I don’t really know how to begin writing about maternity leave. It ends now. Tomorrow is my first day back at work. So let me start simply, with just the facts:
Pregnant, and months of anticipation; give birth; about 12 weeks off to recover and learn to be a parent; go back to work.
And now, the sub-text. Tomorrow I go back to work. People say things like "I hope it will not be too difficult"; "Are you OK?"; "Nice to have you back." And the answers are, it will be manageable, yes I am OK, and thanks, it’s nice to be back.
But wow, what a period of time this has been. It’s hard to know where to start if you want to reflect on this time off called maternity leave. It’s not a vacation, nor a sabbatical. It’s not easy but it was not as hard as I had anticipated (the having a baby and learning to take care of her, that is). I did not know what to expect and yes, it took me by surprise.
There were times of loneliness. I was at home with a being that could not talk. None of my friends were at home. I talked to a being that could not talk. For weeks.
There were times of guilt…the baby did, after all, sleep. During those times, what did I do? Hello, Oprah. I never slept in (that was not possible), I rarely napped (not my thing) but I did spend a lot of time in very comfortable clothes (I would not go so far as PJ’s all day but it would have been possible). I had been warned that it would be so bad I would not be able to find time for a shower or even to brush my teeth. That did not happen. I managed to take care of myself and then some, thank you very much. I had no intention of losing myself completely, and if that meant she cried for a few minutes, well, so be it. I figured letting her cry and pulling myself together, was better than no tears from her while I felt like a disheveled disaster who could not manage a shower.
There’s more. I had this funny realization one day that from now on, and for at least the next 15 years, yes YEARS, we would need a sitter anytime we wanted to go out on our own. That is a change. OK, so I can swallow that, but that is WAY different.
And then we found a nanny. I remember the first time we had her stay and babysit one night. We went out for dinner. It was the first time the Big H and I had been out in weeks. And it was glorious. It was sushi and only two hours and it was heaven.
I could not and did not anticipate the feelings associated with being a parent. I heard someone say that having a child is like walking around for the rest of your life with your heart outside. And that is about right. It’s like getting hit by a train in a really great way. We look at her sometimes and just stare. I love my friends, family and husband but can honestly say, some of my most memorable and engaging conversations ever are with her now. And she cannot talk. That is saying something.
I remember the first time I took her out on my own. I caught a glimpse of myself with the stroller and freaked out. That was me. In the window. With the stroller. It was a Thursday and I was not at work. I was wearing jeans on a Thursday, mid-day, walking around with my new baby. As I was out with her, she started to cry. And she cried loudly. And I had to keep going. I was in the drugstore with the crying baby and had to take a deep breath. I was THAT LADY with the screaming baby. And that was OK.
And none of this makes sense. I can feel myself rambling. But I am going back to work tomorrow. This time has passed and I need to reflect on it. And so here I am, reflecting. Trying to pull these thoughts together in a neat package with a thesis is hopeless. So I ramble.
And then there was the change from feeling like she was totally dependent on me, to liberation. I could be with her, and then leave her with the trusted nanny, and know she would be OK. This did not happen overnight. She refused a bottle, and I thought she would starve. Yes, starve. The fear of starving your child is not easily overcome. But one day after hiring the Trusted Nanny, I left the house. Left her with the Trusted Nanny. And 20 minutes later, said nanny called me and said "She ate three ounces. Don’t worry." At this moment I burst into tears. I was in a restaurant a block away fearing my child would starve, and then learned she would be OK. I was thrilled and sad. Thrilled I knew she would eat. Sad she did not totally need me. I was not immune to the guilt this caused…"But shouldn’t I WANT to be attached like that? What does that say about me that I feel trapped by this need?".
I have since gotten over that. I realized I am a better parent when I am confident these duties can be shared. I don’t think this makes me a bad parent.
The interesting thing is, I did not realize how scared and clueless I was until now. Now I am much more confident with her. If maternity leave started now, I would do it differently because I can. I did not realize then how lacking in confidence I was until now when I actually feel more confident. I wonder if this phenomenon will continue as she gets older.
But it’s funny. It’s only been three months, and I am much more confident, and am OK leaving her with the Nanny while I go do something else…but I still miss her even now as she sleeps in the next room.
I am a nostalgic, sensitive, feeling person, but damn it, I never thought I would be this sappy. I am now embracing my inner sap. I am, after all, sappy. It could be worse.
And now it’s time to learn to be a Working Mother. I have read about this experience before. I have heard women talk about it. And here I go. I am at the top of the water slide called "Working Mother"…you know, the kind where you can see the first bit but not much thereafter, and you pray there is a cool welcoming pool at the other end. I am thankful I have a great job. If I didn’t, I would be miserable.
I am now bittersweet. I am sad. I am moving to the next chapter, but yes, I am sad. First Child Maternity Leave is a time of unexplainable emotions, and therefore, rambling blog posts with snippets of thoughts and reflections. I wish I could go back to many of the moments I had. It went too fast. She is already in size 2 diapers and though this is trivial, it is yet another example of time flying. The only answer to any of this, the somewhat melancholy piece of having a child, reflecting on the early days and going back to "real life" is the lesson that applies to so many things…to Be Here Now. Focus on the immediate and relish every bit of it.