After almost five and a half months of maternity leave, I’m finally returning to work. I knew that this day was going to be filled with a bunch of emotions — but, despite everyone’s warnings, I couldn’t have anticipated how intensely those emotions would hit me.
Honestly, there’s a part of me that’s eager and excited to return to work. That’s the part that suffered major cabin fever while on leave and yearned for some type of routine other than nursing my baby around the clock. The part that’s looking forward to conversing with other adults about things other than cradle cap care and feeding schedules. The part that can’t wait to see my work friends and be back in the city and work on something for me, for once.
Don’t get me wrong: I recognize how lucky I’ve been to stay with my baby for as long as I have. Nearly half a year of parental leave is a rarity in the U.S. And, bottom line, I would never exchange the opportunity I had to bond with Tadashi* for anything else in the world. It’s been a whirlwind of a journey, but I know that Reggie, Tadashi, Henri, and I are all a little happier because I spent this time at home.
But I also know me. And I know that I would’ve always wanted something for myself in addition to being the best mother possible for my boy. Which is why going back to work always felt like an inevitability to me.
With that in mind, I woke up yesterday morning feeling a little anxious but mostly determined. I resolved to use my last day of maternity leave to spend some quality time with my little family (Reggie’s back on paternity leave for a month as I transition back to work) and to prepare for my first full workday. We grabbed breakfast together at a little cafe in Pleasanton and ran some last-minute errands.
But, for whatever reason, on the drive home from the post office, I suddenly felt overwhelmed with all the tasks I needed to do. Put away the Christmas presents that we left in the hallway. Empty out the fridge. Fold the basket of laundry I left in Tadashi’s room. Start another load of laundry so I have some work clothes to choose from… I assured Reggie that my anxiety was just because I had some chores I wanted to get done.
… But I immediately knew I was kidding myself when I started crying in the middle of my kitchen.
I finally admitted to Reggie (and to myself): I’m going to miss Tadashi. So much. Even though there were days where I felt like I was going to go crazy, I spent the past nearly six months of my life completely focused on my baby. And that time not only allowed me to bond with him, it also profoundly re-wired me: my whole being was intrinsically tied to my son, and I was suddenly going to be away from him for long stretches of time. How could I feel anything but sadness and guilt?
Reggie assured me that everything was going to be okay. And my parents assured me, as well, when they called me later that afternoon (because I snuck away from entertaining guests to my car in the parking garage to bawl my eyes out), that everything was going to be okay. They all reminded me: this is an opportunity for Tadashi to bond with his dad and for me to get a bit of a break.
And I know that, at the end of the day, everything will be okay.
Sure, the transition is going to be tough. I probably will struggle with getting the whole pumping at work thing down. Mom brain will probably make work conversations a bit challenging at first. And I’m 100% sure that I’ll have to sneak away to FaceTime Reggie and Tadashi and to cry — because the tears are simply inevitable.
But everything will be okay. Tadashi is in good hands. Reggie is the best life partner imaginable who will handle everything at home perfectly. My family is reassuring and understanding. My work team is supportive and empathetic.
And I’m a lot stronger than I give myself credit for.
(photos © Reggie Ballesteros)