My preparedness skills were on point. I was out of bed, dressed, hair pulled into a bun and quietly opening the door to the baby's room in less than the time it took my husband to stumble into the bathroom and brush his teeth.
My son was still snoring. I gave myself a moment to breathe in his baby smell and soak up his peacefulness.
I snuck back out of his room and down to the kitchen to grab my breakfast, lunch and fruit from the fridge. Filled my mug with water (tea bag and sweetener already inside) and popped it in the microwave for three minutes. It would be scalding hot at first, but perfect by the time I was ready to walk out the door. I double-checked that I had the building entry code saved in my phone. That my wallet was in my purse, not the diaper bag.
"Good morning, bud!" I called to my son as I returned to his room. He wiggled, shifting and stretching as he woke. He squeezed his eyes shut and pursed his lips, making his deliciously chubby cheeks all the more pronounced. He opened his baby blues and flashed a handsome, gummy grin.
"Are you ready? Mama starts something new today!"
We'd already reached the end of my maternity leave—and I had never felt more conflicted. I loved my days home with the baby, playing after he ate and watching him discover the world. I hadn't been away from him for more than two hours since the moment I got pregnant—at this point a full year ago. I was nervous about daycare. But I also envied my husband's ability to leave the house and spend hours with adults. I craved some space to myself.
New mamahood had been a bit rough on me and I was ready to feel like myself again. To get back to "me."
I knew I was ready to work, but I wasn't sure I was ready to leave my buddy. Couldn't I just bring him with me? He'll just nap all day, right?
I know that as we retell our stories, nostalgia blurs the unfavorable aspects of an experience while the positives become brighter. That morning it wasn't the grueling hours of inconsolable crying I remembered or the way the full-time work of homemaking and childcare made me feel like an imposter. Instead, I felt my baby's soft hair tickling my chin as he snuggled into my chest in moments of calm. The brilliance of his smile and his energetic piano playing that I would miss while toiling away behind a computer.
I had always wanted to be a mom and I had always wanted to pursue a challenging career. I had forgotten to give any serious thought to how I wanted those roles to interact and intertwine.
I was nervous about rejoining my team, which had been functioning quite well without me for three months. Would there still be a place for me? Based on the barrage of unsolicited comments about my pregnancy from my coworkers—and everyone else—I expected my first day to be just awkward.
And, it was. The opinions came hard and fast...
"Hey! You're back! How hard was it to leave the baby this morning?"
"I can't believe you came back! I could never bring myself to do it. I didn't want strangers raising my kids for me."
"I'm so glad you're back! We’ve missed you!"
"Isn't it so lovely to have time to drink a cup of coffee while it's hot?"
"Oh, hey! I didn't recognize you with your new silhouette! You were so big!"
Then my cube neighbor emailed me: "That didn't take long, did it? At least no one has asked you if you plan on pumping at your desk... Yet!" Oh, how I'd missed her. I got to spend most of the day talking about the baby, catching up with friends and trying to avoid uncomfortable questions about the baby's birth and what I do or do not do to "get back in shape."
When I sat down to get to work, it felt as though I had never left. As long as I kept busy, I could tune out the nagging voice telling me I was making a mistake coming back to work.
I do truly enjoy working, yet I was also back at work out of necessity. All I wanted was to get settled back into anonymity, to find our family's next "normal." I didn't want to be "the new mom" of the office, the one everyone thinks of first when they hear a job position is opening and someone is leaving. I wanted to just be me, one of the editors, who happens to have an adorable baby at home who doesn't let her sleep all that much.
Like all things in life, some days are fine, some are great, and some are brutal. His first cold was brutal. He wanted his mama and, at times, I couldn't be there for him. Cue major guilt. But, he is in good hands. They may not be my hands, but that's OK. I've regained a sense of myself—and I think its made me a better mom than I was before. I feel like a whole person again, those days are great.
I'm sure I would eventually have found a way back to myself if I had stayed at home or found a way to work from home, but I was floundering, majorly.
I'd like to tell my pregnant self that working outside the home with a baby is tough. But, staying home with the baby is also really tough. There's no "easy" way to be a mom, but they're all doable. You can do it. You'll find the right balance for our family. And, bonus! Now that you're back to work, baby is happily making footprint art at daycare, hubby is pitching in with nighttime wakings and... You get a lunch hour!