In what felt like the blink of an eye, I was back to work after having my second baby – a daughter we have lovingly named Andrea, a reverence to my late mom, Ann.
Now, when I say a “blink,” I mean a full 18 weeks of maternity leave. When I told people how long I was out of work with my daughter, they’d respond in a way that sparked my mom rage, career-woman shame, and my own personal vulnerability. Yeah, I “got” 18 weeks; I spent them with my pleasant, healthy, and reasonable sleeper. But I also spent them with postpartum depression, which set in swiftly after Andrea was born. I wasn’t surprised; in fact, I expected it this time, since it took me more than 5 months after the birth of my son to face the fact that something just wasn’t quite right. So, week after week, when I found myself unable to find joy, or stop the tears, or catch my breath, I knew that 12 weeks just wasn’t going to cut it.
This is when my mom guilt really began. It started when I felt “bad” telling my boss that I’d be out of work a bit longer than we expected; I felt bad every time someone said, “Wow, you’re so lucky to be gone that long,” and I felt “bad” when the date to return to work got closer and I just didn’t want to go back.
After my son was born, I was energized by the idea of going back to work. I was worried about losing momentum in my career, and I craved using the part of my brain that thrives in a fast-paced business world.
This time was different. I wanted to go back in the sense that I knew I wanted to work – but I was already feeling guilty about what my job would take away from me and my family.
The second time around, I have been hyper aware of how fleeting time is and how quickly precious moments come and go. I knew that the weekdays would fly by and I would barely see my kids. I knew that our mornings would be hectic and rushed and our evenings punctuated by strict routines. I knew that I would come home tired – feeling like I had nothing left to give to my three-year-old when he begged to play superheroes, or the patience to find empathy for him during the ever-present three-year-old power struggles. I knew I’d need to sterilize bottles and pump parts, pack lunches, and pick out my outfit for the next day to avoid the struggle of finding something that fits over the extra 12 pounds I’m still carrying. I felt severe mom guilt about all of it.
I also felt guilty for missing so much work.
I knew my colleagues were carrying a tremendous load to make up for my absence, and I knew that they were looking forward to me coming back to help ease that burden. But, if we’re being honest, I also felt guilty that I wasn’t all that excited to go back. And now that I am back, I’m overwhelmed with mom guilt. Guilt about missing my kids, guilt about missing meetings for daycare pick up, guilt about time away from my desk to pump, guilt about having to leave to pick up a sick kid, and guilt that I’m not exactly hitting the ground running.
I’m finding myself asking how exactly I’m supposed to win in this situation. How do I bring my best, most engaged and productive self to work when I also feel resentful that the work is taking the best of me from my kids? How do I figure it all out so that I’m getting the best of both worlds? How do I stop feeling “bad” about all of the things that are really out of my control? How do I stop feeling “bad” about the things that are? I really have no clue. What I do know is that I’m learning something new about myself, the person who I used to think cared only about a successful career and measured her worth in earned income.