Today, my doctor will tell me if I’m healed and ready to get back to active Shae duty. Honestly, though, “active Shae duty” just involves 40- to 50-hour work weeks and an occasional attempt to exercise regularly. (My last attempt to get into a fitness regimen was stifled by pregnancy exhaustion and nausea.)
Today is also my last day of maternity leave. Tomorrow, I go back to work.
I’m ready to go back to work. I’ve prepared for my child. He will not hunger because my freezer and my deep-freeze are packed full of breast milk for him while I’m away. I also have the best child care in the form of his father and loving grandmother rotating days when my husband doesn’t have to go to work.
Physically, I’m healed (as far as I know — the doctor might say different). Plus, I’m excited to take my work projects back on and get outside of my house on a regular basis — and to wear real clothes again.
…not that sweatpants aren’t amazing.
But I think I know why some moms choose to stay home with their children — and not just for financial reasons.
I am going to miss so much during one of my son’s most developmentally exciting times.
He’s only six weeks old. His smiles aren’t yet intentional; I might miss his first one. I might not be the first person he smiles at. His coordination isn’t developed, and his movements aren’t intentional either. I might not be the first person he reaches for when he’s hungry or cold or uncomfortable or just wants to snuggle.
Because I’m not going to be there.
I’ve experienced bouts of “mom guilt” — from going to the store for an hour to drinking Dr. Pepper. It takes many forms — some, ridiculous — but this “mom guilt” is the worst for me.
I’m excited to go back to work, and I feel so guilty for it.
Heavier than any other emotion I’ve felt, it is both dense and hollow. Leaving him when he is so small — even in the care of my husband — weighs on me and makes me feel empty at the same time. I know my baby will be safe and loved, but I’m not the one keeping him safe — and, for eight hours a day, I have to love him from my office.
Plainly, it sucks.
Guilt over leaving my child was not something I expected of myself. I expected to feel free to feel whatever I wanted, including excitement and dread, but I did not expect to feel like a horrible mother.
This also sucks.
I’ve been told by friends that “it gets easier,” and I believe it does. Before my son was born, my greatest joys came from working — don’t make fun of me — I love having work goals and accomplishing them and cheering about it in my head. Crossing things off my to do list is close to nirvana for me. (Again, please don’t make fun of me.) I’m giddy just thinking about it… but looking at my goals and my to do list now, both pale in comparison to every noise my son makes and the peacefulness I feel when he’s draped across my chest snoring softly in his sleep.
Of course, missing my son’s developmental milestones is not the only reason I have this mom guilt.
While I’m at work, I can’t help him with his development… because I’m not going to be there.
While I’m at work, I can’t nurse him… because I’m not going to be there. I also fear I’ll fail to pump just the right amount of times to keep my supply up and my milk might dry up. (Another form of mom guilt.)
While I’m at work, I can’t hold him while he cries… because I’m not going to be there. I don’t love it when he cries, but I sure do love holding him until he stops.
The case for paid maternity and paternity leave shouldn’t have to be argued in this country. It’s important for the health and development of the child, and it’s important for the health and wellness of the parent. It’s also important that parents not suffer crippling financial ruin for staying home to care for a baby.
I was lucky to spend six weeks with my son — not everyone can — but I had to use every day of vacation and sick time from last year and anything I earn this year to do it.
I am lucky my son will be close by while I’m at work — with his father or with his grandmother.
I am lucky.
I shouldn’t have to be.