April 15, 2012

Thoughts on going back to "work"

A week from the day after tomorrow. That's when I go back to my place of employment and continue the professional life that I left hanging seven weeks ago. Truthfully, I love my job and the people I work with and that is no small thing to return to. My brain is carefully wired to do what I do, and I have established myself in a vocation that feeds my creative and intellectual sides. But...

My feelings are mixed like oil and water in a blender that never stops spinning.

Many years ago, I considered myself some sort of quasi-feminist who really believed that a woman should work while raising a family (never mind the fact that feminism was originally all about choice). I didn't hold a high opinion of stay-at-home moms, and felt sorry for the ones that tried to re-enter the workplace after a baby hiatus. If I'm really being honest, I'll admit to a bit of prideful contempt. I know, shame on me. I've become much more even-minded and compassionate in recent years and do appreciate the contribution women make as the center of family life. I have not, however, understood the sacrifice.

Now, seven small but life-changing weeks into motherhood, I have worked my ass off from power-sleeping to reading and implementing every baby-rearing book I could get my hands on between feedings and changings and floor gym sessions and soothings. It's a whole different level of exhaustion. And you know what? I wouldn't change that for anything. Anything. In fact, for the only time in my life, I wish very much that I could stay home with my son for at least the next year and a half. If not much, much longer.

Okay, it won't be that bad, I tell myself. I'm going back four days a week for as long as possible. And I will be working from home one day a week (still need a sitter, but it's less hectic and I still get to spend more time with the baby). I think I'm afraid that I will have a mental meltdown next week. I'm afraid that the professional veneer will melt away from tears of frustration and agony as I purposely separate myself from my son so I can make money and keep our very good insurance intact while saving money to move to a house some day. None of these are lofty goals or selfish ambition.

Of course, I have yet to take a look at the budget to see what we really need to live on, but I already know the answer is the same. This isn't the time to stop working, simply because of where our careers are and the benefits that are now too damned expensive to lose or replace on our own. Not to mention the fact that I have a great job in a time when such a thing is almost a luxury in an atmosphere of high unemployment and shrinking bottom lines.

In the meantime, I have attended play dates, visited friends with kids, gotten out of the condo with my son every single day even if it's just to the grocery store, and tried to squeeze as much as I can from my baby sabbatical. I wish now that I'd taken 12 weeks off instead of just 8, but that last month would have been unpaid and would be perhaps too big a sacrifice right now.

So I'll join the ranks of working moms whom I suspect know deep in their hearts that Having it All means not having the opportunity to fully embrace either one. And that breaks my heart.