not being with my son. I was so emotional and couldn't concentrate on my work. Thankfully the daycare was so kind to text me pictures so that I could see he was just fine, but still it wasn't me that was spending all day with him, it was strangers. I have a constant fear that I will miss out on a milestone because it will happen at daycare and not at home with me. I can honestly say that I am not nearly as productive at work as I used to be because I am constantly thinking of my little man. Every day I am struggling with how to balance being a great worker and top performer that I once was and how to be the best mom when I am with my son. It's tiring, no it's exhausting. I am so thankful for my job, but I constantly feel like I am being judged for not participating in the after hours events because I have a son that I want to get home to. Well, sorry my friends, but my child is so much more important to me. The struggle of getting judged for not being there is challenging, but I will not let that stop me from being with my family.
To be perfectly honest, if I could be a stay at home Mom I would be. I never thought I would say that until I had a child. How could you stay at home all day long, wouldn't you be bored? Don't you think you would lose a part of yourself by not working? Don't you want to still make something out of yourself? These are the thoughts I had before I got pregnant. Well, insert foot in mouth. I would give it all up to be able to stay at home with my bundle of joy. My family is my world. Unfortunately, we are not financially able to do this. If we were able to do it financially, no doubt would I give up the working life to be a stay at home Mom. I get jealous of the moms that are so fortunate. In fact, I get jealous of my son's teachers and the staff at his daycare because they get to spend the entire day with my baby boy.
When I get home, all I want to do it play with my son, but there are some days that all I want to do is put my feet up and relax. It's difficult being a working Mom, but I know this is what I have to do to give him a good life. I often think of the future of how am I going to be able to put him on the bus for school and make it to work on time? How am I going to be able to get him off the bus when he's done school? How in the world am I going to make it to all his school sports games that are right after school? My parents were at every single one of my games, both home and away, I want to be able to do that for my kids, but I have an eight to five job that wouldn't allow that to happen. I know that I have some years to think about that and hopefully I will be able to make it work, but I can't say that I don't think about these things.
Maybe I will just have more kids and it will make more sense for me to stay home than spend the money on daycare, can't say I haven't had that thought even though kids are expensive themselves, let alone daycare. I know I will figure it out, but this mom guilt is brutal. Can't the US just be like Canada or England where they give a year for maternity leave and you can still keep your job?
Sam, mom of three
Financially I have to work to support my family. But, I also love having an escape when my kids are driving me crazy. Daycare is worth every penny!
Erin, mom of one
My morning begins the night before. Lunch packed, green smoothie made, pump supplies sterilized, bottles ready in the fridge. There’s no time for those things once the alarm goes off- a soft twinkling of bells that I barely hear over the white noise coming through the monitor, but that we chose in case she’s in bed with us in the morning because she sleeps peacefully through it, giving me a few more quiet moments to let the dogs out, pump and get my tired ass in the shower. I might end up at work in an hour with no mascara and my hair in a messy wad on top of my head, but it will be a clean messy wad if it kills me.
Pre-babe, my morning routine was snooze buttons and trying on four sweaters, and sometimes a quickie in the shower or a walk with the pups. But now, 5:45 am rolls around and it could have been six hours or twenty minutes since the last time I was awake feeding her, and the routine that has come to pass has no room for morning sex or superfluous dress options. There are three columns in my head at any given hour: “must do,” “nice to have,” and “man someday that would be so awesome.” Monday through Friday morning, my “must do” column includes a shower, deodorant and face lotion, pumping, and singing a song with Ellie before I kiss her and have to run out the door. My “nice to have” bubble floats notions of makeup, hair driers, a minute to make sure my shoes look good with my pants, and remembering my Medela© cooler so I don’t have to store bags of milk in my lunchbox in the communal fridge. Awesome day dreams don’t really get much processing time in the morning rush, but would include eight hours of uninterrupted sleep, a half hour to spend with my guy, the following thirty minutes to spend with our girl, and then maybe a little yoga and some buckwheat pancakes, if anyone is asking.
It’s now seven am and I’m flying out the door. I hope I’ve kissed everyone I love and smiled at my dogs and remembered all the tiny pieces of my lifeline, also known as the breast pump, but if I haven’t it’s too late now because I’m merging onto the highway and there’s no turning back. It takes me only thirty seconds to miss her. Out of my sight for even the slightest of time and my brain fogs over and I find I can’t remember exactly what she looks like- only the idea of her is accessible to me. Recalling her is like seeing her as a watercolor or trying to focus while squinting over the sunshine fracturing the ocean; even if I try to imagine her face in my mind, it’s never vivid enough, never quite clear. I know this because as soon as my eyes find her again, the whole world comes barreling into focus, and in blinding color I realize, every time, that I could never imagine anything as beautiful as she actually is. It’s right up there with that kind of psychotic biological pull that makes me miss her in the back seat of the car while I’m in the front. She’s right there, sleeping, and I crave her. It’s totally certifiable and I have no excuses.
The night before I went back to work, I cried into my toothbrush. Panic and tears streaked my face as I stared at my reflection in the bathroom mirror. I thought about quitting my job. I had full support to do so. We could have made it work, and I was in love with my daughter and our days that needed little structure or planning. If she got up at five am it didn’t matter- we could just sleep until eight, or nap in the warm patch of sun that came through the living room window in the afternoon. If she didn’t want a bottle, who cares? I was there ready and able to feed her at a moment’s notice, and then watch her strawberry blonde eyelashes flutter her into full and happy sleep. I was overwhelmed with the notion that I was leaving my very best thing in the care of someone else, when I could just have easily stayed home and cared for her myself. What if she wondered where I was and got sad? That first morning back my daughter healthy and smiling and my hair and heart a mess, as I set off for work. I missed her instantly and continuously, and maybe she missed me too, but she was thrilled with her new babysitter and now spends her days laughing and babbling and playing and napping with a wonderful person who is kind, and loves her, and makes her happy. When I walk in the door at the end of the day, she smiles a smile that takes up her entire face, and we spend the next couple of hours playing and cuddling and reading books, as I memorize the lines in her fingers and the colors in her hair once again, and she falls asleep in my arms and smiles while she dreams.
Maybe it is all of these things that give me the courage to tell you this next part, or maybe I just need to say it because it’s the truth and someone might need to hear it- because I do miss her insanely and all day long, and I do love our time together, and it is always too short before she gets tired and needs to go to bed- but you know what else I love? I love getting in the car and telling my Bluetooth to call my friend so we can catch up, uninterrupted, on my commute to work. I love going pee at the exact moment that I have the urge to go. I love making toast that I eat warm or cereal that isn’t soggy. I love typing emails with two hands. I love collaborating with the interesting people in my office. I love my job, and I love going there.
That should not feel vulnerable and risky to say, but it does. The lines we draw for each other as mothers are so scary. They force women to choose a side to stand on, when we should, instead, be tearing down the things that divide us. Heck, you may not have even really processed the last few paragraphs I’ve written because you picked up on the fact that we have a babysitter…okay, a nanny…and you’re thinking, “What the hell does she know? She doesn’t have to deal with day care or any of the extra thousand things that go along with it, and make being a working mom that much more complicated!” And you’re right, I don’t; and I think you’re amazing for making that work. But I think I’m amazing too, and there’s plenty of room for all of us to get a pat on the back. Any day we get to work and we are not still wearing our slippers, and our kids are not left alone to choke on huge grapes or suck on a bleach bottle, is a day we should be feeling pretty pleased with ourselves. (And I honestly don’t even care about the slippers.)
I can’t say that as time goes on, and I miss a milestone or tell her something she doesn’t want to hear and she, in return, tells me that she prefers her nanny, I won’t be crushed, won’t cry, won’t regret my choices for a minute or much longer. I’m sure there will be many times I’ll wish I was a mom who stayed home to take on every brutal and beautiful moment, and experience every lingering hour and fleeting month, first hand. That’s an accolade that I will not earn, and I will envy my friends who chose to do so, just as they will, at times, envy me. I also cannot tell you that the days I go to work are my very hardest days, because so often, they are not. I go to work and for eight hours and I am as close to a complete adult human as anyone can be on finite amounts of sleep and infinite amounts of unabashed adoration for a little girl who poops her pants in the most inconvenient places. And while I don’t have to take cleansing breaths because she’s wailing and pulling my hair, or stop and stretch because the knot in my left lower back is starting to ache, or spend her entire nap time pumping for her next meal because she may feel like a bottle instead of nursing, I do have to experience her day through pictures sent to my cell phone, and regularly avert the sickening worry that I’m pissing away this unimaginably generous gift of time with my one daughter on this earth, for a job.
This is a snapshot of my life for today. I can’t tell you about tomorrow or my five-year plan. My guess is I’ll still be pretty tired, deliriously happy, full of guilt for something I did, or didn’t do, or was thinking of doing or not doing, and in love with my delicious little girl in a way that I didn’t think possible, even yesterday. And there will be any number of people (possibly myself included) who probably think I’m making the biggest mistakes of my life as a working, occasionally co-sleeping, non-spanking, breastfeeding, vegetarian, monogamous, vaccine-giving, hikes on Sundays and prays on airplanes, love-who-you-love, eternal optimist, kind of mom. And maybe we’ll all be right in the end, or maybe I’ve got this totally wrong.
Will the future me leave her job and get down to mommy basics with my blue-eyed wild child? Will I continue to excel in my career and work to find a balance that teeters on my own perfect insanity? Could I wake up 45 minutes earlier and get in a work out, iron my shirt, prep dinner for the evening, and shave my legs? Maybe. And maybe someday I will do any number of those things. But right now I have a five-month-old baby girl with stamps in her passport, the biggest giggle I’ve ever heard, and a ridiculous number of hats. I have a full-time job that I happen to do very well, and a husband that I kiss twice when I come home. I remember to floss, I dance with my family in the kitchen after dinner, and I fall asleep on the couch at 9:30 with a puppy curled at my feet. And in this small moment of forever, nothing about that feels mistaken.