“How do your discipline your child,” she asked and that was it for me. The interviews were over. I would never find, let alone allow, another person to take care of my baby. “Seriously,” I told my husband that evening, “her big question was how I approached discipline…..with an infant!” Even today, two decades later the question horrifies me. But I’m not writing this to share horror stories about finding kind and loving care for our children when we go back to work. Mothers, especially new mothers, get way too much of that sort of thing. I’m sharing because I hope it helps new moms navigate the dilemma most find themselves in….still. I navigated it this way: I stayed home longer than I had originally planned because financially we could do it and because the interviews spooked me. And when my first was a little bit older and I was little bit wiser and more rested, I found a wonderful older mother to take care of her while I was at work. I paid her under-the-table which meant we couldn’t deduct it from our taxes. So be it. In my view the peace of mind was well worth it.
Finding the right person to care for my child so I could go back to work was a huge issue, one that kept me up at night. I know mothers continue to agonize over the same worries and practicalities I agonized over: where to find trustworthy care providers and how to afford them. It just floors me to see that little has changed in 25 years but there it is. The women who have solid family to help are genuinely lucky. The rest have to do “the search” and then bite the bullet and make a choice….or stay home for a while if their budget permits. I have no answer for this. Things need to change on a legislative level in our country for women and families but that is a topic for another time. As a side note, however, I know for a fact that we women should pay attention to those issues and support bills and representatives who are out there advocating for us and our families. Moving on.
But there is more to this dilemma for women than the very real practicalities discussed above. For most women, especially the brand new mother, going back to work and leaving her baby in the care of others is far more than a dollars-and-cents decision. It’s emotional; it’s physical; it’s visceral. It sure was that way for me. New motherhood took me by storm. I honestly had not expected to feel the things I was feeling. Yes, I knew I would love my new baby deeply and want to protect her from pretty much everything, but I was not prepared for how passionately I would feel these things and how conflicted I would be about all of it.
For mothers who breastfeed (and I was one) the dilemma only gets thornier. How a mother produces milk for her baby is directly linked to how often her baby is at her breast and emptying it and the first few months are crucial in establishing milk supply. Mothers who choose to breastfeed, then, have even more reason to view separation from their baby with trepidation. Mothers absolutely do it but it requires serious commitment on the mother’s part and a great deal of support from those who surround her at work and at home.
What I remember most, however, was how conflicted I felt about working and being a mother. I loved, my work, had studied and trained for it and was good at it. I didn’t want to give it up. Before I had my first baby, my plan seemed clear-cut. Have the baby, find a good sitter, and go back to work. Plenty of women did it then and even more do it now. But I hadn’t planned on the overwhelming feelings of motherhood. Separate from my new baby? It was like asking the birds to stop flying or ocean waves to stand still. Even the mere thought of it gave me anxiety and made me ache.
I wound up working part-time at the job I loved so much until I had two more babies and we moved out of state which created a whole new set of worries about mothering my children and working. But, as the saying goes- when a door closes, a window opens. It did for me and that is one of the points I want to make here. The first is to be true to yourself. If you are the woman who loves her work and/or who must work, then that is what you must do. If you are the woman who simply cannot separate from your baby and you have the ability to stay at home with him, then that is what you must do. If you are me-the woman who wants both-you can actually do that too. Go ahead and worry-it’s what mothers do-but then get down to it, find the support you need and try to enjoy the choice you have made. I can guarantee you this: things will change and doors always close. But don’t forget to look for the open window. It’s there.