Lesson 43: Going back to work is really hard

Leaving my baby to go back to work was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. People say that all the time, don’t they– “That was the hardest thing I’ve ever done!” But this is the only time I’ve ever meant it when I said it. It was really the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I had been warned, but I had no concept of how hard it would actually be.

I work in a school and J was born in late March while I was off work on Spring Break. I was lucky in that I was able to work right up until his birth, take the rest of the school year off, and then spend the entire summer with him. J was almost 5 months old by the time I had to return to work. I feel really fortunate to have had that time with him, as I know many moms have to return to work at 12 weeks or sooner.

My plan after graduating from college was to go to graduate school, travel, start a career, get married, have a baby, return to work. In that order. And I made it all the way up to “have a baby” before I came to a skidding halt. Return to work? No thank you. I was quite content nurturing my little one every day. The thought of sending him off to somebody else every day made my stomach turn cold. It never once occurred to me that I actually might enjoy being a stay-at-home-mom.

We had arranged for quality childcare for our son when I was only 2 months pregnant. So when August arrived and my return to work crept ever closer, I knew he was going to a good place and I knew his teacher had a great reputation. And maybe that knowledge helped, but it did not stop me from having mild panic.

I’m a pretty emotional person, so I don’t know if it’s as hard on every mom. Judging by how hard it was for some of my friends, I suspect it is hard for many. I cried every day for the 2 weeks preceding my return to work. The week before I returned full-time, I dropped him at daycare sporadically so that we could both adjust. J did fine; I was a fruit loop.

Finally, the Sunday night before I was to return to work full time, I just lost it. I sobbed like I have never sobbed before (and here we go again with the eyes filling up with tears just remembering how it felt–God, I am such a cry baby). I didn’t want my child to be “raised by somebody else.” I didn’t want to wake him up early every morning so that I would have time to nurse him before leaving for work; I didn’t want to pump milk 4 times a day so somebody else could feed it to him; I didn’t want to miss his first word, his first crawl, his first steps; I didn’t want to miss a single second of him. All of a sudden, my grand plan to have a career while raising children didn’t seem so grand. All I wanted was to be a mom.

Unfortunately, my bank account didn’t agree with my heart. My husband and I crunched the numbers every which way and it always came down to the same thing: stay home or have health insurance and pay the mortgage. I guess you can imagine which prevailed.

The first few weeks back were pretty hard. I have the most amazing principal (and friend), though, who is also a mom–and always a mom first. She gave me grace when I couldn’t quite seem to make it to work on time while I was adjusting to getting my baby fed and ready before work every day, even though I’m sure she knew that what actually took the most of my time wasn’t the necessities, but the long hugs and kisses goodbye. She let me lose it and cry in her office when I thought I just couldn’t stand it anymore. She gave me grace when I was the first one out every afternoon, just so I could spend 10 more minutes with my son in the evenings. She never made me feel guilty when I needed to leave early to take J to a well-child visit or stay home with him because he was sick. She never minded if I had to leave a meeting or be late to an appointment because I had to pump. She supported me, cried with me, and loved me through it–and by giving me love and grace, she gave my child love and grace. I truly don’t know how working moms without that kind of support manage it all.

So for now, I raise my child the best way I can. I miss him every day and I’m eager to get home to him every afternoon. But I also know that I’m doing the best I can for my family. And I know that, above all else, I am Mom first.

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