It’s something that many women are faced with every day, returning to work after maternity leave.
In the beginning stages of pregnancy, I looked forward to eight weeks of maternity leave. I had plans for how I would spend it, and knew it would include a lot of sleep and watching TV. I knew it would be hard, but I also knew I would probably get to a point where I would itch to get back to work.
I’ve always been a work-oriented person. From washing dishes in my parents restaurant as a preteen to working countless hours as a journalist in my twenties, I always found satisfaction in knowing that I had accomplished something. I loved the feeling of seeing my bank account balance grow every other Friday. I felt comfort knowing that I could put some money away each paycheck to save for my future. Work always felt like a game that I was trying to win each day, depending on the amount and quality of projects I completed.
That all changed when I had my daughter.
Nora was born at 33 weeks and had an extended stay in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). There were days when I left the hospital in tears, knowing that she would be alone until I returned in the morning. I yearned to curl up in a blanket and snuggle her, but couldn’t because she was hooked up to monitors with wires strung in different directions. I wanted to sing silly songs and make faces with her, but didn’t because I wasn’t sure when a doctor or nurse would walk in and find me strange. Most importantly, I wanted to take her home.
So when we got to leave, after more than 30 days in the NICU, I didn’t want to let go.
I spent hours with her, asleep on my chest. I smiled when she cried at 2:30 a.m., hoping for something to eat. Although, we had difficulties with nursing, I got emotional every time she latched and started feeding. She was all mine, and no one could take her away from me. I was, and still am, completely obsessed with her.
That’s why, it was so difficult yesterday, when I had to leave her for the first time to return to work.
It’s not that I don’t enjoy my job. As I mentioned before, I thoroughly enjoy work. But, my priorities in life have completed changed.
I wonder how many other mothers struggle with this decision as much as I am.
Does anyone else feel selfish? Because I do. I know society makes it difficult to live on a single income. Staying home would be tough for us, financially. But, is it really impossible? Or is it me? Do I really need to live in the house I live in and drive the car that I drive? Do I really need the clothes that I wear and the possessions in my home? Is it essential to my happiness to have an Amazon Prime Membership so I can repeatedly ship junk to my house overnight? Junk that will probably end up in a garage sale next year. OR — can I cut out the crap, and stay home to raise my daughter?
These are the thoughts that have been circling around in my head for the past several weeks. Is it selfish for me to go back to work when I am missing so much valuable time with my daughter? Time that I will NEVER get back. Will she feel my absence? Will it affect our relationship in the future? Or is it healthy for her to be exposed to a different environment while I’m at work? Is eight hours a day really going to hurt? Am I choosing possessions over my daughter? Or am I working to give her the quality of life she will someday appreciate?
I guess these are all questions I can’t answer. Maybe it will take time for the guilt to melt away. Or maybe I will find a way to cope. For now, the guilt is strong and I feel for every mother who has ever been faced with this decision. But, I will push on, log my hours and count down the minutes until I can get home to hold her in my arms again.