Many mothers in present day America have to wrestle with the decision whether or not to return to work after having a baby. Everyone’s journey is different. This is my story.
When I was pregnant with my first child it was essentially a forgone conclusion that I would return to work once the baby arrived. It wasn’t because I was married to my job. Yes, I was proud of the career I had built and wanted to push it as far as I could go, but mainly, I felt that it was important for me to maintain my identity outside the home and a degree of financial independence. When asked by my coworkers if I was going to return to work full time, I would publicize my choice with bravado particularly when the question was accompanied with a judgey side eye implying that my response was somehow not “correct”. I was so confident in my decision that my husband and I didn’t even discuss the financial implications of becoming a stay at home mom. I wasn’t at all interested.
And then, I met my brown eyed boy and quickly had a change of heart. Going back to work seemed irrational. Being a mom was a harder assignment than any that I had received in the office, but that didn’t deter me from never wanting to leave his side. Noah was my new boss. I reported to him and him alone. My interim performance review after three months at home was Exceeding Expectations with one area for development – Bedtime Routine. I set my goals for the next three months of maternity leave determined to make him proud. And that’s when I began the begging and debating and pleading and reasoning. I had all my specifics in line to make my case for staying home. My husband didn’t necessarily disagree with my arguments, but neither one of us often deviates from our best laid plans. In the end, it was this little murmuring inside my head that said: “Give yourself a chance.” that persuaded me to go back. As much as I ached to be with my baby 24/7, deep down I wanted to make the most of the opportunity to succeed as a working mom before I gave it all up. I was fortunate to even participate in this debate financially speaking and given I was comfortable with the day care situation I had lined up (day care center and family). I knew if working wasn’t right for Noah or me, we would find a way to make staying at home an option.
On Noah’s first day at day care, I didn’t send him with enough food. The day care Director called to let me know while I was still at my desk in Hartford and I desperately rushed to pick him up and feed him. I felt so guilty. There were more than a few times after I returned to work that I felt guilty about decisions I made concerning Noah’s welfare. I overcame my negative feelings by convincing myself that those moments didn’t define me as a mother. Every day I looked for little confirmations that I made the right decision to return to work and they were often easy to see. I focused on my home front and not the choices that others made for their families and refused to let the guilt blind me to the fact that we were all happy and healthy in our new normal.
After six months back grinding full time and Noah a year old, I had to make a change to my day care situation, one that required me working from home one day a week with Noah in tow. The circumstances that were the impetus for change fell in my lap while my character, hard work, and having an ally in my manager carried me through to allow for even better arrangements. The working from home one day a week evolved into several versions of a part time schedule with plenty of flexibility that I have had for almost six years. The arrangement is not a perfect balance, but it is, on most days, the best of both worlds.
In the midst of my day to day work life seven years ago, I would have told you that working part time was not a possibility. Today, I’m content with it being my reality.