It's been 8 months since I had Taylor and 5 months since I returned back to work. I've been wanting to write this post for quite a while now, but trying to get out all of the thoughts and feelings that come with being a full-time working mama has seemed so overwhelming - and if I'm being honest, now that I am finally in a good place, I've been afraid to spend too much time reflecting on the past 8 months for fear that it might set me back. However, I think its important to talk about and I can't possibly be the only one out there who has had a ROLLER COASTER of a ride getting to 8 months postpartum as a working mama.
I suppose the best place to start is a few weeks before Taylor was even born. My husband and I were out on a walk, catching up about our day and talking about how our lives were about to change forever. Even before Taylor was born, I struggled with what felt like a big decision that had to be made - do I continue to work or do we find a way for me to be able to stay at home with him? I have been working since the day I graduated from college and have worked really hard to get where I am today - I am a Category Manager for brand that I love, making good money in the city that I grew up in and I get paid to eat ice cream multiple times a week! I know that if I left work, even for just a few years, I'd never be able to get this back. Not only that, but our family would have to make sacrifices that I'm sure we weren't even aware of or prepared for to be able to afford living on one income. We bought our house two years ago and even with both of our salaries, the mortgage is difficult to cover. There's also a feminist part of me that screams "even though the world tells you no, YOU'VE GOT THIS".
Yet somehow, I still felt overwhelmingly compelled to become a stay at home mom. Maybe it was all of the Insta-moms highlighting the best parts of it, or the frequently asked "are you going to go back to work?" (never asked of my husband, by the way), or likely, the fact that I was raised in a household where my mom was always around. I so badly wanted to have my cake and eat it too, but it seemed impossibly difficult. I don't have many examples around me of new mothers who've been able to make it work in the long-run and the mothers who have raised children while working full-time either seem extremely corporate, or like they're constantly living in a state of chaos, neither of which I feel suits me well.
What I wish I realized 8 months ago and what I still have to remind myself of daily is that the only way to make it work as a working mama is to take things one step at a time - whatever that means for you - whether its day by day, month by month, or milestone by milestone and that it is OK to feel one way one day and completely differently the next day.
Ignorance was bliss during my 3 months of maternity leave. I was able to go all-in being a mom, living in the moment, and forget about work or what came next - it was amazing! But those three months went faster than I ever could have imagined and I was plummeted back into full-time work without having had any time to reconsider my plan. Within a day, I had to completely pivot my schedule and somehow accommodate getting up earlier than I had been to get ready for work, getting Taylor dressed and ready to drive over to my in-laws, getting into work on time and fitting in a full days worth of work while having to take breaks to pump. Then, when I got home, we only had about two hours to get the dog on a walk, spend time with Taylor and get him down for bed. Within a day, I went from having 12+ hour days with my son to only 2. It was heartbreaking. I couldn't focus at work because I missed him so much and when I got home, it just felt like chaos trying to fit a whole day into two hours. I couldn't enjoy any of it and I felt like I was failing.
There were days (weeks) at work where I spent HOURS looking for $300k homes in Portland (impossible to find) and rejiggering our finances to make one income work. I'd have it all written out on a piece of paper in the back of my notebook, confident that I'd share it with my husband when I got home, only to be too embarrassed that I had wasted all this time during my work day and hadn't included him in any of my thought process. The word that best describes how I was feeling in my first few months back at work is desperate. I was desperate to get more time with my son. I was desperate to dig myself out of what felt like a never-ending, daunting routine. I was desperate to be a good mom and I couldn't find a way to fit being a working mom in with being a good mom.
What I couldn't see, was that my life had just been majorly uprooted and I didn't give myself time or space to acknowledge that and adjust to it. I don't plan to go into it deeply here, but looking back now, I also think that PPD was hitting me hard when I returned to work. So often you hear about the 'baby blues' in the first few weeks and PPD in the first few months, but it hadn't been widely socialized to me that it could hit you months after having your baby. I felt like I was living in a bubble that was quickly closing in on me and no matter how hard I tried or how much research I did, I couldn't find a way to climb out out of it and see past how I was feeling in that moment.
A few months into returning back to work, I had a meeting with one of our Directors and for the first time, I was asked point blank how I was doing. I cried.
For months, I had been struggling internally and trying my hardest to keep it all together on the outside, and within a second, all of my efforts to keep it together washed away. I felt this strange wave of relief as I honestly confessed to her that I was struggling to keep up. I had been afraid to share how I was feeling with anyone, my husband included, but she responded with so much care and understanding. I thanked her for asking me how I was doing and realized in that moment, without trying to simplify things too much, that what most new working mamas need is people genuinely asking how they're doing and opening up the door for them to acknowledge and say "i'm having a hard time".
That one question (along with other things I'd been doing) lifted the fog and allowed me to slow down and think about how I had been feeling and figure out a solution that was going to work best for me. I was feeling desperate because of what appeared to be a never-ending routine that I couldn't win at, so what I have started doing is taking my life and my feelings one month at a time. On days when I am having a hard time, I try my very best to acknowledge it, sit with it and tell myself that tomorrow is a new day. I've also really tried to bring my husband into my circle of thought. He too, has responded with so much love and care and has allowed me to feel like it is OK for me to consistently cycle through how I am feeling and that we can continue to talk about it and make plans that may either stick or dissipate as our feelings change.
I listen to the Mommies Tell All podcast and Carly offered up this quote that really resonated with me and is a constant source of relief when I'm having a hard time:
I'm working hard to support my family, I love my children just as much as I would if I were staying at home. Today I will find peace in being good enough because perfection is impossible. Everything I do serves a purpose for my family. I am the best mom for my children. I will laugh and play with my children when we are together. I will be an intentional parent and I am not comparing myself to the mothers around me. I am the perfect mother for my child. I am a positive role model for my children and I got this.
I've decided that I don't have to have it decided today whether or not I need to be a working mom or a stay at home mom and that either choice I make has no reflection on how good of a mom I am. For now, I am providing for my family financially and am doing everything I can to be the most intentional parent I can and that is absolutely good enough. I've also allowed myself the flexibility to feel completely different about all of this next month, in the coming months, or next year.
Being a new mom is tough. Whether you're adjusting to your new life as a stay at home mom or struggling to juggle work and being a mom - just know that we are stronger and braver than we often give ourselves credit for and that tomorrow is a new day. You've got this.