So tomorrow my maternity leave officially ends, and I go back to work. I have been very fortunate (by this country's standards at least) to have 14 weeks of leave (granted a large chunk of those weeks were unpaid and my only official paid leave was 4 weeks at 60% of my salary, but that's a rant for another time). I have friends who get much less in the way of time off. So I am so grateful for these last three months, for being able to devote this time to my daughter and my daughter only, to be able to get my feet beneath me and feel like I'm at least somewhat close to a routine with the baby before going back to work.
Going back to work is a good thing. The rational part of my brain knows that. As a nurse it's so important to actually practice your profession if you want to keep up with it. It will be good to have days around other adults and be able to talk about adult things and not focus so much of my mental energy on naps and diapers and tummy time. It will be good for my daughter to learn to go long periods of time without mama. It will be good for my family's bank account to have a second income again.
And I'm also lucky to only go back part time. I know what a gift that is. I have a profession that makes going part time very feasible. I am in a financial situation where that is possible as well. All of those things are a blessing.
And yet, in spite of all of this, I am terrified. And because writing always helps me work through things, I thought I would list what scares me the most, pull the metaphorical boogey men out of the closet into the light so that they aren't quite so scary. So in no particular reason, here's what scares me about going back to work:
1. My baby will cry all day long. I know this is unlikely. I know that my mom and husband (the two people who will be watching the baby when I work for at least the near future) can handle it and make her happy. And yet I have a deep and irrational fear that my baby will scream for 14 hours straight while I'm gone. Can any other working moms relate to this? Am I just being neurotic? Is it possible for a baby to even physically cry that long? (actually I don't want to know the answer to that)
2. My baby will be perfectly happy all day long. So this one only scares me a little and only the egocentric part of my mom brain. But what if my daughter could care less that her mom is gone all day? I know she doesn't have object permanence so in her little brain I cease to exist when out of sight. But a little selfish part of me wants her to miss mom, not to the point of screaming all day, but maybe just a little wistful look now and again toward the door. I think this will be even more relevant when she is older and has the brain power to understand that I am a separate person from her capable of leaving. It's a weird dichotomy, to desperately want your baby to be happy away from you, but also to be fearful of what it means if your baby is perfectly happy away from me. I think these are the kinds of things that drive working moms slowly insane.
3. My baby will refuse to take a bottle. This is actually the biggest fear I have. Currently baby is in the midst of an epic Bottle Strike. She used to take bottles without a problem (I started introducing an occasional bottle around 3-4 weeks because all of the experts said so and she always took them happily), but for the last 3 weeks she has absolutely refused to take a bottle, from me, from my husband, from my mom. She has refused to take them in the car, out in public, and in the house. She has refused to take them even when I've been out of the house. I have literally tried almost every brand of bottle that exists. I have tried breastmilk in the bottle, different kinds of formula. She looks at me like I am trying to poison her and spits out anything that dribbles into her mouth. I am horrified at the thought of her going 14 hours tomorrow without eating. I am horrified by the kind of mood that will put her in for my mom. The whole thing is just slowly eating away at my soul right now, and I don't think I will feel better until I hear she successfully takes a bottle. The alternative will be my mom driving 25 minutes to the hospital so I can breastfeed her at work. And that's not a good alternative for anyone. Do any working moms out there have any tips/suggestions/things that worked for them? I am in desperate need of advice on this one.
4. I will not be able to find the time to pump and my boobs will explode. On a good day as a nurse you carve out time for a 30 minute lunch break. The thought of having to find time (as well as get my coworkers to watch my patients) 2-3x during a shift for the time it takes to pump seems impossible right now. I know legally this is my right. But that doesn't mean that my patients are going to cooperate and all be okay and stable enough for me to leave the floor for that length of time. But if I don't pump for 12 hours then I will be a soaking mess so that's not exactly great either.
5. I won't be able to go to a private place to pump, and I will have to be a cow in front of coworkers. The hospital has lactation rooms but only a couple and not on my floor. I have also heard they get full. Some of my coworkers use our break room, which is just not something I am even remotely comfortable with. Don't get me wrong. I would breastfeed in public if necessary, but pumping is a completely different beast. It is really hard to stay covered. There is a lot of awkward noise involved. You have tubes and bottles hanging off of you instead of a sweet little baby. It is just not something that is good for public view. I don't even really like to do it in front of my own husband. And I know I couldn't relax if I was in a room where other people could walk in, and if you don't relax while pumping you get zero in the way of milk (I learned this when trying to pump in the ER room when Ryley was in the hospital a few weeks ago, it had been like 8 hours since I pumped and I got nada out). It honestly sucks to even have this dilemma. I think large workplaces with large numbers of young female workers should have enough convenient and private rooms for pumping to accommodate all of their employees. But currently this is not the world we live in.
6. I will have forgotten how to be a nurse. In nurse years 3 months is a LONG time. I am so scared that I have forgotten all of my skills and will feel like a new grad again. Only without the lengthy orientation period. It will be GO from the second I walk in tomorrow and there is no learning curve going back.
7. I will miss my baby all day long. I know this one is going to happen, but I am scared that it will be more than just missing her. I am scared that I will ache for her in a way that makes focusing on work impossible. I know all working moms have to deal with this, but it is incredibly hard to think of spending this much time away from her after being with her almost constantly these last 14 weeks.
8. That I will be too happy away from her. What if the opposite is true and I am too thrilled to be away from my baby for the day? Am I a bad mom if I'm happy to have that time apart, to talk to other adults and use my brain for work instead of baby things?
9. That I won't be able to do it all. I've managed to get on a pretty good system with the baby where I can watch her, keep the house clean (even to the pretty type A standards I have), do the errands, make dinners, take care of the dogs. And I'm afraid going back to work, even part time, will just throw a big monkey wrench into the whole system. I know myself. I'm still going to feel the pressure to be a perfect "stay at home mom" even when I'm working part time. I'm going to feel guilty if the house gets messy and the dishes pile up. I have a really hard time letting that stuff go. But I know on my days off I'm not going to always have the energy or desire to be Susie Homemaker.
10. Night shifts. These won't happen until next month, but I feel a deep dread when I think of working nights. A lot of this has to do with the fact that we are still co-sleeping. Okay all of it has to do with that. Honesty this one is just going to terrify me until we get the baby sleeping in her crib, which may or may not happen before I work my first night. If we haven't gotten there by that point, we'll have to figure something out. Or more precisely my husband will have to figure something out. Either that or we will all three be up all night.
So there they are, all of my biggest fears laid out on the table. I think after a couple of weeks back at work, many of these fears will be gone. Everyone will get into a routine. The baby will learn how to take a bottle again. Things will fall into a new normal. And of course some of these fears I'm sure will never go away. I don't think there is anything easy about being a working mom. I think it's the right choice for a lot of people. I think a lot of women, even if given the option to stay home, wouldn't choose that for themselves. And thank goodness we live in a society now where they don't have to. I hope it's the right choice for me. It is the right choice for this moment in our lives. I know only time will tell if it continues to be the right thing.
I'll do it the way so many other women have done it. And once I get through that first day back, something tells me it will all feel a little less impossible.
Plus I really am looking forward to a lot, to seeing my coworkers again, to using my brain, to being a good nurse for my patients in the way I had good nurses in my two brushes with hospital life in the past few months. I know deep down I think, that despite these fears, everything will be okay.
I'm a thirty-something mom of two, wife, pediatric RN, and writer with a passion for all the big and little things in life.