It’s been four months since I returned to work, and this post is something that still feels a little too soon for me to write. Too difficult. Too raw. I question if I have the right words to accurately capture what returning to work and being apart from my daughter felt like for me, and I know that I don’t. Even now–only a minute into writing this post–the tears are already falling down my cheeks just thinking about it.
When Kate was 10 weeks old I realized that my maternity leave was quickly coming to an end and sweatpants were probably not going to qualify as appropriate work attire, so I planned an afternoon of shopping while G stayed home with Kate. I know I should have enjoyed my carefree afternoon out, but it was impossible. Every little girl I saw was Kate. It didn’t matter how old she was or what she looked like. They were all Kate in my eyes. Kate at two years old, Kate at nine years old, Kate with blond hair, Kate with black hair, Kate somehow turning into an Asian baby–they were all her.
But of course none of them were her.
And she wasn’t there with me.
With every child I saw, the dull ache that had entered my stomach the moment I left our house grew stronger and stronger. While browsing through some skirts, a baby next to me started to cry and hearing that knocked the wind right out of me. I was suddenly in so much pain that it nearly brought me to my knees. I ran out of the store hunched over with my hand clenching my poor aching stomach, and raced home to my baby. I arrived to find Kate sleeping soundly–just as she was when I had left–and the pain in my stomach instantly disappeared.
I’d been gone for less than two hours.
Hearing that, I’m sure you can imagine that returning to work didn’t work out so well for me. G stayed home with Kate during my first week back and that helped a lot, but the following week she started daycare and that was beyond difficult for me. Kate’s reflux was also at its worst during this time, which only added to my worries. Her feedings were so painful that she would cry and scream her way through them. It was absolutely heartbreaking and I was certain the idea of not being there to comfort her would kill me. I prayed that Kate’s feeding issues would be too much for our daycare provider (Miss Debb) to handle and she’d give us her notice. Oh how I prayed!
Kate only went to daycare for half-days during her first week because we thought it would be better to ease
her me into it. We also agreed that G would be the one to drop Kate off and I’d leave work early to pick her up. That first morning when Greg walked out the door with Kate on her way to daycare, I nearly lost my mind. I cried all morning long, all through work, and the entire way to Debb’s house. The routine was repeated the next day and the next.
I wanted to hate daycare. I wanted to hate Miss Debb. I wanted to hate her house. I wanted to hate the other kids there. I wanted any excuse–ANY–to say, “This isn’t working out” and quit my job and keep Kate home with me.
On the third day that I picked Kate up from daycare, I walked into Miss Debb’s house to once again find Kate as happy as could be on Debb’s lap, watching the other children, toys, laughter, and fun scattered everywhere she looked. She loves it here, I reluctantly realized. She doesn’t get this kind of stimulation when she’s home all day with just me. As much as I wanted to hate daycare and as much as I wanted it to not work out, it suddenly dawned on me that we’d be taking something away from Kate if we pulled her from Miss Debb’s.
As comforting as it was to recognize that daycare was actually a good thing for Kate, I still wasn’t handling it well. I promised G I wouldn’t make any rash decisions about work during my first month back to allow for an adjustment period, but even after a month I was still really struggling. I still cried every morning when Kate left for daycare and I couldn’t focus on my job at all. I’d sit in meetings, look at the people around me, but not really see them. All I could see was Kate. Each blink of my eyes pulled a new image into my mind like snapshots of her were burned into the backs of my eyelids. I’d tuck my hair behind my ear and think of the dry patch of skin behind Kate’s ear and did I remember to put the cream on it this morning? It was weeks before I could put her pictures up in my office and even then each glance at them was like a punch to my stomach. I’m sitting at my desk looking at pictures of my baby when I could be home playing with her.
I was in pain. Actual physical pain that only disappeared when I was reunited with my child. Everyone kept saying, “It’ll get easier. It’ll get easier!” But it wasn’t getting easier, and I was beginning to think all my friends were liars…
Continue reading Returning to Work: Part 2.