Reflections of a New Mom As I Head Back to Work

Baby 1

Note:  This isn’t my usual travel or cultural piece, but it does explain why I haven’t been writing as much lately!

I used to laugh at people who said I would change my entire outlook on life when I had children. I had a career, I wasn’t going to want to sit home and talk baby-talk when I could be leading a staff call in my office, making important decisions that would affect my program, or working on my next promotion. I went to college so that I could have a career. What was the point of all of those years of hard work otherwise? I had a career path, and a baby wouldn’t slow down my plans. Of course I would love my child, but I would still want all the same things I always did and I would do whatever it took to accomplish those goals. In today’s generation, they teach you that women can have it all—that you can have your children, take a few weeks off, and keep right on going. I just assumed that was true. It’s amazing how quickly things can change.

Before I had my baby, I never thought I would have any desire to stay at home full-time with my children. I enjoyed working, I was driven and motivated, and quite frankly, I didn’t think I would be very maternal. I couldn’t picture myself home with a screaming child—changing diapers, getting spit up on, cooking, cleaning, and doing laundry. I joked that I would probably lose my mind on maternity leave and beg to go back to work early just to get out of the house. Fast forward to today, a weekend away from having to report back to the office, and I would give almost anything just for another week with my sweet little baby girl—dirty diapers and all.

I am someone who likes to be on the go at all times. I’ve traveled the world. I’ve climbed the Great Wall of China, swam with elephants in Thailand, whitewater rafted in Costa Rica, stood atop the Acropolis in Athens, rode camels in Morocco, and had hundreds of other amazing experiences in between. I need excitement—to always be focusing on my next big adventure. I put off having children until I was 30 because I wanted to fit in all of the fun that I could beforehand. I wasn’t naive. I knew no matter how much I wanted to continue to live my same life after kids, inevitably things would have to at least somewhat slow down. I could hire a babysitter and go back to work, but my time at home each night wouldn’t be my own anymore to work on my blog. I could say ‘forget it’ to making dinner on a Wednesday night, but we couldn’t just pull up a highchair to eat at our favorite bar instead. I could still plan adventures, but I would have to talk grandma into watch the kids—at exactly what age is it socially acceptable to leave a child home and take off to Asia for two weeks?

It’s funny the things you think pre-kids and the things you realize post-kids. I’m a relatively new mom, so I’m sure there will be a LOT more opportunities for these epiphanies. But until you have your own children, you can’t understand what the big deal is. You can’t quite get why people cry when they have to drop their child off at daycare and go back to work, why someone would up and quit a lucrative career to live on tight budget as a single-income family to be home with their kids, or why some women still insist you can’t have it all.

I read an article the other day where the woman authoring it—someone who had held some pretty important positions during her career—said she finally realized that she could not have it all. When she was working 24/7, her children suffered, and when she focused on her children, her career inevitably suffered. She felt women in her generation had a problem admitting this, that they felt it would automatically set us all back to the 1950s or something. They were supposed to be promoting to the younger generation that you could have it all—that you should never have to give anything up. I’m a part of that younger generation, and quite frankly, I’d rather hear that truth than struggle to ‘have it all’ and wonder why I can’t do it when others act like they all can. If I realized this in only a few short months, I don’t think it’s a secret. There are only so many hours in the day. Whether a stay at home mom or a working one, there simply aren’t enough!

I’m not saying that you can’t work and have children. I plan to—I need to! What I’m saying is that something has to give a little. I will inevitably miss out on things with my daughter while I’m at work. Maybe it will be her first word or her first steps or even her first injury. I might not be there to stare at her in amazement or clap for her accomplishment or kiss her boo-boo to make it all better. We’ll have plenty of milestones together, but I will miss things, and that makes me really sad. I think even moms who truly do want to go back to work face these same struggles and feelings of guilt.

My husband and I used to get a lot of comments early on in our marriage, especially when we would go away on a trip, about how lucky we were to be DINKs (Dual Income No Kids). There were no little ones dirtying thousands of diapers at 25 cents a piece to think about, no college funds to worry about, no daycare expenses… it was just us. We could pick up and go when we wanted where we wanted. Older couples would look at us either longingly remembering when they had that luxury or knowingly thinking about what was in store for us. It’s funny how little we realized how much our lives would change so quickly—that there would suddenly be a whole new center to our universe.

I had no idea before I had my daughter that I would be able to stare at a baby for hours while she slept peacefully in my arms or how one little smile could brighten my entire day. I didn’t realize that the thought of someone who wasn’t her mama taking care of my baby would practically bring me to tears. I would have laughed at the thought. But now when I see my baby look for her mommy, know exactly who she is, and clamor for her undivided attention (sometimes to the point that it’s exhausting), my heart breaks a little. She wants to be held and cuddled and talked to, and soon she’ll have to face a new reality—that mommy isn’t there every second of the day. I don’t know who the adjustment will be harder on, her or me!

I’m not saying that all of your personality traits change when you have a baby and you magically want to spend your entire day (and night) attached at the hip. All of your own dreams don’t just die because you have a baby. There are moments when you miss parts of your old life or just having time to yourself. Many of these will happen at about 2am when all you want to do is sleep and your little one has other ideas. Sleep deprivation sets in and you remember back to when you used to be able to sleep until noon on the weekends if you wanted to and there wasn’t this screaming, crying little person who had you at their beckon call. There will be days when you look around at about 5pm and wonder what you did all day—the house is a mess, there is no dinner on the stove, and the only thing you can recall is changing a lot of diapers and feeding the baby what felt like 20 times. There will be times when you just want to pick up for a long weekend and go away to that nice Bed and Breakfast you love—and then you’ll remember that they don’t allow children.

I thought that I would be able to focus on my travel writing/business while I was home on maternity leave. I figured it would be a great opportunity to really get it moving while I had all of this ‘time’ on my hands. I don’t know where those weeks went, but there was most certainly no extra time to focus on anything. Time just slipped away. I wanted to do it, I love travel planning, but I just never found the time. The baby occupied what felt like every-minute of every day. And I loved it, I wouldn’t give up those moments for a second, but my life very much became hers.

That all being said, I recognize that you can’t lose yourself just because you have a baby. I still long to hop a plane and head off on my next adventure; I get travel envy when I see one of my friends has gone somewhere amazing recently. That will never go away. And I will get back out there doing what I love because ultimately I think that will make me a happier, more fulfilled mom—just not quite yet. Our hobbies and passions didn’t go away just because we have a child. My husband and I will both have to make an effort to carve out the time to have our own outlets because in the long run, it will make us both better parents. The thing I will inevitably struggle with most is striking the proper balance, but I think that will come with time.

And during all of the chaos of that balancing act, I know I can’t lose sight of my marriage and my partner, either.   I don’t find it all that shocking that so many people who have been married for 20+ years are suddenly getting divorces. Many American parents put their marriages on hold when they have kids. Their relationships are moved to the backburner while they raise their children. Then when the children are all out of the house, they expect to just pick up where they left off. Is it really all that shocking that they suddenly find they are living with a complete stranger? I recognize that we will have to make a concerted effort to do things together, not always just as a family of three, taking some us-time when we need to in order to keep our relationship healthy for both us and our child.

So now, as I head back to work, I wonder how I can possibly do it all. When will my husband and I get a few minutes to just relax together? How will I plan my meetings at the office around breast pumping? How will I keep up with the laundry when we seem to have a load a day? When won’t the house look like a disaster? How will dinner get on the table every night when all I’ll want to do is spend every second I have with my baby when I get home? How will I possibly find the time to workout or have any me-time? The answer is, I don’t know. I don’t have all of the answers, and I don’t have to. I guess we will have to schedule date nights and stick to them; the office will have to be understanding because they’ll have no choice; the laundry will get done when it gets done—we can buy some more underwear; so what if the house is a little messy, it looks lived-in; there’s always takeout for dinner; and the baby and I can break in her new jogging stroller, killing two birds with one stone. Comprises will inevitably have to be made. Nothing is perfect, and nothing will ever be the way it was before the baby again. And that’s ok; I will do the best that I can with the understanding that I can’t quite have it all. I’ll just have to make the parts that I can have work for me. In the end, all of the chaos is worth it when I see that little face smile up at me.

 by Meghan Perkins

Comments

  1. Beautiful written Meghan. 🙂

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