Going back to work is expensive.
There is the cost of daycare, of course, a steal really at only $1500 a month – it seems almost incidental in the face of all the little add ons that add up to something nearly as much as our mortgage.
There are the extra diaper covers and dry bags for cloth diapers, because heaven forbid we should sacrifice room in a landfill for our own personal convenience, then the extra bottles and storage containers for pumped breast milk, extra cooler bags and extra diaper bags for transporting all of the extra clothing and supplies around.
There is the fashion forward bag for discreet transportation of said breast milk and pump to and from the office, also known as the point of origin for what will undoubtedly become gallons upon gallons of Grade A Organic human milk.
There are size appropriate wardrobe updates for discreet transition from postnatal to prenatal body size and shape, plus several new pairs of statement shoes to call attention to feet and away from said postnatal body.
There is the occasional personal trainer and the frequent new exercise gear to increase motivation to keep moving despite yet another sudden decline in how much sleep I log per night, plus runners’ mace to ward off the coyotes and crazies I’ll most definitely encounter during my 5am runs, because that’s the only time I’ll ever actually get a chance for exercise anymore, and you know, I’m trying to save money on all those extra extra-sized clothes so I really, really do need to exercise.
There are new razors and updated makeup, hair cut and hair color, and the second mani/pedi of 2016 to convince myself and others that I am actually fit to exist in a professional environment.
There are travel coffee mugs, and LOTS of extra cash for coffee. There are several months worth of frozen dinners, because that’s all our family will be eating, plus (again) extra cash squirreled away for ordering out, because some nights even pushing buttons on the microwave can be too complicated.
There is the extra car seat for the part-time nanny we have yet to hire and, if we’re really honest with ourselves, really can’t afford anyway.
The list has gotten so long we finally gave in and added a new “Back to Work” line to our family budget, but these don’t even begin to cover the emotional costs.
I’m due back to work two weeks from today. It’s difficult to find quite the right word to describe how I feel about reaching the end of my maternity leave. Relieved? Excited? Worried? Heartbroken?
Conflicted. Definitely conflicted.
I love my job. I get so much satisfaction from the challenges I get to work through, from the relationships I’ve built with my colleagues, from the support I’m able to provide to my staff and our students. After working from home for the majority of my third trimester, it’s been nearly five months since I stepped foot on campus. While I’ve done my best to stay involved and on too of any major issues, it’s clear that my absence has had an impact, and that it’s well beyond time for me to go back.
And it’s not just that they need me. Over the past months I’ve struggled with the lack of structure and the lack of intellectual stimulation – raising a baby is HARD, but it’s not as though he ever picks up on my Foucault references. I’m excited to return to the professional world, to run something other than just my household. I’m excited to strap on my newest pair of high-heeled boots and go feel important again, to go feel proud of my contributions outside of the home and of my ability to be successful.
I am not excited to experience withdrawal from the drug of feeling my child asleep on my chest.
Right now I spend every moment of every day and every night with my son, with the vast majority of this time spent with him literally attached to me through nursing or baby-wearing. I notice every last shift in his development, I understand the nuance of batting at a toy versus purposefully grabbing onto it, and I understand the through line running from his extra hour of sleep to his cluster feed nursing to his cranky mood to the moment he actually manages to achieve that tiny little grab with his tiny little hands. Nothing to the naked eye, but as complex and thrilling as a first step on the moon for him, and for me.
And now, thanks to the miracle of modern life, now the time has come to simply hand him off to the company of strangers. Literally. Strangers. In a matter of days he will shift from spending nearly all his waking hours with mama to spending nearly all his waking hours with the pleasant staff of a local daycare that I have visited all of once.
So what’s a modern mom at work to do? Fake it. Pretend like your life depends on it. Don’t let on at work, because the less enlightened colleagues will pounce on that weakness. Don’t let on at home, because baby will understand and mimic the sadness. Wake up, exercise, apply mascara, practice your smile. Blow kisses out the door. Repeat, repeat, repeat, until one day, hopefully not too far off, it really will start to feel natural – modern life will start to make sense, the yearning for other options will dissipate, that conflict will turn to calm acceptance. Then in the meantime and in the future, know that this fight against your natural feelings, this fight against the chemistry of your body and the hardwired attachment to your child, know that this crazy game of opposites will make every last moment together that much sweeter. Just fake it till you make it. You will, with time, make it better.