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I went back to work when Abby was 5 weeks old. It was brutal. Physically. Emotionally. Mentally.

And, I only needed to work for two weeks to polish off the 2013-2014 school year. As a teacher, I knew summer was just around the corner and that I would have 8-10 blissful weeks with my baby before having to face the next teaching year. Many working moms don’t have the advantage that my schedule allows. They must go back to work for good. The toll that this can take can be astronomical, but more on that later…

For now, my musings.

When you are pregnant and meeting with HR representatives, you consider the logistics of your situation. For David and I, we looked at the financial problems that unpaid maternity leave causes and decided that it was in our family’s best interest to minimize the number of unpaid weeks. As a teacher, I also considered the challenges that wrapping up a school year entails, including packing up a classroom, finalizing grades, hugging graduating students, creating and administering finals. For me, returning to work seemed like the reasonable decision. After all, my mama was willing to fly from Texas to watch Abby for two weeks. What could be better than that?

However, what you aren’t told when you are pregnant and making these decisions is that being a working mom encompasses much more than finding childcare and commuting.

It means hours of pumping and storing milk or, if you aren’t nursing, finding a formula that your baby’s system will tolerate.

It means trying to finagle a work schedule to find time and privacy to pump at work, while being engorged and emotional.

For me, it meant nearly ending up in urgent care due to mastitis brought on by stress, engorgement, reduced nursing, and even more lack of sleep than is normal for a new mom.

It means engaging emotionally with your baby while still distancing yourself enough to leave your infant in the care of someone else.

I remember breaking down in tears on one of the last days of the school year when I realized how aloof I had kept myself from Abby. I loved her more than life itself, but somehow I had convinced myself that she needed me to NOT hold her or talk to her as much so that she would be okay in someone’s care other than my own. Sobbing after the fact, I acknowledged the emotional damage I had caused to myself with this decision. I am her mommy. I am meant to be HER PERSON. HER CONNECTION. HER STABILITY.

What’s more is that she was supposed to be all those things for me as well. In the rush of postpartum hormones and the rapid drop of pregnancy hormones that occur in those early weeks, mothers and infants keep one another grounded. It’s a sacred communion understood only when you yourself are in the midst of the ups and downs of early motherhood. Until looking back, I didn’t have a clue.

Abby is 11 weeks old today, and I can finally say that my milk supply has regulated, I rarely pump, I’ve engaged in the wonder of Abby’s development, and she seems no worse for wear. But, if I could go back, would I change things?

That’s an unfair question that I can’t answer.

Going back to work made logical sense, and it would still make sense if I was considering the situation again. However, emotionally, I had no way to gauge the powerful factors that would complicate a seemingly straightforward decision. And, to emphasize that point, I’m planning on returning to full time teaching in August. Abby will be four months old by then, and I’m hoping/expecting that some of the physical and emotional struggles will be minimized by then. For many in my generation, being a stay-at-home mom is just not an option. Cost of living is just too high, and the job market is just not strong enough to allow for that freedom. For others, being a stay-at-home mom is not the desire of their heart and they flourish in their jobs.

Still, balancing being a mom and a working professional is a daunting task. Hats off to the women I know who do it with such grace. I’m not there yet.

So, when a Healthline representative contacted me and requested whether or not I was interested in publishing an article from one of their freelance writers, I agreed that an article on the topic of challenges facing working moms would be beneficial. If nothing else, it would open up the conversations that need to be had and potentially relieve the guilt born by many mothers and readers of this blog. This weekend I should be publishing that article under Part II of this “Working Moms” series.

If you are a working mom, what challenges have you faced? How do you manage them? How have you worked through the guilt? What do you still struggle with? Have you found going back to work easier or harder than you expected? Leave me a comment…

For me, working out-of-the-home must be my reality in this season of my family’s life. Balancing and embracing THIS season will become perhaps even more important than it ever has been in the past. Priorities are not just health- or financially-related. Rather, a developing heart relies on me. Relies on me to love her. To hold her. To engage with her when I’m home, and to leave her in the best care possible when I’m not.

There is a lot to trust God with in the coming months…

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