After almost a year of maternity leave, how does it feel to be leaving my baby girl (and my little boy) and returning to work? A mixed bag of feelings made up mostly of guilt, excitement, fear, and relief. Let’s break it down a bit.
As many women (and men) will tell you, the guilt is real. When I’m not feeling guilty over spending time washing dishes instead of blowing raspberries on her tummy, I’m feeling guilty over leaving her with someone else while I go for a facial. My head knows that the dishes need doing, that I need time out, but my heart tells me I’m selfish, my heart tells me to do the dishes after she’s gone to bed, to stick a face mask on, hope for the best, and be done with it. Both my head and my heart tell me to get shit done and make sure she’s happy. They constantly tell me that first, she gets everything she wants and needs, and anything I want or need comes later, much later.
But we all know what happens to people who get whatever they want, whenever they want. So I remind myself that even though the guilt is real, I’m doing the right thing by not spending every second cooing over her, that by allowing myself some time out I am teaching her to be comfortable with her own company. (Even as I type this I think to myself: jeez, that’s a great way to convince yourself you’re not being selfish.)
And then there’s the guilt that comes from having a demanding baby take up a lot of my time, minutes spent seeing to her while Nathan plays alone or watches TV or takes himself to the loo because mummy is busy with Kittie. Feeling so proud of him being so clever, and good, but feeling crushed that I’m not right by his side helping and playing.
I’m OUT OF THE HOUSE FOR THREE WHOLE DAYS A WEEK! No longer will I spend half of my day, every day in the kitchen cooking, blending, washing up, sterilising, washing, hanging, wiping surfaces, floors, and negotiating with a toddler. Yes, those jobs will all still be there for me later, after work and on my days off work, but by being out of the house all day long I will not be a slave to the hourly grind. And that, my friends, means I will be using my brain elsewhere, for something creative, something tangible, something other than pureed bolognese. Now, as much as I love pasta, that is an exciting prospect.
What if she’s distressed at her childminder’s? What if she won’t eat? What if she doesn’t have her naps? What if she has too many naps? What if Nathan cuddles her too hard or nips her while I’m not there and there’s nobody to shout “Oi, Nathan!”? What if she topples over, all the way from sitting position to lying position and bangs her head and god forbid, cries? What if, what if, what if?
My anxiety and stress levels have been through the roof all day every day about the silliest of things. And if it’s not about the silly daily stuff, then I’m worrying about their futures… what if they’re not happy or what if they don’t make friends easily or what if Kittie ends up hating me, praying to her friends and her diary not to turn out like her mother? My mood swings are beyond belief, my health is up and down, I don’t know where I stand with myself – never mind anyone else knowing how I’ll be from one minute to the next.
And the fear is as real as the guilt. In fact, it’s worse, it’s the kind of thing that hides there, beneath the surface. You can see the bubbles, you know it’s there. But you can’t let it come up, your hand stays firm always pushing it down. The monster cannot surface, you can’t bear how it will look, how it will sound. So you leave the fear there in your belly, gurgling away, but you hope you never ever have to face it despite the constant bad taste it leaves in your mouth.
Hopefully, being back at work will take my mind off the fear. But, until I know I’ll probably just worry about that too.
The relief stems from knowing I’m not my best self when I’m at home all day, every day, with a toddler and a baby. Of course, I love spending my life with them. They are everything to me and nothing brings me greater joy than those two little human beings. I am constantly striving to do my best for them – but I recognise that this pressure I put on myself actually makes me a lesser version of me and that’s not great for them.
I’m irritable and grumpy, the stress gets to me in a way that I’ve never known. I am forever checking the clock for the next feed, the next nap, the next set of dishes, the next dry day for hanging washing, the next meal that we can all eat. I am forever anticipating problems such as swings knocking him over, lamps falling on her head. These horrors rarely happen, but it doesn’t stop me constantly looking for them, constantly trying to be a superhero and rescue them from anything and everything before it happens. It’s exhausting and it makes me a bit of a bore. The last thing I want is for my kids to think I’m no fun.
COPING WITH RETURNING TO WORK
I remind myself I am very, very lucky to have been able to have this time off with them, even though I feel relieved that I won’t be solely responsible for every minute of every day. They say it takes a village to raise a child and it’s so true. Our village is small but without them I’d be lost, they take some of the pressure, the responsibility, and I, we, trust them with that. We are lucky to have them to help us. With them, we will all do our best together which allows me to be me so that hopefully they will grow up with a mum who is fun to spend time with as well as a mum to be proud of.
I’m wearing: hat, Dobbies; dress, H&M.
She’s wearing: hat, Smarty Pants; swimsuit, Mothercare.
Images: Kris Miller.
Location: Monifieth beach.