Last week I joined the noble status of working mom. I am low among the ranks (with no immediate intention of rising) since I benefit from part-time hours and family-provided childcare. Nevertheless this marks yet another shift in my increasingly dynamic personal identity.
It’s crazy how many different identities a woman can assume in such a short period of time when she has a baby. Just last April I was an Individual, a woman focused on career aspirations, enjoying my home and marriage, and generally feeling stable and whole. Pretty nice, right? Then suddenly (on Mother’s Day actually) I became a Pregnant Woman, riddled with unsettling anticipation but also unabashed excitement and a growing connection to something big. Then I became something big for a while, evoking stares and often sweet smiles and trite but loving conversation.
On January 11th I became a Mom. The primary life-giver and care-taker of this small person that had been growing in my uterus for the previous 9 months. This awe-inspiring, beautiful little boy was finally in my arms and in the grasp of all 5 of my senses. (No, I haven’t licked the baby. Ok, 4.) I would stare at his perfect ear with its precisely sculpted soft curves and marvel at the wonder that I made it.
And now I’m a Working Mom. That’s at least 4 really significant identity shifts in under a year which must be a contributing factor to the amazement I sometimes feel at considering my current station. Still there’s something natural about each role.
Leaving M with my mother-in-law actually was not as difficulty as I had anticipated. This, coming from somebody who called to check-in when leaving her sleeping baby with her mother for 15 minutes. But that was 6 weeks earlier. M just turned 2 months and I’ve been away from him many times for about an hour or 2 since I’ve resumed piano lessons and Zumba classes. So it has definitely gotten easier and I can honestly say I don’t worry (much) about him when he’s in the hands of loving family members.
I know I’m very lucky to have that option. Leaving my little, vulnerable child with a stranger or with caregivers whose attention is divided by other children would be a much scarier proposition. Leaving him for the entire day, 5 days per week would have been so heartbreaking, too. I am working max 12 hours/week now, which makes work feel like a hobby and M feel like my full-time job, which is much more in line with my priorities. I am so grateful that we can swing this (at least for now). So many mothers who would like this sort of arrangement don’t have the luxury of being home with their kids. From the comfort of my cushy situation, I think of the mothers with multiple children, older kids, increased hours away from home, lower wages, decreased flexibility, tighter finances, less family support, etc. I count my blessings.
For me the hardest part was logistics and I can deal with logistics. I am working 2 different jobs as well as seeing a private client and working occasionally for my former employer on the weekends. The multiple employers plus considering childcare availability took some skilled scheduling to reconcile. My ongoing challenge now is to ensure that I pump enough milk for M for while I’m away. I stocked my MIL’s fridge with frozen milk which gives me a bit of a cushion at least.
So for now it’s really been fine. I’m not particularly happy about leaving M for any amount of time, but I know he’s in good hands. I do like rebooting the SLP part of my brain. I also find that even a few hours away from M makes me savor our time together more. I’m more present to ponder more tiny, perfect body parts. And in time having an active professional life will probably feel like a necessity. In fact, as I reintroduce my former endeavors back into my routine, I suspect I will find that all those big identity shifts over the past year were no more than costume changes; that after all these changes I am still mostly the same person I was a year ago despite new labels. I just have less simplicity and more love in my life. Less certainty and more responsibility. Less sleep and more spit-up in my hair.