Reflections on maternity leave

 

“Our” first day of school

For 4 1/2 months, July 23 hung over me like a black cloud.

D-Day — The end of maternity leave and the incredible life I’d grown accustomed to with Savannah.

In the months leading up to it, I refused to look at the calendar and did my best not focus on the dwindling days ahead of me. Instead, I took each day as it came and spent every minute enjoying the gift of time with my girl (which also explains why this  blog has been a little bleak). I cherished impromptu visits from my parents and mid-week walks with my mommy friends. And, I took full advantage of crowd-free shopping and errand running. Most of all, I held my girl, breathed her in, and memorized every detail of her face and body.

Life was sweet.

But, I’ve learned that no matter how much we may try to avoid it eventually, the inevitable catches up to us. I allowed myself to feel all of the emotions associated with the end of this chapter – sadness by the thought that I would no longer be Savs’ one and only caregiver, anxiety about the workload awaiting me, fear of leaving her with strangers everyday, regret that I’d no doubt miss some of the incredible milestones that lie ahead.

Next came acceptance.

With two days left to spare I found myself burying those emotions and focusing on the excitement of my next adventure as “working mom.” I reminded myself that I love my job, the University where I work, and my colleagues. As much as I enjoyed being a new mom and everything associated with it, I missed talking about issues beyond cloth diapers and breastfeeding challenges. I knew I was composed of more than that and I felt the other, non-Mommy, “Nicole” slipping away with each rerun of Dawson’s Creek that I watched. I had my share of challenges while I was learning the parenting ropes but I missed the satisfaction I had at the end of a really productive work day. And let’s be honest, I longed for the thrill of putting on a pair of high heels and pulling out the Blackberry I’d buried away months before.

I was ready.

And then the day was upon me or rather the night before. I broke down…completely and totally. I called my own mommy for moral support, I held my baby so tight I was scared her little head was going to pop off, and I cried in my husband’s arms for two hours straight. And then I fell into bed willing time to fast forward to the end of the week when I could say I did it.

I survived.

The first morning was tough, I’m not gonna lie. Mike and I dropped her off together and I cried some more. I stared at her goofy grin and the look of pure ignorance in her eyes and I cried even more. I walked out the door and looked back as she snuggled against Miss Norma’s chest and surprised myself by how many more tears I could shed. That lasted until I was halfway to work and then, with the help of a reassuring phone call from my best friend, I pulled myself together. I put on my makeup, straightened out my dress, and transitioned to “Business Bals” as my friends call me.

And before I knew it the weekend was upon me. Just like that. I did it!

Sure, there were obstacles along the way. Learning the mysteries of the breast pump and all it entails for one. Let’s just say, pumping in public restrooms between off-site meetings, storing bottles in an overcrowded communal refrigerator, and finding a solution to the daycare’s daily plea for MORE MILK is no easy feat (I owe a great deal of thanks to my incredible friend, Catherine – my own personal lactation consultant). But, saying goodbye got easier with each passing day and picking her up at night became my reward for a day’s worth of hard work! Treating myself to a 30 second video of her laughing now and again made the hours fly by and 5:00 am wake up calls never looked so good because they meant extra cuddle time with my love bug.

I’ve been asked repeatedly if I feel guilty about going back to work while she’s so young and I have to answer with a resounding NO. As a parent, we have to make decisions that are best for our families and the more time I’ve spent working through my emotions on this issue the more I feel strongly that I’m doing the right thing (for me and my daughter). Daycare is giving her the chance to  socialize with other kids, find comfort in someone’s arms other than her mommy, and gain some independence and experience a little freedom from the hovering eyes of her mom and dad. I walked in to pick her up the other night and she was sitting in a circle with two other babies and they were all talking their heads off. In that moment, I knew that I was doing the right thing.

Working full-time is also allowing us to live a lifestyle we’ve grown accustomed to in one of the most expensive cities in the world. Having two incomes is giving us the ability to provide for our child in the way we desire while having a little fun along the way. It’s also giving me the chance to conquer my own goals and feel good about my contribution to our household.

Plus, our time together as a family is so much more purposeful now. When we’re not working we are all about Savannah 100% of the time. She’s in our arms, playing with us on the floor, or snuggled between us in bed. There’s no doubt in my mind that with the team we’ve established, she is getting the love and attention she needs everyday. And hopefully, we’re creating a well-adjusted little girl in the process.

So, for all of you soon-to-be working mommies out there who are feeling fear and regret about returning to work, trust me when I say that you and your baby will survive!

My advice: allow yourself to go through the emotions (if you didn’t cry a little or call to check on them every day of their first week, something would be wrong). Trust your instincts – if you found reliable childcare and you know in your heart that your babe is safe then all you have to worry about is how this transition will affect you. And, most of all don’t feel guilty! Just like staying home works for some moms, going to work is the best option for others. As a product of a working mom, I think it was incredibly beneficial to watch my mom’s career soar while she maintained her role as Mother of the Year. She taught me that with a little patience, a good amount of prayer, and a lot of organization I really can do it all. And you can too!

Happy Mommy = Happy Baby

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