Saturday, July 13, 2013

Back to Work

When I first went off on Maternity Leave a year ago, a year sounded like a long time, an eternity. Looking back now that it's over, it disappeared in the blink of an eye. Being pregnant in the Summer, going into labour at the end of last July, coming home with a newborn, sleepless nights, struggles with breastfeeding, rocking her to sleep, watching her grow from a helpless little baby who couldn't hold her head up to an independent little toddler running amok around the house -- I look back at all of it and am so grateful for the adventure. Even at the most difficult of times it was a labour of love and I will cherish those memories forever.

Being a single Mom, I was there for Michelle 24-7. She cried if I left the room for a second. The longest I ever left her was a couple of hours with my Mom when I had an appointment. So I was terrified of what would happen when I returned to work. I didn't know how Michelle would react to my being gone for an entire day. What if she screamed the whole time? My Mom was worried too. It was going to be hard on all of us. Perhaps hardest of all on me. I had so much guilt about leaving her. Financially I had no choice. Unless I win the lottery, I have to earn a living! Michelle wouldn't understand where I was though and I didn't want her to feel like I was abandoning her. It broke my heart.

The first morning I left Michelle with my Mom was kind of surreal. My Mom was holding her and I snuck out. I couldn't bear the thought of Michelle screaming and crying, reaching for me, calling "Mama!" as I left.

It was strange looking in my rearview mirror and seeing the empty base of the carseat. No baby on board. I was so used to always having her there. I realized that I could crank the radio up now like I used to. I rolled the window down and dangled my hand out, the cool air between my fingers. I remembered when I used to be a single girl, carefree. It seems a lifetime ago now. I didn't plan to have children but Michelle is the love of my life and I know she is my destiny. I thought about how the day might go. Would she be OK with my Mom? Some people (including one of my brothers) didn't think I should have my Mom watch Michelle, that she wouldn't be able to handle it at her age. Ironically my brother's friend has his mother watching FOUR children and she's older than my Mom. I just couldn't put Michelle in daycare. Not only because it's close to impossible to find daycare, especially for my weird shifts but because I wouldn't feel right leaving Michelle with a stranger. Having me gone would be traumatic enough never mind leaving her with someone she didn't even know. At least she feels comfortable with my Mom. Next to me, my Mom is the person she's closest to. Besides I could never fully trust a stranger. No matter how nice they seemed, you just don't know. My Mom told me one of my cousins was abused by a babysitter when she was a baby and they didn't find out until she was old enough to talk. There's no way I could take the chance.

I hoped Michelle would be OK. I hoped my Mom would be OK. I hoped I would be OK. There were so many unknowns. By the time I got to work I was a jangle of nerves.

As expected when I got into work I was emotional. My eyes started to tear up. My boss sat me down and gave me a pep talk. Her mother had been a single mother with SEVEN children! Somehow she managed. She worked to support them. My boss said that her mother was an inspiration, a role model of a strong, independent Mom. She told me that I would be a good role model for Michelle. When I told her that I felt guilty about leaving Michelle she said that she knew women that felt guilty for going to work and leaving their kids and women who felt guilty for not going out to work. Women can be so hard on themselves. We take so much on. We try to do it all and somehow it still doesn't seem to be enough. She told me that I'm doing the best thing for my daughter and that it will be good for her to have some time apart from me. It will teach her to be more independent and help her to grow into a strong woman.

When it was time for my lunch break I was dying to call my Mom and ask how things were going but I was afraid to at the same time. If I could hear Michelle screaming in the background and it wasn't working out I'd feel terrible and have a hard time getting through the rest of the day. Then again, if things were going better than I'd expected I'd feel so relieved. So I called home and was pleasantly surprised to hear that Michelle had a long morning nap. She had drank my breast milk from the bottle and had eaten all of her food at lunch. She was playing and content. My Mom said she fussed a couple of times but then my Mom was able to distract her enough to cheer her up. Unfortunately she heard my voice over the phone and started wailing. Then I felt bad for calling. After talking to my Mom I just barely had enough time to pump some milk and head back to work. Though I could wean Michelle I want to keep breastfeeding as long as I can. I know that it is so good for her, full of nutrients and antibodies and it's a comfort thing too. Since I can't be there to nurse her for her morning feeding at least she has my milk in a bottle. My Mom said she drank it all up and went off to sleep. I figure I will still nurse her on my days off and just pump milk when I'm working to keep up the supply.

At the end of the day I couldn't wait to see her. I raced back to my Mom's place. I cursed every red light and every car in my way that was keeping me from seeing her. You would think it had been a year since I'd seen her.

When I got there I ran into the house. I was pleased that I didn't hear any crying. And there was Michelle, walking around like she owned the place. She didn't even notice I had come in. My Mom said "Look who's here!" She gave me the cold shoulder at first. Literally glanced at me over her shoulder as if to say "Oh. Yes you look familiar. Do I know you?" but then she ran over to me and hugged me and I kissed and kissed and kissed her little face and hugged her so tight. "I love you so much. I missed you."

It's tough. I don't get much sleep at night with Michelle, then have to get up early, trying not to wake her, get ready for work. Head to work and put in a long day then come home to Michelle who after the initial happy reunion is up to her old tricks, being difficult, refusing to sleep. It's exhausting. Just taking care of Michelle was a full-time job. Now having to go to work on top of it is even more taxing -- physically, mentally and emotionally. One advantage of my job is that although the shifts are long at least I don't have to work as many days as I would at a regular job so I have more days with Michelle than without her. But the days that I work are very long days, very draining.

My Mom was exhausted as well. Thankfully I only work a couple of days at a time so she has time to relax and recuperate afterward. My Mom is elderly and has arthritis. Taking care of a baby, especially one as demanding as Michelle, isn't easy. Still, my Mom said she wouldn't want Michelle left with anyone else, so we have to make it work even if it's hard on all of us.

Control freak that I am, I wrote out a schedule for my Mom so she'd know when Michelle eats, has her naps, likes her storytimes etc. At least when my Mom is watching her she has an extra set of arms as well. My Dad helped to entertain her and took her out for a walk as well. She doesn't really let my Dad hold her but she gives him high fives and laughs at him. It seems that she adapted to having my Mom instead of me. When my Mom was at the sink Michelle came and hugged her legs the way she does with me. Even after I got home from work and was holding Michelle she reached out for my Mom. Then my Mom took her and she reached for me. At one point we both hugged her and kissed her. She seemed happy. She really wanted both of us.

It used to be that women were only allowed a couple of months for Maternity Leave. I can't imagine leaving Michelle that early on. Thankfully over time they realized how important it was for children and their mothers to have bonding time together. With the medical community encouraging breastfeeding as the healthiest choice for baby it necessitates having that year off with baby to nurse. I am going to continue it for as long as I can, cutting down gradually over time but not weaning her entirely.

I am so grateful to have had a year off with Michelle. Though in some ways it was the hardest year of my life it was also the most beautiful and joyous. Now that I'm back to work it makes me appreciate my time with Michelle even more. Hopefully Michelle will learn that even though Mama goes away sometimes she always comes back. She can enjoy her time with Gramma and Grampa and then be happy to see Mama again.

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