Saturday, December 12, 2009

Back in the Saddle Again

On Wednesday morning, I returned to work.

I arose bright and early to play with Carter and enjoy his most talkative time of the day. We lay on the floor together in the nursery and I listened to him babble and sputter. We did all of his favorite things - looking in the mirror, staring at the ducks on his wall, reading his soft panda book. Then I nursed him, rocked him to sleep, kissed him goodbye and left him with my mother-in-law. As I was leaving the apartment I choked up, thinking of a full day without my little boy. Arriving at work, I almost burst into tears when a co-worker asked me how I felt about my first day back.

And then, a magical thing happened. I felt fine.

I feel almost guilty admitting that the transition back to work has been so smooth. After all, the prelude to my return was full of conflicted emotions and gut-wrenching sob-fests, and I fully anticipated my first week back to be a torturous daze of melancholy sighs, swallowed sobs and barely-contained emotion.

Instead, to my utter shock, I found myself downright pleased to be back in the office. I happily made the rounds, greeting old friends and relishing the many welcoming embraces, congratulatory comments and incredulous statements about my back-to-normal post-baby physique (thank you, breastfeeding!). I eagerly dove back into my job and was amazed (and a bit horrified) to discover that it feels like I was never gone at all, that the past 18 weeks were a blur, a flash, a different life. It is as if I was somehow transported back to a year ago, before I even discovered that Carter (then LOOL) was on the way, like my work world and my mother world had not yet merged in my brain.

Toward the end of the first day, a friend came up to my desk to inquire about my emotional state. I tentatively admitted that actually, I was ashamed to say that I felt surprisingly good. Where were the tears? Where was the emotional breakdown? Where was the much-anticipated crisis that was sure to result from the inevitable blending of work with mommyhood? Other mother friends had told me their tales of woe - the weeping, the anguish, the near-quitting of the job to avoid leaving their child. And yet here I was, happily chatting about Christmas cookie recipes with the woman down the hall.

She looked at me with a mischievous smirk, as though we shared an inner joke, and said "That's exactly how I felt. But it was like I couldn't tell anyone - everyone expects you to be a mess to be away from your baby, but I felt fine."

So there we were - guilty not for leaving our child, but for not feeling horrible that we did so. For Carter, the transition seems to have been almost as seamless - though he was reluctant to take the bottle on the first day, he learned quickly and was gulping it down by Friday. I drove home to see Carter each day during my lunch hour and was happy to find him smiling in the arms of his grandma on Wednesday, my brother on Thursday, and Daddy on Friday (it takes a village, right?). My mother arrives tomorrow to care for him all next week, and then in January he starts daycare, a five-minute drive from my office where I will see him daily for lunch.

As the weeks roll forward, I am sure that being away from Carter will be difficult and challenging, and that I will at times envy the stay-at-home moms who need never leave their babies. Occasionally, when I think of the overwhelming, capital-letters concept of Leaving My Baby it still upsets me, and I worry about missing precious moments of his development. But for now, I am fine. I am a mother, but I am still a working woman, and I will not apologize for that.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Incoherent Ramblings

This has been my last full week with Carter before I go back to work next Wednesday. I chose to come back early from maternity leave instead of take the full 12 weeks of bonding, which would have me return on January 5th. As is, I return December 9th and work a three-day week, then one full five-day week, then have a week off for Christmas. I originally thought this was an excellent plan, since my mother will be coming down to take care of Carter for the full week before Christmas, which will be an easier transition for him than just plopping him in daycare cold-turkey in January. Also, this way I'll actually get paid for December, whereas if I hadn't come back til next month I wouldn't, since my bonding pay has run out. Eight days of work and then a break for the holidays wouldn't be so bad, I rationalized.

That was before I happened to stop by my office the other day on my way home from a visit to the LA zoo (the perfect place for SAHMs to stroll with their little ones). I made the rounds, saying my hellos, and happened to mention that I would be coming back next week. One coworker, a fellow mom, looked horrified and said "But I thought you were out til January..?"

For some reason, something about this comment broke my heart a little. Perhaps it suddenly hit home that I have chosen work and money over time with my baby, and I was overwhelmed by a wave of guilt and shame. Suddenly the torturous questions began rolling through my head - what kind of mother does such a thing? Why was I not eager to take every last moment I could? Am I so desperate to prove my dedication to my bosses that I would sacrifice precious moments with my infant? Or am I just a money-grubbing penny-pincher with dollar signs for eyes, thinking only about my bank account? I certainly don't need the money. So what's my problem?

After mentally berating myself for the past two days and coming precariously close to calling HR and extending my leave (even though doing so would doubtlessly be unprofessional, given that I doggedly negotiated my time off at Christmas with my supervisor, which was finally approved on the condition that I come back December 9th), I realized that going back to work will essentially rip my heart out of my chest, regardless of whether I do it in December or January. Also, although I love my child, I cannot apologize for the fact that I occasionally miss adult conversation and look forward to speaking to someone who can respond with more than "Unnngaaaaaahhhh." Perhaps I made a mistake when I decided to come back early, but I have made the decision, and I will live with it.

One thing has become clear to me recently - though I enjoy my job, care about my career, and am certainly not wired to be a full-time stay-at-home-mom, there is something slightly unnatural about a mother leaving her child. Perhaps it is simply not in our DNA - we are hard-wired to protect and care for our young, just like mama gorillas.

After several nights of gut-wrenching sobbing while staring at my tiny sleeping child, today I was given a lovely surprise. A good friend and coworker called to inform me that my company just sent out a memo notifying employees that they are closing down entirely from Christmas to New Years. In other words, I go back to work for eight days and then have two weeks off. Now that's what I call a pleasant transition.

Fussy baby - must go.