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.