I had a meeting with my boss when I was 9 months pregnant, nearly ripping at the seams of my maternity shirt. I was uncomfortable and somewhat cantankerous and I was itching from every pore, eager to get this cumbersome pregnancy over with. I wanted to expel the baby, and...love him a bit, of course - but more than anything, I wanted to get back to work. I wanted to make phone calls, send emails and get stuff done, without a gigantic protruding belly, niggling worry about my potential skills as a Mother, and constant heartburn.
“Gary, I’ll be back at work in 6 months,”I assured my manager,”I can’t wait to return.”
I’m Canadian, and by law, I was entitled to a year of paid maternity leave (though “paid” is a tenuous term: the highest payout is 50% of salary with a capped maximum income of 50K a year - not enough to live on.) But I didn’t plan on taking the full year because…what on earth would I do with an infant for 365 days? I’d go nuts. Working was what I did, instinctively and crisply: motherhood seemed so vague and foreign and…terrifying.
Fast forward almost half a year and I called Gary and tearfully admitted I wouldn’t be coming back after 6 months after all. My baby had pounded a love into me that I hadn’t known existed. I knew it was cliche, was annoyed by my “weakness” - but my baby had lit a candle in my heart and work just wasn’t as important as it had seemed in the unimaginable days before him. I couldn’t bear the thought of missing his tiny sighs, his first steps, his limpid eyes staring at me trustingly in the morning.
When I finally did go back to work, a full year after I’d left, I exited the elevator with mascara stained cheeks. I’d dropped my tiny son off at daycare and I drove downtown feeling like I was going to puke all over the floor of my Jeep. There was guilt in every hour, wrenching heartsickness at every meeting past 4:00. I’d rush to get him at the earliest opportunity, and when I should have been concentrating on Powerpoints and board meetings, I thought of him crying for me and I wondered how long it would be before I just totally lost it.
I couldn’t have imagined it would ever get easier, that any of that burning guilt would dissipate. Yet, almost three years later, I’m here to tell you that it does.
I know it’s partially because Nolan can speak now, because he has friends and a streak of independence, but I almost never feel guilt about working for a living, away from him. He loves his friends at daycare, and he is old enough to understand that Mommy works so that we can have a house and cheese pizza and Charlotte’s Web in the DVD player. I am eternally grateful that I have a work-from-home career, and that I need to travel for business relatively rarely. But my guilt is so much less than it once was, mostly because I am there for him so much.
We amble through forests and overturn rocks for creepy scuttling pictures, and unprompted, my son tells me that I am the best Mommy in the world. I cook and clean and work for him, and in some ways, I embark on a social life for him, too. He loves his babysitter on the occasional Saturday night, and I love having a social life as a woman as well as a Mommy. My downtime makes me a better Mother, I know this wholeheartedly.
I work full time, I lead an active social life - and I feel no guilt, really. I’m amazed, in retrospect, that it’s morphed this much in 3 years, but it has.
New working Moms, I want to tell you: it really does get easier and better and you will find your mojo, too.