It started as an experiment. When I was pregnant, I decided to try out being a stay at home mother, citing my job’s lack of maternity leave and my lack of passion for my job as the main reasons. I never pictured myself staying home with a baby, but I also never pictured myself as a working mom. Secretly I hoped that I would be one of those women who always self-identified as “not a kid person,” then had a baby and found her true calling, her life’s greatest joy.
That’s not the way it happened for me.
Instead, I battled what I see now was probably postpartum depression and anxiety. I was lonely, crazed, scared, and bored out of my mind. I was simultaneously in love with my new baby and wishing I could let the stroller just keep going down the hill and walk off in the other direction, picking up my old life where I left off.
Once the baby got older, smiled, crawled, laughed, played, things were more interesting, more fun, but still the mind-numbing boredom and crippling isolation were the dominant feelings of my day. Once she started to become a toddler, more active and more mischievous, anger came alongside those feelings, “mom rage” that welled up when my patience had grown thin and my Type A personality couldn’t deal with one more curveball, or how executing a trip to the post office felt like a military mission.
My spiritual director, who’s known me longer than my own husband has, pointed out that I was not receiving what basically amounts to vital nourishment for my self–time to be quiet, to think, to read, to stare out at nature. “You’re starving,” she said. I felt like a shell of myself, and remember one time, when my daughter was about six months old, trying to explain it to my husband: “Joy is gone,” I said. “She’s just not here anymore.”
But motherhood is a mixed bag, complex if nothing else. My attachment to my baby was strong, and even though I longed to go “back” to work (though this would mean finding a new job), I literally could not imagine what it would look like to be her mother but not be with her 95 percent of the time.
An ideal job floated my way around my daughter’s first birthday, and even while I hoped so much that I’d get the position, not believing how well suited I was for it, it was for me, I still half-hoped I wouldn’t get it, too. It would be such a massive shifting of gears I feared I (or my daughter) would be crushed in the process.
Cut to three months in at my new job. As I walked to (a quiet, solo) lunch today, I felt overwhelmed with what a gift it’s been to be working again, to be writing and editing for a living, to have my words and ideas and very self matter again, completely outside of the context of motherhood.
Our sweet nanny suddenly resigned two weeks ago, due to an injury, and I found myself scrambling to cover child care, stuck without any usable sick days since I’m still in the probationary period at work. This was one of my fears, when I considered shifting to a two-working-parent household, that there would be frantic scrambling, jimmy-rigged care for my daughter, a chaotic environment for her and near-constant work for me. The constant work part is true; these days I’m adulting about 99 percent of the time, and the days feel so long it’s mind boggling, but still, I wouldn’t have it any other way. My daughter is still happy and thriving, and now I’m on my way to being happy and thriving as well. I’m on my way back to Joy.