I returned to work last Thursday. It was quite possibly the hardest thing I’ve had to do since Vess arrived. It was inevitable. We’re not one of those couples who can afford to live off of one income at the moment, so I knew it was coming. But I managed to completely avoid thinking about it for the majority of my maternity leave. Something inside me hoped- just for a second- that a miracle would happen and the world would give me permission to stay at home and raise our baby girl.
On Wednesday, it finally hit me that my imagination had gotten away from me. I wouldn’t be able to stay home. In fact, in less than twenty-four hours, I would be sitting in my office, staring at spread sheets and forcing myself to stay awake as the hum of my printer lulled me to sleep. So I did what any grown woman would do. I threw a little pity party. That’s right. I took a nice hot shower and had a good cry. Then I pulled myself together and decided on an outfit for the next day- Sensible black pants and a polka dot and floral top. And then I packed Vesper’s diaper bag. I planned out my route from our house to the sitter’s, then to the office. Being the overly-cautious planner that I am, I had timed the commute earlier in the week, just to be sure that I wouldn’t be late. I pre-loaded the car with a few items for the next morning. I went over the next morning’s plans over and over in my head. wake up, get ready, feed, change, clothe baby, finish getting ready, leave for sitter’s, remember to tell her about Vesper’s eczema, avoid construction traffic, make it to work by 8:30. I fully knew what to expect. In fact, I had planned the morning out so carefully that I just knew I would be too focused on getting to work to have time to feel sad.
The next morning, everything went according to plan. It was as if Vesper knew that I needed her to cooperate. Like she wanted to make this as easy as possible for me. I just had to keep moving. As long as I kept moving, I wouldn’t have to think about what I was actually doing. Auto Pilot. I think every mom has one.
Before I knew it, we had made it to the sitter’s house. I should pause and mention that the girl who is watching our daughter is a very very dear friend of mine. She graciously offered to watch Vess and we are so blessed to have her, her husband, and their daughter in our lives. She’s such an encouragement to me every day as I struggle through this new adventure. She seems to know me very well, even though we’ve only known each other a short while. I am eternally grateful for her friendship and advice in all aspects of my life. I feel such great joy when I am with her. But as I pulled into the driveway, I felt my throat catch. I felt myself begin to gasp for air. Nope. Must keep moving. I tend to do this a lot. When things get tough, I forget to breathe… I kept a brave face as I carried my daughter into the house, blurted out a few quick reminders (“she likes to be swaddled. Don’t forget to keep her upright when she eats. The eczema cream and gas drops are in the bag.” etc etc) and then dashed out the door before my emotions got the best of me.
As I pulled out of the driveway, it hit me that I was alone for the first time in nearly two months. Alone… I finally let myself breathe. Deeply. In… and out… mixed with a wave of salty tears. I didn’t expect it. It wasn’t in the plan. And so I sat at the stop sign at the edge of the neighborhood and cried. And breathed. And worried that my carefully planned morning would be shot to hell due to this unexpected bawl-fest. I thought of all the time I would be losing with my daughter. How unfair that my friend would get to spend her happiest hours with her during the day and I would pick her up just in time for her fussy time and bedtime. No more mid-day naps with her head on my chest. No more play time on the floor with the dog after lunch. All the smiles and coos I would miss… What if she got confused and stopped recognizing that I was her mother?? What if she liked my friend more than me? What if I was totally and completely screwing up my kid by having someone else watch her during the day! She might grow up to be like Snooki or something. (actual thought. not kidding. Clearly I was being irrational.)
I cried most of the way to work and finally pulled myself together just in time to pull into the parking lot and realize I had forgotten pretty much everything about my job. The door codes had been changed while I was away (should I have taken that as I hint?). People had come and gone. My office was still in tact. My job had been done for me. Life had continued without me. I wasn’t needed at the office. I was needed at home… Someone else can do spread sheets, but no one else can be Vesper’s mother and Ryan’s wife. What was I doing here anyway? I spent the rest of the day trying to focus on work. I’ll be honest, I didn’t get much done.
It didn’t hit me right away. In fact, it’s something I’m having to continually remind myself of, but this is the conclusion that came to me: right now, my ministry is outside the home. I was created to be a helper to my husband and family, and right now that means working a full-time job during the week days, and being the best wife and mother I can be on the evenings and weekends. It’s a tough balance. I’m not sure if it will ever feel “right.” I’m not saying this to justify it to you. I’m probably saying it to justify it to myself for the hundredth time. I’m okay. She’s okay. It’s a new normal.
I don’t have any profound words of advice which were derived from this experience- except that maybe, in hindsight, one should wear waterproof mascara on her first day back to work after maternity leave. I can only say that I feel like I’m part of the club now. You know the one I’m talking about- the Working Moms club. Every morning, all around the world, moms take their sleepy-eyed kiddos to the sitter’s, or school, or daycare. And then they fight the guilt time and time again. Maybe they feel guilt because they can’t stay home, or maybe the guilt is because they don’t want to stay home at all. Either way, I’m starting to notice that we as women and mothers sure do heap a lot of guilt onto ourselves. Does it make us better people? I’m not sure yet. I’m still wading through mine…
This will be my first full week back at work. A true test. I still feel guilty, but somehow, I feel like I’ll make it out on the other side. I’ll make you a deal. I’ll pray for you, if you pray for me. As iron sharpens iron… And we’ll get through this week together.