When Returning to Work Doesn’t Break Your Heart

I had to go back to work early after the birth of my son, by the standards of most people in my life. Not early compared to my yoga-teacher friend who had six weeks off, or my friend whose mat leave living overseas was only two months, but I went back at six months, which is early to many. Having talked with other moms, I know I was in a great position to return to work – I got to start back at only three-and-a-half days a week, and our parents were willing to do the needed child care until my husband could get pat leave (I know – lucky!) when I started full-time hours.

But in the weeks leading up to my return date, I was a wreck: I was jealous of my mom-and-baby-group friends, looking ahead to a time when they would continue to have play dates with their babes while I sat at a desk wondering what my kid was doing all day (turns out he was still at mom-and-baby group, just with Dad). I was embarrassed about handing my son off for care without a regular nap schedule, as if that would somehow signal incompetence in that I’d had him for six months and still didn’t know what I was doing. I was anxious that my absence would somehow weaken our bond – or, as my sister put it, I “kind of did” want him to stay a bit of a mama’s boy even though I knew meaningful relationships with other caregivers were important and good, and would make my life a hell of a lot easier in the long run.

The moms in my village gave me great support, encouraging me that John could help with the household duties more so I could spend more time with Arlo when I was home, assuring me that all mothers felt this way when they went back to work, and even telling me it was okay if I just cried all day in the bathroom for the first day back.

So imagine my shock when I had (dare I say it?) a wonderful day. Everyone asking about the baby and wanting to see pictures, getting to see friends I hadn’t seen much since Arlo’s birth, wearing grown-up clothes with no chance of food smears or drool? Of course I had a great first day.

But then the guilt-inducing thing was, I kept having great days. I like my job. I like my colleagues. I like walks at lunch by the river behind my building, bike rides with friends to work in the morning, and drinking a whole cup of tea while it’s still hot. Best of all, every day when I came home, Arlo was limbs-flailing, goo-goo-ga-ga ecstatic to see me (a reaction that had largely been reserved for working-Daddy or post-babysitter greetings until that point).

This is where assumptions about motherhood paint us all into corners. Here I was, with all the support in the world (online and in-person) to get me through a shit time, but I was actually having an okay time, and the fact that I wasn’t falling apart made me question a) whether I was a good mother, and b) whether I would still have the support of the mama-world or be marked as a deviant of the tribe. I haven’t really tested this theory in the online world (and I’m a little scared of the reaction I could get here, to be honest).  Among my friends and family, though, I was relieved to find that my unusual (or perhaps just less-oft-voiced) experience of being, in some ways, liberated by a return to work, hasn’t reduced the support I’ve felt at all.

We’re all going to have awful times as mamas – hair-tearing, heart-draining, insanity-inducing moments. But we’re also going to have hurdles that end up not being as bad as we thought they might be. For some of us, going back to work is in column A, and for others, in column B. Where we end up probably depends on a wide range of factors. But wherever you fall when you go back to work, it’s okay.

~ Lindsay

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Pieces of me

In our house we have recently boarded the emotional roller coaster that is the end of maternity leave and the beginning of day care.

To be clear, the emotional roller coaster part has so far mainly applied to me, and much less to my one-year-old son. Like so many parts of my parenting experience, parenting my way through this transition seems to be about managing my own emotions and behaviour as much, or more, than it is about helping my son with his.

For his part, my son seems to have adjusted remarkably well. One week after beginning day care, our drop-off involved no tears whatsoever. He even willingly went to our day care provider when she reached out for him. In my head, ecstatic. In my heart, dagger.

I want my son to be a confident, well-adjusted kid. I want him to know absolutely that I am always there for him and to feel loved unconditionally — while also being able to trust and build relationships with others. I don’t want him to be the stereotypical “mama’s boy”… and yet, I kind of do. Not really, not truly, of course, but there is a very visceral part of my heart that just wants him to stay my sweet little baby forever, cuddled close to my chest.

A friend of mine recently told me that scientists have discovered that, after birth, some of a baby’s cells may stay inside his or her mother for months or even years or decades afterwards. This makes perfect sense to me. I have found myself explaining to my husband that separation from our son is difficult for me in part because our little buddy has been inside or attached to me for the better part of two years. That’s a hard connection to shake, even without accounting for any cells of his which might still be floating around inside my body.

Another friend told me that her transition back to work after the birth of her son was one of the most traumatizing times of her life. I am beginning to understand why.

Until these past few weeks, I don’t think I truly understood the saying that being a mother is like having a piece of your heart living outside of your body. I always thought, “That’s a nice, sentimental idea”. What I didn’t understand is that watching my son grow into his independence would be at once exhilarating and terrifying, fascinating and devastating. My heart fills as I watch him make new friends, and breaks when he falls. That’s one hell of a ride for we mamas to contend with.

All the more so because I want my son to be blissfully unaware of the turmoil of my inner struggle so that he can carry on with the business of growing up. I don’t want to make him anxious. I don’t want to hold him back. Ultimately, what I want is to watch that little piece of my heart skipping joyfully away from me, ready to take on the world. No matter how hard it is to watch.

~ Shannon

Alternate Lullabies?

For a fun post today, thought I’d offer a list of some songs I like to sing to my wee guy; I wanted to expand our repertoire beyond rock-a-bye-baby and you-are-my-sunshine pretty quickly. Some of these I just love for the melody that lulls him to a drowsy state, and others because the words of certain love songs almost seem like they should  have been written about the love of a parent for their child, rather than romantic love.

(Please note songs are listed in no particular order with the source of the version I have in my head when I sing them, not necessarily by the original artist or songwriter.)

“At Last,” Etta James
“The Book of Love,” Magnetic Fields
“The Nearness of You,” Norah Jones
“To Meet You,” Teitur
“At Last I See the Light,” from the movie Tangled
“Asleep at Last,” the Wailin’ Jennys
“Absence of Fear,” Jewel
“Love,” from the movie Robin Hood (Disney)
“Feelin’ Good,” Michael Buble

I’d love more suggestions for tunes I could add to the mental library, so let me know what you sing to your wee one in the comments!

~ Lindsay

The Importance of My Village

I came across an article at work the other day noting a recent study concluding that ‘less happy’ new parents are more likely to have smaller families. While this doesn’t seem all that surprising, the general modal number of originally “desired children” is two. This already seems like a ‘small’ family relatively speaking, so it is interesting to try to find out why, comparative to the earlier desired number, many people end up having only one kid.

What the study found was that over 70% of new parents experienced a decline in overall happiness in the first year after the birth of their first child.  Of course, as the authors acknowledged, “it is taboo for new parents to acknowledge feelings of unhappiness about childbearing;” there’s a lot of pressure for new moms (and dads) to feel happier, and to project that happiness to the world, which can only exacerbate negative feelings like depression, failure, and worry.

It’s difficult to acknowledge feelings of unhappiness post-birth even to ourselves, because at the same time as life is unbelievably challenging in ways we couldn’t have imagined, there have also been, or at least there were for me, moments of unbelievable joy and love that I never knew before my son was born. There can be a pressure to focus on only the happy side, the wonderful side, and tell ourselves to ‘suck it up’ when the unhappiness rears its ugly head, because after all, this is what we signed up for and we know we should be grateful for all the blissful bits.

I’m personally still in the ‘two desired children’ camp, but when I look back on this first year, I know I’m probably only here because of my village. My village of people, mainly women, but with some pretty fantastic men in there, too, who sometimes felt like the only thing holding me together – like a trellis keeping a fragile, ragged vine from withering.

My village kept me sane. My mom and mother-in-law taking my babe for naps in his stroller or just holding him in the living room for an hour so that I could have a shower or a sleep. My husband telling me (even when he had to repeat himself and raise his voice to get me to believe it) that it really was okay if I just needed to leave the house and go for a walk; he had things covered. My sister talking to me every day, also on her mat leave, and being my daily contact with another grown up on days when I didn’t make it out of the house.

My village kept me safe. The mothers of a previous generation who were living proof that things really would be alright, but who still listened with sympathy and a shoulder to cry on. The few courageous friends who shared with me the details of their own dark, twisty motherhood times as well as their moments of light, letting me know that the roller coaster I was on didn’t make me a bad mom, but was just part of my ride. My husband who, even on the really, really, REALLY awful days, the kind when we were both at our worst and it was hard to even look at each other, was always there bringing water while I breastfed, making dinner, or calling me from work to see how my day at home was going.

My village kept me connected to who I had always been long before I became a mother. Friends came to dance class, encouraging me to get out and shake it off even on nights when I was tired or overwhelmed. Non-parent friends listened about the trials of birth and mothering the way they would have talked to me about any other topic before my life changed, even when I gave gory details they probably didn’t want to know. One particular non-parent friend called on me for urgent love and support when she was in her own dark place, giving me the gift of still feeling that I had something to offer my friends in return, that someone other than my baby still needed me, too.

Being a new parent can be really, really, fucking hard. It’s often said that we mothers have an inner strength that gets us through anything with a newborn because we simply have to, and I suppose this could be true, but for me, my village has been the difference between coming through able to believe I can thrive again, instead of just barely holding my head up.

~ Lindsay

Who We Are

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SHANNON SOMMERAUER DOUMA

I want this space because becoming a Mom expanded who I am and didn’t narrow it, because I struggle with trying to be Superwoman and  I’m not always very good at embracing help when it’s offered, and because I have always loved taking creative adventures with my little sister. I live in Ottawa, Ontario with my lovely husband Randy, our beautiful son Lucas, and feline buddies Sully and Maybee. I spend my working hours at the Canadian Parliament and my playing hours with my family, friends, and an ever-growing list of books to read, wines to try, and things to knit.


11537717_10102554839558330_79785188995071007_nLINDSAY SOMMERAUER

I want this space because I’m in favour of honesty over image and compassion over judgment. I want a place for thoughtful ideas whose speakers keep their minds open to the ideas of others. I want a space free of the judgment, competition, and glossy-falseness that are rampant in the online world of mommy-blogs. A place where we can celebrate our strengths, laugh through the little trials, and find comfort through the big ones. Where it’s okay to admit that you sometimes just want a break from your kid while other times you want to do nothing but be with them forever, and neither option makes you a bad or good mother. A space where we as women (who happen to be mothers) can offer each other support and solidarity, giving each other the benefit of the doubt that we’re all doing our best, and learning from our shared and different experiences.

I’m the mama of sweet little Arlo, partner to the wonderful John, and human companion to felines Kicsi and Koschka. I work at a university helping undergraduate students overcome their hurdles, teach dance fitness for my own creative and energy outlet, and wish I made time in my life for more yoga.

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