The calendar says it’s been a year. I’ve been a working mom for a whole year.
I took as much parental leave as my job would let me. Twelve weeks; some of it paid, some not. I spent almost three months with my son after he was born, and it wasn’t enough. I wanted so much more, but it’s awkward to say so when I know that many others don’t get that much. I feel equal parts grateful and cheated for what little time I was allowed.
My first month back was emotional, though I cried fewer tears than I was told I would. I was more out-of-sorts than sad. My brain was so slow, like I was having Benadryl for breakfast and lunch every day, and coffee hardly made a difference. I asked so many questions, over and over, about things I should have known well. It was embarrassing. My coworkers were kind and understanding, but my self-doubt imagined dozens of eyes rolling behind my back. I felt so hopelessly and terminally stupid.
I hid in an empty office three times a day to express breast milk, acutely aware that everyone passing in the hallway could hear the pump going. On my third day of pumping, the door creaked open just as I’d gotten everything hooked up and started – the facilities guy heard a “weird noise” and used his key to get through the locked door to investigate. I changed my “occupied” post-it note to an “OCCUPIED PLEASE KNOCK” legal-sized sheet and pretended his apology made everything totally fine and not embarrassing at all. Because I had to do it again the next day, and the next. Wash my pump parts in the break room sink, put my milk in a cooler in the fridge, and get over it.
Those weeks seem so far away now. A whole year ago. I measure that year by my son and not myself – inches and pounds and milestones and giggles. I rarely assess my own progress. I don’t stop often enough to take stock of how I’m doing and how I’m changing. But while I’m still figuring out the balance, things are improving. I still miss him every day while I’m at work, but I’m sleeping more and that’s definitely helping my brain function closer to its pre-baby capacity. I’ve taken on several projects that I’m very passionate about and very proud of, and I’m seeing glimmers of “me” under the “mom” now and then.
I’ve survived a whole year as a working mom. I’m still good at my job, and my son still loves me. I’m going to go make myself a cake to celebrate.