Every morning I open the door to the nursery and turn the sound machine off. I leave the hall light on because it’s only 5:15 a.m. and all I can do is hope the light will wake you up and I won’t have to. This all seems counterproductive because I have spent months trying to get you to sleep through the night, and there you are sleeping and yet I am hoping you wake up. You often start to squirm as I move about the room and I rush over to greet you, yet you look sleepy in your pajamas with the feet and not ready to start your day. I change your diaper and sing to you and while I sing I try and swallow hard hoping the pit in the bottom of my stomach goes away.
I then carry you downstairs and hope that when you see the dogs you will begin to smile and you always do but it’s still dark out and you should still be sleeping. I pretend I am not rushing because that’s not fair to do to you but I am rushing. I bounce you up and down as I struggle to put you in your car seat. I throw your bag in the seat next to you. I run through everything in my head that I have done because I have been up since 4:00 a.m. this morning feeding the dogs, cutting food into tiny pieces and placing it in Tupperware, checking your bag to make sure I packed socks and an extra outfit, getting myself dressed and undressed and then dressed again because I still hate my body.
We start to drive along country roads and I tell you you are going to have a fun day and that mommy is going to miss you. I tell you mommy is going to wish she was with her baby. I tell you I have to go to work but I will be thinking of you. I tell you Ms. Sindy is going to watch you, and I will see you later. You kick your feet and say “mama, mama” and the pit in my stomach grows larger and larger. Depending on how tired you are, you start to whimper after a few minutes and I can see you in the baby mirror only when large cars drive by. There are mornings I stretch my arms behind the passenger seat and you lift your arms in the air and grab my finger.
Eventually I let go of your little hand and we pull into the driveway of Ms. Sindy’s. I try and remind myself Ms. Sindy is a good family friend. I try and tell myself you are being watched by someone whom I trust and someone who cares about you. But I worry as well. Will you think Ms. Sindy is your mother? Will you become more attached to her? Will you wonder why I leave you here? Do you understand me when I tell you I have to go to work?
I continue to think about things as I walk around the car to get you. I open the door and you always smile. We greet Sindy and I place you on the floor as I kiss you goodbye. You can now wave and I try not to look because I am your mother and I am supposed to be taking care of you, and yet all we do is say goodbye.
I don’t say anything to anyone anymore about struggling to leave you because you just turned one and everyone says I should be over this. I should be able to leave you and not get so upset. Some have suggested I may have lingering postpartum depression. Some women begin to explain they felt they had no identity without their jobs. Again, I never say anything in return because I have nothing constructive to say, because laptops and word documents or water coolers and paper clips will never provide me with a sense of joy that surpasses the feeling I get when I hear “mama.”
And so perhaps my body waited to release some delayed postpartum depression, but no matter what it is I will forever struggle with it. I will continue to hate the fact that I wake my child up at 5:00 a.m. and hand her over to someone who is not her mother. Someone who gets to hold her and watch her play with her toys, someone who gets to rock her to sleep. I will never be able to get used to the feeling of saying goodbye to you. And again perhaps at some point in time the letters after my name defined me but they don’t anymore. These letters are now letters that weaken my argument for wanting to stay home because they imply I am a professional, a master in my field. However these letters do not spell “mama” and those are now the most important letters of them all.