“So, are you coming back to work?” someone asked me for the umpteenth time. I was 7 months pregnant and counting down the days until maternity leave started. My back ached, my feet were swollen, I felt like one huge marshmallow. Working retail and standing for 7 hours out of the day was taking its toll on my whole body. And I was determined to work all the way to the end so I could have that much longer to stay home with the baby. I was most definitely coming back to work. Hey, the bills needed to be paid! But the closer I got to her due date, the more I was weakening in my stance.
As luck would have it, I was pulled into maternity leave a lot sooner than I wanted. At 34 weeks, I got a call from the doctor at work that the baby was taking in meconium (fetal stool) shown by a shadow on her lungs in the ultrasound. This was my first baby, and the call jarred me. I was helping a customer when the tears came unexpectedly. Something was wrong with my daughter! An appointment was set up immediately in San Francisco for a 3D Ultrasound, and my future ex-husband and I rushed down there early the next morning to find out what was going on. The ultrasound showed every single hair on her body (I was giving birth to an ape), the curve of her mouth, the motion of her swallowing, the features of her face and her tiny hands….. It showed everything except for any meconium in her lungs. The emergency, thank goodness, ended up being a false alarm. But by then I had already given notice of my leave. I was only several weeks early, and I figured I could use a couple weeks of vacation at the end of my leave if I needed to.
My daughter was born in early February. She had a full head of black hair, a beautiful rose mouth, and tiny hands that grasped my finger tightly. From day one she would lift her wobbly head off my chest and take in her surroundings, so curious of the world. She refused to sleep at night, but would nuzzle against me during the day as we napped on the couch. She was beautiful and precious, by far the best and most brilliant thing I had ever made. And when the decision came to leave her and go back to work, I couldn’t do it. I stayed home with her for the whole first year, keeping my benefits with Kaiser through COBRA. And I would have stayed longer, but the household required a second income.
Three years later when I was pregnant with my son, I was faced with the same dilemma. I was working healthcare at this point, and had a very strenuous job that involved heavy lifting. When I finally left this job, I knew I had no intention of going back. And that brought me great relief. We were in such a place financially that I didn’t really need to work. Not only that, but the costs of the kids’ daycare would have been too close to my income. It just didn’t make sense to go back to work.
But by the time my son was 4 months old, I was
DYING sort of itching to go back to work. I needed to get out of the house! Anyone who claims being a stay-at-home mom is easy has never tried it. Your friends are your kids, the very people who are around you constantly asking you “Why?” and needing food at all hours of the day, and making huge messes, and talking babytalk, and spitting up on your clothes, and crying, and crying, and crying, and not sleeping at night or taking naps during the day, and being Miss Finicky and Mr. Fussypants….. AUGH!!!! To take a shower meant waiting for my 3 year old daughter to take a nap, and placing my infant son in his carseat by the stall, trying to get the soap rinsed out as he screamed bloody murder. And no matter how hard I scrubbed, the smell of spit up never completely left my body. We didn’t know any other families with kids, so I was their constant playmate. Barney haunted my dreams. All shopping trips took twice as long as I loaded kids into carseats, unloaded them, chased a 3 year old while keeping my hand on the baby in the shopping cart, soothing a crying baby, then soothing a 3 year old who had reached her limit. By the time my future ex-husband would get home, I was crawling out of my skin and ready to murder him on the spot for asking me what was for dinner and why half of the cat’s whiskers were missing.
I was lucky. I got a job right away at an Assisted Living Center, a really wonderful facility, where I worked full time. I attempted pumping during the day, and gave up in favor of driving home to feed my son midday. I supplemented his feedings with formula, so he got a mix of both during his first year. My future ex worked at home on days that I worked, taking the kids with him if he needed to go. On days that he couldn’t watch him, my wonderful employers allowed me to bring the kids with me.
For a new mom, working oftentimes means putting the baby in full-time daycare, 5 days a week. That is 5 full days of the baby bonding with someone other than their mother, and that can be heart-wrenching, and not to mention, EXPENSIVE. But it does allow for a household to be able to make enough money (hopefully) to live comfortably and save for the future, and allow her to continue on the career path that she put in place before the baby was even a thought.
On the flipside, not working means giving up a degree that was worked hard for, making a household work with less (and diapers cost a fortune!), and the danger of losing one’s sense of identity other than “the baby’s mom”. But it allows the baby to form a bond with their mother, giving them a sense of security that is so important in that first year of life. It also allows the household to be better managed. And the added bonus? There is no daycare bill.
To work, or not to work. It’s a hard decision to make once a couple decides to start a family. Are you a working mother? Or do you stay home with the kids? What are some of the reasons for the decision you made, and would you have done anything differently?
Stay tuned for “Working and Single Motherhood” tomorrow.