Wednesday, May 07, 2008

This time will pass quickly

“Enjoy your newborn. Sleep when your baby sleeps. This time will pass quickly.”

This was written in bold at the bottom of the hospital discharge instructions from my midwives’ practice. My guess is that most women see the last sentence as an encouragement of sorts, a pep talk: when you feel like you can’t take one more minute of this, remember that this will pass and things will get better.

But perhaps that’s not what the midwives mean at all.

“This time will pass quickly...”

...and in a blink of an eye, your baby will be six months old, and you will wonder where half a year has gone.

Half a year. With Child, I was always looking for the next thing. When will he roll over? When will he crawl? When will he stand? When will he eat finger foods? With Baby, I celebrate these milestones, but I am not waiting for them with anticipation. I delight in the now. I want him to remain a baby as long as possible. I realize now how fleeting this baby stage is.

This half-year point marks my three-month anniversary since returning to work. I dreaded the return to work, and I was right. I have been away from Baby on a daily basis for half of his life, and it breaks my heart. A parent’s decision to return to work or stay at home is such a personal thing, and I honestly believe that there is no right answer. The so-called mommy wars—stay-at-home moms vs. working moms—frustrate me greatly, and I have no interest in debating this issue. But for me, right now, being at work does not feel right.

When I went back to work after having Child, staying home was not an option. Back then, we recently purchased a house in one of the highest-priced markets in the country, and living on one income was out of the question. I started a new job after my maternity leave, and although it was incredibly difficult to leave my four-month-old baby boy at a daycare on that first day at work, I never considered the alternative. I was sad, I cried, I thought about him a lot, I hated the fact that he didn’t smell like my baby when I picked him up at the end of the day—he smelled like daycare, and so I cried again. But somehow, it got easier with time. Maybe it was because the time I spent on leave with Child was far from blissful. Breastfeeding was an absolute nightmare, what with mastitis in both breasts and the never-ending thrush and incredibly painful latch-ons that eventually forced me to pump exclusively, which, OMG, takes so much time because you spend 20 minutes bottle feeding, then 20 minutes trying to get the baby to sleep, then 20 minutes pumping, and then the cycle begins again. But I digress... Maybe part of me was eager to get away from that—and being at work provided a much-needed break.

This time, with Baby, it may have been possible for me not to return to work. I never actually sat down to do the math, but with some major cutbacks and fewer trips, we could probably make ends meet without my income. But I had to return to work for a different reason. As we contemplate moving out of this area in the very near future, my job provides stability. I could do my job from anywhere in the world, and being able to keep the same job when we move will be a major benefit for us. So I never let myself go too far down the road of contemplating staying at home.

But the thing is, I hate it. I don’t hate my job, but I hate being away from my boys. I miss them, and I will admit that I miss Baby more than I miss Child. Child loves his preschool, and I know that he is having more fun there than he would at home with me. So although I would love to spend more time with him, I am more content with him being away from me because I know how happy he is in school. But Baby—oh, how I miss him. I know he is happy with our wonderful nanny, a woman who’s been with us for more than three years now. I trust her completely. But selfishly, I miss my time with him. I want to be the one feeding him as he watches the spoon so intently and opens his mouth wide in anticipation. I want to be the one holding my hand on his belly as he drifts off to sleep. I want to be the one listening to his happy cooing as he wakes up. I want to be able to nurse him during the day and watch him get so excited about a meal that tries to latch on to my bra. I want to be the one taking him for walks and watching him observe and react to the world around him. I want to be the one hearing the compliments from passer-bys about how gorgeous and happy he is. I want to be the one playing with him and listening to him babble and giggle and laugh. I miss him horribly, and I resent being away from him. I hate, hate, hate the breast pump. Most of all, I hate feeling like I don’t have the ability to do anything right. When I work, I worry about missing out on my boys’ childhood or about finding enough time to pump between endless meetings and unfinished projects. When I am home, I worry about how much work I have to do after the kids go to bed. When they are in bed and I am frantically trying to do the laundry, pack lunches and wash bottles, I worry about how little attention I give to my husband. When you spread yourself too thin, you feel like you can’t give your 100% to anything.

Right around the time I returned to work, I read this post by Dutch (from Sweet Juniper), a former lawyer now stay-at-home dad, describing a day with his daughter. “I still have anxieties, concerns that I am ruining any chance at a career. But I can only hope that there will be enough years to try to recapture what I've lost by leaving the working world, and trust in the fact that there will never be any way to recapture any of this.”

Right now, my boys love being with me. Child begs me to play with him. Baby smiles the second he sees me. In a blink of an eye, six months have passed. Another blink, and my boys will be much more interested in hanging out with their friends or playing video games than spending time with me. I can’t recapture this time later, and I don’t want to regret it. I don’t want to miss it.

This time will pass quickly…