So, you’re going back to work after having a baby. How are you feeling? Elated? Terrified? Wracked with guilt? Are your feelings exactly the opposite of what you expected them to be?
I can see you, brand new Mommy, on the night before your first day back at work after maternity leave. Everyone else in your house is asleep, but you are not. You can’t sleep. I see you sitting at your desk, illuminated by the soft glow of the computer. You are typing Baby’s daily schedule for the babysitter, checking it over three times to make sure that you included everything in it, because how else will the babysitter know that Baby takes one short nap and then a longer one only an hour later? How will the babysitter know that he likes to be swaddled, but with one arm out, free to touch the world?
You hear a peep then, the slightest sound from Baby’s room, and you are up like a shot, lifting Baby out of his crib, snuggling into his warmth. His eyes are closed, but he is hungry. You feed him, but you feel your heart sink as you do. Because you remember now that you only just started teaching him to take a bottle, like just just, like yesterday, and he doesn’t really know what to do with it. You should have started with the bottle a while ago so that he would be used to it by now, but you didn’t because you thought that six weeks would be lots of time. It isn’t.
It’s late right now, after midnight, and it feels like the whole world is sleeping except for you. And the later it gets, the deeper you fall into despair. How will the babysitter know all of the little things that you know about Baby? How will a babysitter recognize the difference between the cough-cough cry that means Baby is hungry and the heh-heh sound that means that Baby is uncomfortable and either too cold, too hot, or needs a diaper change?
Mommy, I see you kissing the top of Baby’s downy head, taking in his milky baby smell, that sweetest of perfumes, telling yourself that someone must be peeling onions nearby because you’re not crying, no you’re most definitely not, because you have to go work, you don’t have a choice, because things cost money and there is no such thing as a money tree, and that’s all there is to it.
But. You’re thinking again Mommy, I see; the guilt is written into the soft lines of your face. But. What if Baby laughs his first laugh when I’m not there to hear it? What if he starts crawling, and I miss it? What if Baby cries and the babysitter can’t figure out what he wants?
Baby has finally fallen asleep in your arms, and you put him back into his crib, take a moment to wonder at his long eyelashes, his impossibly smooth skin. Then you go to your closet to choose an outfit for the first day back at work, to give yourself one less thing to do in the morning. You pull out skirts and shirts and dresses, one after another, but none of them fit right only six weeks after birth, six weeks of wearing stretchy black skirts, and the baby is up again. You go to get him and he smiles at you, and that’s when you feel yourself completely unravel inside.
“You will be fine, Baby, right?” You whisper these words as you press your cheek to his rounded one. You are struck again by how soft, how new. “You will be just fine, and I will be just fine, and everything will be just fine. Right?”
Right. Yes. Listen to what I am telling you, Mommy. Everything will be just fine. Now, stop typing that schedule, because it’s already seven pages long, single spaced, and makes you sound slightly OCD. And your babysitter doesn’t need it; you chose one with lots of experience, remember?