I lift my baby girl out of her Rock ’n Play and hug her tightly to my body. She’s going through a curious phase and she resists my snuggles, opting instead to lift her head over my shoulder to look at the ceiling fan and its glowing center light.
I kiss her chubby, pink cheeks over and over until she’s visibly agitated, then I calm her down and kiss her some more. Each time, I tell myself it will be the last kiss before I hand her over to her dad, but then I just can’t stop and I plant another one on her cheek, her mouth, the back of her neck where her growing hair gets tucked inside her growing rolls. Finally, tearfully, I pass her to Daddy, coax a smile out of her, kiss Dan and then kiss her one more time. I don’t look back as I close the door, but I wouldn’t be able to see much anyway because the tears are burning now and everything is blurry.
I’ll see you at 5:00, sweet girl.
Before I had Selah, before I even got pregnant, I knew I wanted to be a working mom. I work as a copyeditor at Christian publishing house, and I absolutely love my job. After spending many years in a profession that was rewarding but wrong for me, I don’t take it lightly that I’m able to do work that I’m passionate about, that’s meaningful, and that’s a good fit for my personality and gifts. Working with words, books, and authors in a quiet office is a dream come true for me.
I was a little afraid that having Selah would cause me to change my mind and want to stay home with her, but it didn’t—and I actually felt a little guilty about that. What kind of mom wants to leave her not-even-3-months-old baby to go to work? The day before I had to return and the morning when I had to kiss her goodbye and leave, I shed more than a few tears and questioned myself.
If I really want to return to work, then why am I so upset? If I know that working is what’s best for me and our family, then why is my heart breaking?
I couldn’t quite put my finger on why I was crying if I didn’t really feel sad (and I couldn’t stop feeling guilty for not feeling sad), until I remembered what the gray-haired nurse had taught us in the newborn care class: sometimes babies — or in this case, moms — cry to release stress. They may have everything they need (a fresh diaper and a full belly, or certainty about going back to work and a really great childcare system), but they still cry because they need to express pent-up emotions, and sometimes there’s just no other way but to let the tears flow. I had to let myself feel all the feelings without worrying about if or how they made sense.
Maternity leave with Selah felt like an extended Sabbath, not because it was incredibly restful (it wasn’t), but because I was entirely focused on one key relationship. For 12 full weeks, I lived and breathed Selah. Our time together was sacred, and it will always be among my most treasured memories. I couldn’t help but grieve the end of this sweet season as it came to a close.
Packing my lunch, putting on my still-too-tight work pants, and driving away took me back to what I used to do in a different life, the one I lived before I became a mom. I couldn’t quite reconcile the fact that my life, my whole identity had changed profoundly, and yet I had to go back to business as usual.
It’s like when you’ve been swept away by an epic book and fundamentally changed by the story. You finish the last sentence, close the book, and look around and realize that everyone else is going about their normal lives as if nothing happened, as if nothing is different.
Didn’t the whole world just shift? Why didn’t anyone else feel it?
Walking into work on Monday morning, with my overstuffed pumping bag and still-hot mug of coffee (a true luxury these days), I felt like a superhero. I know I won’t feel like a superhero every day, and there will be plenty of days when I feel like I’m a woman divided, not able to fully devote myself to anything or anyone.
But maternity leave has shown me that I don’t desire to be a stay-at-home mom right now, and I’m learning to be okay with that. I love the combination of predictability and creativity that my job offers. I love the stability of my routine and the flexibility to work from home two days each week. I love my coworkers dearly, and even though I’m a deep introvert (as are they, mostly), I was left buzzing with excitement after catching up with everyone on my first day back. I couldn’t wait to get my hands (or at least, my eyes) dirty working on a new manuscript and running galleys over to Production.
I know I’m at my best when I have a creative outlet and a semblance of structure, so for right now, I’ll joyfully do my work and blog when I can. I’ll learn a new definition of balance and learn to let things go. (I haven’t cleaned my bathroom in weeks, and I don’t plan to, because my back-to-work/we’re-not-paying-for-daycare gift to myself is going to be professional cleaning services.) I’ll figure out a new routine, just to have it changed again every time Selah goes through a growth spurt, and then I’ll figure out some new survival techniques. I’ll keep giving myself grace as I learn how to be a mother and what that new role means for my old jobs of wife, daughter, friend, copyeditor, and writer.
And on my days away from home when I’m missing my sweet little girl, I’ll sip that still-hot cup of coffee and remember that she’s probably screaming instead of napping; I’ll glance over at the shelf of books I’ve helped to produce and feel the good kind of proud; and I’ll remember that I love all the many, many hats I wear.Reflections on returning to work after maternity leave. #motherhood #workingmom Click To Tweet