My first day back at the office was surreal.
The last four months had been a blur of euphoria mixed with anxiety, diapers and spit up, and non-stop questions about every step in this parenting business. My heart had been filled to the brim with joy and I’ve sobbed uncontrollably, crippled by self-doubt and insecurity. Since the moment I found out I was pregnant, I had begun this transformative journey but nothing really prepared me for the way life would be flipped upside down when my tiny human arrived. How I’d spend every hour wondering whether she was healthy, happy, stimulated enough, rested enough. How days would go by where I couldn’t leave the house and the cabin fever would drive me insane. How happy I could be to hear her laugh for the first time. How excited I would get to see her wiggle with delight each time I picked her up in the morning.
Then I went back to the office and there, life had gone on just as before. And I felt oddly disconnected. When I became a mom I found I’d developed a unique bond with other mothers. I could strike up a conversation with any mom at a party or restaurant or grocery store and we’d find common ground over diaper brands and sleepless nights. In the same way I had suddenly become somewhat separated from people who hadn’t had kids yet because no matter how much time you’ve spent baby sitting, you don’t understand motherhood until you’re there. My co-workers are all twenty-somethings figuring out life as young professionals, and so while they would enquire after my baby and coo at her cute pictures, I also got the feeling they’d not be that keen to hear me go on for hours about how she was learning to roll over. I mean, I get it.
So there I was, sitting at my desk, scrolling through pictures of my baby. I was suppose to get back to work, only I had nothing to do. I had been out of the office for so many months and all my tasks had been delegated, so I wasn’t sure where I was suppose to slot in. Meanwhile at home I had trained our full-time nanny to take over my day-to-day mom duties, and I didn’t want to interfere there either.
It was the strangest no-mans land.
Eventually though, I have found a new normal. The first day back made me feel a bit, well, unsettled. And then I went back to the office the second day. And then the third. And one day I was busy doing research for an article and I became so immersed in the task that I actually forgot to think about my baby for a few hours. It was so good to set my mind on a task that had nothing to do with sleep training or feeding schedules; to challenge my mind and stretch my skills.
And yes, there’s always this gnawing mom-guilt at the back of my mind. Is it okay to selfishly enjoy this time away from my baby? Is it okay if I don’t want to rush home to feed her? Or if I’m excited to head out to the office in the mornings? I looked forward to being away from my four month old. Does that make me a bad mother?
Then again, some days I wake up and wish I could spend all day with her, just staring at her staring at her hands and feet, learning to roll over, shoving everything within reach into her mouth. Being away from her feels like someone has scooped out my insides. There’s this hollow feeling in my tummy where she use to grow. I miss her when we sleep. I can’t wait for her to wake up – even if it’s 5am in the morning – so that I can hug her body tight against mine and finally feel complete.
There is no clarity at the end of this article because I don’t think there is ever a clear answer to these questions. But I do think that it’s okay to want a life beyond motherhood (by the way, I also think it’s okay to choose life as a SAHM). I believe that if I am happy and fulfilled as a person, I will be a better mother. I don’t think being a mom has to consume us completely. I am me first. I am also a wife. I am also a friend.
And yes, within all of this, I am always a mother.
So there is life before having a baby, and there is life after. And no, nothing will ever be the same again.