When we announced we were expecting our first baby, the questions started right away:
“Are you finding out what you’re having?”
“Do you have a name picked out?”
“Are you going to breastfeed?” (PS: it’s none of your business, Linda.)
One question I always thought was strange was the different variations of “are you going to take the whole year?” or “are you going to split your maternity leave?” My response was always the same: “Of course I am going to take the whole year.” I am lucky enough to live in a place where I have the opportunity to take a full year of paid maternity leave and I would be crazy not to, right? A whole year to spend time with my new bundle of joy, take walks, visit friends for lunch, who wouldn’t want that?
I asked my mom when my daughter was 6-months-old, “Am I a bad mom for wanting to go back to work?” My mom has always been my lifeline. She told me I was being foolish, I was a great mom, and to do what I thought was best for not only my baby, but also myself. Thank God for my mom, who continues to see me as a human being and not just “Claire’s mom”.
That was the first time I expressed I was thinking about going back to work sooner rather than later. I felt so guilty for even saying it, and I still kind of do. I was beating myself for having this thought. Some women don’t get paid to take even six weeks to recover from birth before they have to go back to work. What kind of mother would rather be at work than at home with her baby? When people would ask me when I was going back to work and I told them not until July, they would say things like, “Oh, isn’t that awesome, good for you.” That made me feel even worse.
People always talk about how hard it is to go back to work, about not wanting to leave their babies, and here I am begging for human interaction, to be praised for a job well done, to complete a successful project, ANYTHING that would make me feel my life didn’t run on a three-hour cycle (eat, play, sleep, repeat).
Was this seasonal depression from the long winter nights? Was it something else? Why am I feeling like I need to achieve something more? I was so excited for a whole year off. Let me spell something out for people who may not know (because I didn’t realize until it happened to me): we need to do a better job checking in with new moms once their babies aren’t newborns anymore. Everyone is always super excited to meet the new baby; they bring gifts, they call, they check in. And once babies become independent enough, they can be left alone for a few hours or days so mom can get some alone time. But what about those months in between when it is just mom and baby home alone all day? I imagined peaceful moments with me and my girl, snuggled on the couch, out for a walk, meeting friends for lunch . . . but most of the time, it’s just lonely.
Then a woman said something to me that made me feel OK with my emotions. My mom and I work in the same office building, so I went in with the baby to meet her for lunch. Everyone stopped to gush over the baby and ask me how I was doing (cue the “Not until July? Good for you” comments). But little did I know, I was going to get some inspiration that day. My mom’s coworker stopped to talk to us and asked me, “Are you ready to come back yet?” (I suspect my mother had been talking to her about how I was feeling) and I was honest in my response. She then said, “I don’t blame you, I am a better working mom.”
A better working mom . . . the first time I heard this phrase it stuck. This women feels like she is able to be a better mom to her children because she goes to work every day. I needed to hear that; I haven’t stopped thinking about it since she said it. It made me feel empowered, not guilty. It took my fears of being judged away. Those words made it feel like it was safe for me to want to go back to work and that I wasn’t a bad mom for not wanting to spend every second with my baby.
I read somewhere that being a stay-at-home mom is the equivalent to working two-and-a-half full-time jobs, and boy do I believe it. I applaud those who choose to stay home with their babies and tend to their every need because it is hard. And not just “finish this project” hard,” but more like “up all night, in your face, constant screaming, no time to yourself” hard.
I am currently still on maternity leave and I do appreciate every moment I get to spend with my baby. But I am going to go back to work, there is no doubt about that. I just truly believe that I am made to be a better “working mom”.
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