I remember an episode of Sex and the City that I watched a while back in which Miranda had just returned to work, after her maternity leave. Narrator Carrie described her as being "politically incorrectly happy to be there." Miranda's facial expression was a mixture of excitement and relief as she arranged and rearranged the contents of her desktop. I can relate.
I think I had some vague idea of what motherhood would be like before I had Nik. I babysat extensively when I was a teen. I work with kids in my professional life. Plus, people told me that even if you aren't good with kids, it is different when they're your own kids, that you fall in love with them. I was anxiously looking forward to it.
While I was pregnant, I decorated the nursery and spent dreamy hours in the baby section of the local department stores. I had pregnancy portraits taken. I read books on pregnancy and infant development, and stocked up on baby supplies. I did everything I could think of to get prepared.
After Nik was born, I felt permanently off balance. I was consumed by both baby care and household tasks, feeling like it was impossible to even find the time to catch my breath. I told myself that things would get easier and that this was only temporary "I-have-a-newborn" craziness.
Time passed, and Nik got older. He learned to smile, to laugh, to roll over. He could play peek-a-boo. Then he could creep, and crawl, and finally walk. He could say, "Hi," and "Mom," and give sweet baby kisses. I began to find space in my day to have a cup of tea, or to check my e-mail. Laundry got easier to keep up with, and the house was cleaner. I read more books, and joined mom's groups and "Baby 'n me" classes. I did my best to embrace my new lifestyle, but despite everything, my feelings about motherhood did not change.
Enter guilt. I could forgive myself for not experiencing the fabled bliss of motherhood when I was tired and overwhelmed, but as things got easier, it seemed unreasonable to use that as an excuse. There are women I know who are deperately trying to conceive, and on my darkest days I would wonder why God didn't give my baby to them, instead of to unappreciative me. As the end of my maternity leave approached, I eyed the possiblity of returning to work as if it were the forbidden fruit. I believed that good mothers wanted to stay home. They would only return to work reluctantly, and only if they had to. I could not reconcile how I could profess to love my baby, and yet long for something that would take me away from him for hours at a time.
I went back to work two and a half days a week when my son was almost 11 months old. The income does help us make ends meet, but I can't pretend that was the reason I went back. I didn't go back to set some healthy example about having outside interests, either, as I've heard some working mothers claim. I wanted to go back. After my first month working, I have more energy, and am happier than I've been in months, and I have only recently learned something that allows me to admit that without wanting to hide under the rug.
As part of my constant research, I have recently begun reading Mary Sheedy Kurcinka's Raising Your Spirited Child. I expected it to help me better understand my son, and some of his strong personality traits, but it has had the unexpected benefit of helping me to better understand myself. In the chapter on extroversion vs introversion, Kurcinka writes that extroverts "feel exhausted when [they] have spent too much time alone or with young children" and need to be busy in interaction with others to keep from running out of steam. Like nutritional needs, these "energy needs" need to be met on a regular basis, or you are left feeling exhausted, overwhelmed and unhappy.
Finally, an explanation for my feelings that has nothing to do with how I feel about my son, or my role as a mother! It may sound odd, but it is validating to discover that I can love my son, and be unhappy at the same time. Now that my needs are being met by the 20 hours a week I spend at the workplace, I enjoy the time I spend with my son so much more. Though I have less time at home to accomplish my tasks, I actually have an easier time getting them done, and feel much more competent as a mother. There is also far less pressure on my relationship with my son to meet my needs for happiness and fulfillment, and this is allowing it room to grow.
For all these reasons, my return to work has been wonderful. I am "politically incorrectly happy to be there," and I'm not ashamed to admit it anymore.