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.