When I got pregnant with my first bundle of joy I was surprised at how many people automatically asked me about my plans for when the baby arrived. Would I work? Would I stay home? Would I work from home? Would I pick up a part time gig? What would I do?
Honestly, I hadn't really thought about it. I had been working since I was 14 years old. I enjoyed going in to work everyday. I found fulfillment in sharpening my skills and becoming a “shining star" in my workplace. My pre-mom self didn't really think through how this all might change once I had a baby. I always figured I'd just find a preschool and continue working like I had always done.
I remember a co-worker of mine telling me with conviction, “Oh girl. TRUST me. Once you hold that baby in your arms, you're not going to want to leave her and go back to work." I thought, Meh… I'm sure it will all work out the way it's supposed to. My husband was in grad school, so staying home wasn't really an option for me at that point anyway.
So I went about my business and allowed the cards to fall into place however they would.
Several weeks later, I had my sweet baby. I was thrilled that I had four months to stay home with her! I was able to find a wonderful woman who took care of a few children in her home, and arranged for her to care for my daughter when I went back to work.
On my first day back at work, I dressed my daughter in her most adorable outfit, bundled her up in her car seat, and toted her to the babysitter. My husband and I walked her inside, chatted for a few moments with the gentle, nurturing sitter we had hired, and that was that. It was time to turn around and walk out the door. Without our daughter.
That's when it hit me.
The moment we sat down in our car and closed the car door my eyes filled with tears as we backed out of the driveway. Soon my face was soaked and I was full-on sobbing. As wonderful as this amazing sitter was, I was instantly devastated that I couldn't be home with my tiny, precious, still-brand-new baby.
My stomach was in knots as I counted the hours until I'd see and hold my baby girl again. It was a 20 minute drive to work, then eight hours on the clock with a one hour lunch break, then another 20 minutes back to get my baby. Nine hours and 40 minutes.
Nine hours and 40 minutes that someone else would get to watch my beautiful baby gaze around the room, grab at her toes, smile, drink from her bottle, and doze peacefully in and out of sleep throughout the day.
Nine hours and 40 minutes that someone else would get to hold her 10 pound body, wrapped up in a soft blanket.
Nine hours and 40 minutes that someone else would feel my daughter's hand wrapped around her index finger.
Nine hours and 40 minutes that someone else would witness many of her first milestones, and enjoy all the amazing things that make my baby special, while I worked all day.
I cried all the way to work.
I think it's safe to say: I was a little distracted that day. I probably checked my phone a thousand times to see if any texts or calls came through from the sitter. My heart leapt for joy when a text popped up with pictures of my adorable little lady. On my lunch break I stared at my phone, scrolling back through all the pictures I had taken over the last four months.
In the afternoon, the stress started fading a bit as I counted down the hours. It was almost time for me to get back to my baby!
All became right in the world again the moment I got back to the sitter's house, walked through the door, and picked up my baby. We were reunited at last.
And then everything clicked. I had spent the whole day worrying about her, but she had had a wonderful, worry-free day. She was loved, fed, cared for, held, played with, sung to, rocked to sleep, and nurtured throughout the last nine hours and 40 minutes.
The next day it got a little easier. And eventually the sting of saying goodbye in the mornings wasn't so paralyzing.
Being a working mom caused me to miss—like really miss—my little one. As I got back into the swing of things at work, I noticed that I was cherishing the moments we had together even more. I was comforted by feeling this way.
Another thing I learned is that the people who were taking care of my daughter did a LOT every day. I realized that a lot of what they were doing every day was the mundane (and exhausting) things that it takes to actually help children grow and thrive. There's a lot of feeding, and diapers, and cleaning, and wiping slobber and spit-up, and then more diapers, and bottles, and dishes, and sweeping, and even more diapers, and coaxing them to sleep, and working to keep a schedule and routine, and managing meltdowns, and establishing boundaries, and did I mention... MORE DIAPERS?!
Sure, they were having sweet moments together. But while I was fantasizing about my child and her babysitter having these beautiful, magical moments together all day every day, the reality was that there were a whole lot of mundane, messy, stressful moments thrown in there, too. We'd probably be flabbergasted by the ratio of magical to monotonous if we compared the two.
So here's the deal. Whichever way I sliced it there were upsides and downsides to being a working mom. There were fun times and draining times. Moments that absolutely took my breath away, and moments that made me feel defeated and weary.
What I've learned is that whether things are currently going exactly as I'd like them to, or whether I cry at night because I wish things were different, I will choose to cherish the moments I do have with my baby girl. I will make them count. I will pause often, and I'll remember how truly thankful I am to be a mother.
Because while I'm sitting here worrying about whether I'm getting it right, my little one is busy going about her day knowing that she is loved and cared for in perfectly good hands.
Author: Jennifer Wagner