A View From the End of Maternity Leave

by ParentCo. December 21, 2016

women walking in corridor

Next week, I go back to work. I’ll hang up my lululemon pants and slip on my most figure forgiving professional lady clothes and walk to the subway.

I won’t look both ways seven times before walking across the street, terrified that a crazy driver is going to come out of nowhere and hit me and my baby. I’ll stop at the small Brooklyn coffee shop without navigating a stroller up the stairs and banging my way through the doors. I’ll listen to music on the train with both ear buds in. I’ll start to get back some semblance of the person I was before having a baby.

But I’m not the same person. Motherhood “changes you.” I know that’s another one of those common tropes, but I want to explain it. I spent the last five months in around-the-clock service. I was broken physically, then mentally, then emotionally. I lived with a constant, debilitating fear of my daughter dying. My loss of identity felt, at times, devastating.

The loneliness of “Mom Island” overwhelmed me.

For the first three to five months, I was in complete survival mode. The work of having a baby outweighed the joy of having a baby. I was depressed, riddled with anxiety, and so full of shame. My baby didn’t deserve to have a mother who was just barely keeping her head above water.

Then one morning I woke up. My daughter smiled at me, and I noticed I was able to feel joy. Not just a passing moment of joy. But actual joy. Some of it was probably hormonal, but accepting my new reality took WORK. I gradually learned to find joy in small moments. Moments with the baby, but also moments like taking a shower. Really smelling the body wash, really feeling the water hit my skin. I learned to treasure a simple solo walk around the block listening to music.

I learned to practice reasoning my way through irrational thinking. To breathe. To find peace within my own mind. Some days I succeed. Some days I still fail.

I started to see the world through my baby’s eyes. I watched her find her own hands. I watched her wonder what it felt like to grab something. I watched the joy in her eyes as she rolled over. And when I clapped and cheered at her accomplishment, I saw how happy she was that I was happy for her. I realized how connected we were, that her joy was my joy.

If she was happy, I was happy.

I loved watching her try to turn the pages of the book I was reading to her. Then I laughed as she tried to eat the book. And then eat my hands. And then eat her shirt. And then my hair. And then her blanket.

I watched her wonder at sound, how she got real quiet the first time she heard a plane fly overhead. I learned what songs she liked. I learned that singing “The Wheels on the Bus” is a better way to pass the time then singing “Twinkle, twinkle little star” because it’s longer.

There was so so much time to fill. A lot of, “Okay, so we’ve gone in the jungle thing, the chair thing, the pillow thing. I’ve read you two books, changed four diapers, sang you six songs – and it’s 9 a.m.” I experienced the frustration of being insanely busy and incredibly bored. I experienced the guilt that being with my baby is just not enough to make me feel whole, stimulated, or fulfilled as a person.

I fought through the dread of going to mommy meet-ups, fake smiled my way through sing-a-long music classes, ignored the absurdity of baby yoga. I had to become less cynical. I had to learn to lower my expectations so I could let myself enjoy moments, to enjoy activities that were truly awful, because my baby liked them. I learned to be more selfless.

I’ve had to learn how to forgive myself for not being a good fit for motherhood and find a way to create my version of being a mother that feels okay for me. As you may be able to tell, I overthink the hell out of this whole thing. And I am sure I will continue to. Because that’s me. That’s how I work. So I have to find a way to make how I work work.

Next week, I start my life as a working mother. I have mentally prepared for another very, very tough couple of months. I will need to find balance all over again. I will need to let go of guilt that I’m letting my co-workers down and let go of the guilt that I’m abandoning my little pal. I will have to pump three times a day in a lonely room as I imagine my baby eating out of a bottle. I’ll miss our closeness. I’ll wonder if she notices, if she misses me as much as I’ll miss her.

I am devastated as much as I am excited. Because I liked the person I used to be, and I’ve missed being her. I miss freedom and spontaneity. I miss getting coffee with co-workers. I miss putting on makeup. I miss feeling smart and funny and relevant. I even miss those awful business lady salads I choked down everyday.

I’ll be paying another woman to fill my motherhood position for 50 hours a week. My time with my baby will be limited to an hour before work and an hour after work and weekends. Is this the right thing to do? Is this the right way to do it? I have no idea. But it’s pretty heartbreaking for me to think about right now.

Motherhood has changed me, and somehow I am also exactly the same person. It’s way crazier and a lot harder than I had expected, but having a baby is also pretty cool.

Next week, I’ll grab my pumping parts and hope for the best. Wish me luck.



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