Well, this was the week that I returned to the office full time. Sam turned 8 weeks on Sunday, and I returned on Wednesday 2nd January. I was dreading it. Full on dreading it. I grew up expecting, witnessing and delightedly anticipating 6-8 months of maternity leave. And, I got 5 days off followed by 5 weeks working from home (popping into the office ~3 times a week) and then 2 weeks off for Christmas. I loved being off completely – Sam is a delight, and was wonderful to be at home with. I reveled in full-on Mum-hood and it was enormous fun, and vastly rewarding to slip into the ‘Mum’ role: being there with him, making curtains, nesting at home.
What I didn’t like so much was trying to work from home, and feeling unproductive and slow. I felt I was not being a great Mum (I was with Sam, but not doing lots of ‘Mum’ things) and I wasn’t being a great Scientist (I just kept my projects rolling along, I didn’t do anything new). Still, I often cried at the thought of returning to work and being away form Sam.
But that was it: I cried at the thought of being away from Sam. The big return happened at the end of a UT-sponsored 11 day Christmas break. No work, no trips to the office, often: no getting dressed 🙂 It was great, but it was not ‘me’. I like structure and progress and achievement. Come the dreaded January 2nd, I actually looked forward to getting dressed up, getting out of the house on time, and being totally focused on something for me – until that point everything was either done with Sam, or with the consciousness that Sam was nearby, and the unavoidable tendency to run to him at to his every wail.
Yes, I actually looked forward to leaving my son. I looked forward to being productive. I looked forward to achieving. I looked forward to talking about things that didn’t involve spit or poop. I looked forward to doing Science – I truly love and believe in the value of what I do. So, I journeyed off to work with some trepidation, but mainly, excitement.
And it was good. So much fell into place – so much of me came back. Like healthy eating. I knew my breakfast had to sustain me so I made something wholesome and nourishing (I won’t reveal the number of McDonald’s egg biscuits I ate for breakfast on my 11 day break, but it rhymes with schmeleven). I had to take lunch in, so I was motivated to make something healthy. I washed my hair and I did my make up. I felt like I got back to being me.
And I had a ball at work. Partly because of the long break, partly because I knew I had much less time than before, and partly (mainly) because I was there instead of with my son – I worked my butt off. It was like I had to justify being away from him, by doing something equally as valuable. Facebook was off, except for lunch / tea breaks, and personal emails were largely filed away under ‘to be answered at the weekend’. Every day 1 pm arrived before I even noticed.
Granted, about then, I start to really miss Sam. By 2 pm, I miss him enough that it hurts. But I demand some extra pictures / updates from Wes. I see how happy Sam is and I just count down the hours until 4.
I am not saying it is ideal. I am not saying that given the choice, I would not have a more UK-style maternity leave. I am not saying that I don’t think an extended maternity leave would in fact be better for Sam (as suggested by the bulk of Scientific evidence, which also shows that it would be better for me). I am just saying that there are advantages.
*My milk supply is better because I pump at a scheduled time each day, and pump past empty.
*I have now spent time investing in proper morning and evening routines. That time does not pass by now without every second being valued. In the morning Sam and I wake up at 7 (Sam would like to sleep until 8.30 – not happening buddy!).We play and cuddle for 20 mins then I change and dress him. We go downstairs and I make / eat breakfast (Wes holds him while I nip upstairs and dress like lightening) and then I breastfeed Sam, and pump. He goes to his Dad, full and sleepy and I go to work.
In the evening, I get home and breastfeed when I walk in the door (usually I top up with pumped milk). Sam and I play (or I might go for a short run, followed by play) until 6, and then we have serious bath-time. He and I climb in together and laze in the bath for up to 30 mins 🙂 Then it is PJ time, story time and feeding time, and down for bed. I make every second of that time count. It is wonderful time that otherwise was rushed through, or passed off to Wes.
*Wes is happier as it helps him have a routine, and be productive himself. It makes us more of a partnership as we are a real team in this, and also gives me something interesting to talk to him about. I don’t watch much news, don’t really follow any sports anymore, and now I have something in my conversation other than babies. And it puts me in a better mood (unless I have had a bad day at work, but hey, you can’t have everything).
It is certainly not easy. It may not be what I would choose. But, I am happier than I was when staying at home (more content? Probably not). When it does get hard (Friday was hard, after 2 pm is REALLY hard) I remind myself of these advantages. I remind myself that Sam still responds in a really special way to me: he has a special calmness for me, and an amazing smile which he refuses to give to anyone but me or his Dad.
I also remind myself that when I pictured my family I didn’t picture something as dependent or as needy as an infant. I pictured a more independent child – running about, exploring, socializing and sharing his / her view of the world with me. I pictured three or more people, each having their own experiences, and sharing that, so that they could learn from and grow with each other. I looked forward to us all giving equally and contributing to the family dynamic.
It’s an unusual set-up, and I am surprised it works so well. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone, but I might choose it for me. In a way, it is also sad. We have all grown-up. Being at home was like being in a lovely cocoon of Mummyhood. And it kept Sam so young: he didn’t have to have bottles, he didn’t have to have a routine, and everything could be deliciously focused on him.
But, ultimately, my contribution to my family, to the world and to myself lies in my work. My Science. My teaching. It makes me me and I am glad to have it back. In essence, I remind myself that I have been gifted the very dream I wanted all along – just a little earlier in Sam’s life than planned 🙂