I remember falling in love with Caleb the moment I saw him. I had never loved anyone or anything as much as I loved this little boy. And almost instantly, I dreaded the thought of leaving him.
The plan was to go back to work after Caleb was born. I worked part-time as an administrative assistant for the New York office of a Canadian investment firm. I had a two-month maternity leave planned, but as I looked down at the infant in my arms, I thought, How on earth could I leave you?
I wasn’t prepared for the feelings I was experiencing.
The truth is, I had spent the past nine months thinking about how much I hated being pregnant. I felt awful and mostly nauseous the entire time. I thought I looked terrible. I gained too much weight and was constantly being told so by my OB-GYN. I worked part-time during my pregnancy, but other than that, I wasn’t able to handle doing much of anything else. My memories of pregnancy usually involve throwing up, lying down, and spending time getting to or being at work. I couldn’t think of anything else except not being pregnant. I couldn’t wait for my son to be born.
Not going back to work didn’t seem like an option for our family. My husband was on disability at the time, and even with our combined income and my job providing us health benefits, we were barely getting by. The plan was that I would continue working—we hadn’t even considered another option.
And then Caleb was born, and everything changed.
My husband and I experienced the normal stresses and joy of early parenthood. I healed from a nasty episiotomy. I learned how to nurse successfully. We were trying to get through our daily routine of eating, sleeping (or, rather, not sleeping), changing diapers and staring at Caleb with loving eyes.
As my maternity leave drew to a close, I found myself feeling depressed and angry. I was jealous that my husband would be home and I had to go back to work. I didn’t want to pump and I wasn’t very good at it. I was feeling sorry for myself for missing out on being a stay-at-home mom.
The day before returning to work, I remember holding Caleb in his nursery. Tears rolled down my face as I rocked him in my arms. I felt so much guilt and so much anxiety. I kept telling him that I loved him and that I was going to leave but come right back. I told him to drink from the bottles even though he didn’t like them.
The next morning, I got ready for work. I was dreadfully sad to leave. I arrived in my office at 8:30 and was greeted by my office manager, who asked me into her office. I was not prepared for what was about to happen. After some chitchat, she sat me down and explained to me that my position was no longer necessary. The company was scaling back, and I was being terminated. I was flooded with emotions. I was angry about being fired. I had been on maternity leave! How could they just fire me the first day back? Wasn’t that against the law?!
But then a calm came over me. I was fired. I could go home... to my baby. That was where I wanted to be, remember? I tried to not let my face show the relief I felt.
I expressed my concern for our financial situation and was promptly given a document outlining my severance package. I read through it quickly and was satisfied with the monetary component. I was not satisfied with health benefits. I was brought to see our in-house counsel. He explained that I could pretty much get anything I wanted, so “name your price.” In the midst of all the emotions, I thankfully had the presence of mind to realize he was more worried about me suing them then he was of me asking for more money. I ask for a longer extension to our Cobra coverage—one and half years. And I got it. I couldn’t believe it.
I was sent home in a car. On the way home, I realized what a blessing I had just been given. I received an amazing severance, I was going to be given unemployment benefits and I had health coverage for close to two years. And best of all, I was going home. I started crying. I couldn’t stop. I couldn’t wait to get home.
And home is where I get to be. I did end up going back to work for a short time again two years later. But once my second son was born in 2005, my husband became the sole provider and I was able to be the stay-at-home mom that I had always wanted to be.
I have such satisfaction in knowing that I have been a part of my children’s lives in this way. I sometimes hear parents say, “Doesn’t it go by fast?” Honestly, at this point, I would say no. I have lived these years with them, the really great parts and the really difficult parts. I am present physically, emotionally and spiritually. I feel like I have lived every moment with them. At 13 and 10, we are still together every day, every step of the way.
Cynthia Holt is an event planner who lives in New York City with her husband and two sons.