I dreamt the other night that I was pregnant with four children. Not quadruplets, but four separate children in four separate embryos, each due one month after the other. I was initially shocked, then horrified to have become a real life science fiction movie, then just plain worried – worried about how my body would handle all those births, how it would support so many egg sacs at once, worried about where we would find the space for them to sleep and about how I would manage to be an okay mother to an honest to goodness flock of children. Even in my dream, though, it didn’t take long for me to move from that all too familiar fear state to an all out embrace of motherhood; clearly I was meant to do this. I figured out who would share what bedroom, practiced tandem nursing positions with life sized dolls, did calorie calculations for each growing little body and adjusted my diet appropriately. The only issue unresolved when my alarm went off was what on earth to do about my maternity leave. Four kids, four births. Even accounting for federal disability and state-mandated baby bonding, even adding up every last sick and vacation hour and factoring in national holidays, I just couldn’t come up with enough time.
Which of course is not just a dream. As a mother, there really never is enough time. Not enough time in the day, not enough time in the week, and especially not enough time in the maternity leave.
I make no secret of being ambitious. I spend every day at work thinking five years into the future, considering my options, practicing my next moves. I am a tried and true workaholic, and the moment I finish work at the day job (and convince my kid to go to sleep) I shift gears into all of the other work toward all of the other goals I’ve set for myself – find the perfect PhD program; write the perfect (if slightly experimental/unreadable) memoir; run the perfect race; shape the perfect resume; search for the next perfect job.
But despite my ambition, despite all of the pushing and striving and yearning that I so desperately need to survive, the one and only thing I would truly give anything to have more of is time to turn this all off and just be a mother.
My first maternity leave ended when my daughter was three months old. No short days, no part-time pay, no vacation time to fall back on. I needed the job and the job needed me, so back I went. My daughter needed me too, needed me more than my staff and my boss and my students, more than the entirety of that organization. Think back to the most recent three-month-old infant you held – still pretty tiny, right? They still want milk all the time, love all the time, everything all the time. But in the absence of paid leave and guaranteed job security, this time with my daughter was not an option.
Those first months back to work were some of the most painful of my life. Granted, I was dealing with some form of post-traumatic stress from the complicated experience of Koukla’s birth, but I know from too many conversations with too many other moms that my feelings of depression and helplessness were not unique. And I was one of the lucky ones – my employer extended my leave with pay after my daughter’s hospitalization, was supportive of me scheduling meetings around my pumping schedule, and allowed some leeway in coming late or leaving early every now and then. But even with the accommodations, there just wasn’t enough time.
I was away from my daughter, my tiny, tiny creature, for fifty hours a week or more. And all I can do is brace myself to go through it all over again. The shutting down of my maternal instinct. The reapplication of cried off mascara at the end of my morning commute. The sleep deprivation and the thinning patience. The abrupt goodbye once again to any form of equanimity.
If you read the post last week, you know that I’ve been under the weather. If you read the post the week before last week, you know that I’m on the precipice of moving into a new house. And if you generally have been reading between the lines, you may have noticed that I’m fraying a bit around the edges. I could really use a break. Or an afternoon to pack, or to sign loan documents, or to finally nurse this cough out of my system, or to just sit on my ass and think about the fact that I’m already halfway through my pregnancy and haven’t even quite gotten used to being pregnant. But despite the chaos that I’m swimming around in right now, despite my less than perfect health and less than comfortable pregnancy, a break is off the table, because every day off is a day less I’ll get to spend with my boy. Save two months vacation, take two months off with your baby. Save two weeks, take two weeks. Or the kicker – save six months, come back to no job, because legal protection of your employment ends after twelve weeks…
I like my job. Even when I don’t like my job, I do just generally like working. I also think I would make a really sucky stay at home mom.
I’m not looking to live on vacation, not asking to get paid for not doing any work, but I could really, really use just a little bit more time.