The United States of America is one of two countries in the world that does not have a federal law requiring businesses and corporations to offer paid Maternity Leave for their employees. A country built on the esteemed climb to achieve the “American Dream” with ideals for Family Values. And some really do live this dream, sometimes. While others, especially the cohort of post-partum moms, may be getting the short end of the stick. Family values, huh? But what is life if not an irony? A great paradox? America is economy and business- driven, yes, and sets some ethereal standard for women to master motherhood and careers. Like Jerry Seinfeld joked in his most recent stand-up 23 Hours To Kill (check it out ) “Fine line between great and sucks. It’s actually the same thing”. So it’s great to have a baby, but it sucks to do so under such confinements.
But it’s not confining for all, and certainly does not suck all the time. Even with this limitation, every mom is in a different position depending on other life factors. Some may have been self-employed or running their own businesses with more flexibility in their schedules and good amount of savings. Or married to partners that earn enough of a living to sustain their entire family unit plus are supportive, so the mom doesn’t need to rush back to work. Or, have sufficient extended family support. These are all privileged positions to be in, especially in the United States where it takes such special circumstances to do what feels natural for many but what is a standard practice in other countries.
Converse to the above, many moms are in less-than favorable circumstances forcing them to return to work before they are mentally and emotionally ready. A mismatch that certainly leads to internal and external conflict. They may be the sole breadwinners in their family, or single, putting pressure on them to resume earning. Others, whether married or not, may have demanding, high-paying careers/jobs they feel pressured to, or want to, return to as soon as possible to prevent losing their position and status.
Then, there are those who ended up thinking and feeling other than expected. You know, the moms who said “I’ll want to be home with my baby as long as possible” after which 2-3 months in, she is crawling out of her skin ready to leave the house. Or the mom that said, “I”ll want to resume work after 2-3 months” after which, she remains home month after month. It is difficult to predict what you will think, feel, and want, even if you’ve studied yourself and have a strong sense of self and personality.
And others, have twins. Like me. A unique subcategory which is…pure chaotic theater. I still feel like I am floating in a barely-describable- in-the-English-lexicon- dream.
Lets rewind back to when I mentioned mental and emotional readiness; what does that look like? Lets start with what it does not look like.
On her first day, week, or month back at work, the woman falls into crying spells and appears distressed and overwhelmed. She frequently states missing her baby, calling home often, and worrying. This woman may feel depressed, guilty for not being home with her baby, ashamed, and/or completely out of her element at work. This may be transient and pass soon for some, then they are lucky. For others it is prolonged and clearly a mismatch between financial need and mental/emotional readiness.
Then there is the flip side of the coin, as there always is. The experience of readiness. Which may also come with some guilt….guilt on the part of the woman who believes she is supposed to feel like the woman described above.
The readiness has been a freeing and relieving experience for me and I carry no guilt. And if this is you, I wish for your dissipation of guilt as well:
The first few months post-partum were grueling, deeply challenging, and mind-boggling. I was swimming, drowning rather, In a well with no bottom. Free-falling. Consumed by my new-mom role and taking care of my babies. All day and night. Round the clock. I couldn’t even look at my phone to check social media or who texted or called; that felt like cheating my experience which required my full mental and physical attention 24/7. Wow, I sound insane. But perhaps there is some insanity inherently built-in to the new mom. (?) It was an enthralling experience; a mental obsession and physical exhaustion.
But then, something slowly started to shift. I’m unsure of the exact catalyst for this, but am suspecting it was time and resilience. But by the 4th month in, I started getting the “itch”. I was still on Child Care Leave; privileged to have been able to extend it.
What is the “itch”? It started out small and mild, so I scratched it slowly and softly; by creating a Facebook group called Bad Moms We Know to exchange ideas and support with other moms from a comedic standpoint. I mentally felt ready and open for something more, and beyond. More and beyond babies, diapers, poop, and play time. More and beyond reading only about baby development. Beyond the basic intellect required to complete the daily caretaking of my babies. I needed mental and intellectual stimulation, but not on a Full Time Basis just yet. A trailer. A teaser. So the group provided me with some thoughts and activities outside of my babies. Effects of that drug lasted a while, about a month or two, until the “itch” intensified.
Still on Child Care Leave which by the 7th month felt overdue to end in retrospect, I began pacing, searching, assigning myself work to do. Except I wasn’t officially back at work yet, believing I needed more time, but my emotions and behavior was pointing otherwise. I was excitedly thinking about certain professional goals that I’ve been sitting on for years. A wave of new confidence pulsed through me and one sleepless night, I wrote several articles on topics in my professional field of Mental Health while my babies were sleeping.
It felt great!
Then I couldn’t stop. As excited as I was to watch my babies develop and achieve milestones, was as excited as I was to work on my own thing during their naps which I eagerly anticipated. Instead of also taking naps myself! Which I did the first several months and which my family strongly endorsed in worry of me.
The “itch” was out of control. I started recording videos and audios and writing more articles, finally combining my passion for writing and expression with my knowledge and expertise in mental health, illness, and therapy.
It was becoming clear. I am ready. Ready mentally to have a degree of separation from my dear babies and able to put energy, thought, and time into other activities without feeling any guilt or shame. In fact, it felt relieving. And reinvigorating. To those of you reading and relating to the “itch”, the nature of yours may be different depending on your careers, professional aspirations, goals, and hobbies.
My first day back at compensated work, about 10 months post-partum, I felt good and relieved. There were no tears. No painful missing of my babies. No worry. Granted I knew they were in good hands but that still does not stop some mommies from worrying. And most importantly there was no guilt about these positive feelings; I owned them. I was now that woman embarking on my journey to balance work and mothering and it was certainly not going to be easy. I was busier than ever, and also more motivated than ever to pursue personal/professional aspirations! Such timing I think, like I couldn’t pursue this BC? (Before Children) I guess not, as the motivation was not there.
I realized that several months before I actually returned to work, I was ready. Readiness defined as being emotionally, mentally, and physically able and wanting to spend time on activities and tasks outside of caring for your baby(s). And it is simply channeled to compensated work, but signs of this can be seen while still at home as I experienced. And it came natural without any outside push.
Every mom’s experience is so incredibly special, unique, and different. Hopefully we have more matched returns to work, where the timing of financial need matches the moms mental and emotional readiness, and more “itches” being scratched in healthy and successful ways.
Author: Aleksandra Gold, LCSW