My son just turned 11 weeks old and the past few months have been perfect. After you have a baby, people constantly ask you, ‘How are you coping? Are you doing OK?’ and I’ve caught myself on many occasions thinking, isn’t this supposed to be harder? Aren’t I supposed to cry and feel exhausted and wish for my old life back? Because that’s what you’re led to expect before you have kids.
Instead, I’ve felt wonderful and I know I’m incredibly lucky to feel like this. I’ve got a pretty chilled out baby who’s eating well, and sleeping as well as you could hope, and I’m majorly loved-up. But today it all fell apart. It’s my last week of maternity leave and reality is well and truly knocking on my door. Today for the first time, when my husband walked in the door, I burst into tears – and they haven’t stopped since.
While I was pregnant, and even before, I always thought I’d take three months off after baby and bounce back to work sending baby off to full-time care – easy! My mum did it, I’m surrounded by women who’ve done it, and that was my plan.
When I was pregnant I started to question this a bit. I would see 12-week-old babies and think, gosh, I’m not sure if I’m going to be able to leave my baby when he’s that small – and I decided I really wanted to breastfeed for six months. Although many people warned me it would be too soon, I devised a plan with my (incredibly flexible!) workplace to return after three months working from home, visiting the office once a week for meetings with baby in tow. I’ve developed this intricate roster for my family members who’ll come to my house and look after baby while I work from my home office and I know how lucky I am to be able to (hopefully) make this work – and more importantly, have this choice. But a week out from Operation Return To Work and I’m questioning everything. I love my job. Even while on maternity leave I’ve been keeping an eye on my inbox, popping into the office every week, not willing to let it go. And I love my baby so much it actually hurts. I miss him when he sleeps and could snuggle him all day long – it’s sick!
At the moment I’m on the ground throwing my arms around; I don’t want to have to choose one love over the other.
I’ve always given 100 per cent to everything. And that’s what I’m struggling with. It’s just dawned on me that I can’t give 100 per cent all the time to work anymore, and by going back to work I can’t give 100 percent all the time to baby, either. And I desperately want to give my all to both. We’ve heard so much about ‘having it all’ and the smartest people I know have always been honest and said you can’t. But what they have said is that you can have ‘your all’, but I’m calling rubbish on that too. The really smart ones say that you can have it all, just not at the same time, but I guess I never truly understood what that meant. And I know that even if I take more time off I’ll feel exactly the same in three, six or twelve months’ time.
I know I’m lucky – to live where I live; to be in the financial position I’m in; to have a ridiculously amazing support network at home and at work, but I’m still freaking out. How the heck do most people do it? I’m privileged to have choice.
They say that becoming a parent is about sacrifice and compromise – and I guess that’s what I’m getting a lesson in. I interpreted that as sacrificing nights out, sleep, weekly yoga and coffee with girlfriends … what I’m learning is that you have to sacrifice a little piece of yourself and I guess all these tears are me grieving for that part of me. I hate the word juggle, but that’s what it is – a constant compromise between family and work depending on which priority is currently on top, and I don’t think that’s ever ideal. I also feel resentment that my husband isn’t going through this; life has just become richer for him.
I just need to soak up the tears and get on with it – letting go of that person who got to the office at 7.30am … and that person who watches her baby sleep. I know that I’ll come out the other side, because so many women have gone before me and I feel great comfort in that.