Before the birth of our first child, my husband and I talked a lot about what we wanted for our family. I was working at the time and finishing a graduate degree when I got pregnant. With a final semester to go (I sat for mid-term exams six weeks after our daughter was born), the holidays descending on us and my newborn’s inability to sleep for more than two hours, I told him I couldn’t go back to my office.
“I think that’s right,” he said.
And that was it. After New Year’s, with four weeks of maternity leave left, I called and told them I wasn’t returning. It was the most freeing phone call I had ever made. I had always wanted to be a stay at home mom, had been envious of my friends whose mothers had been (mine worked), and now I was one. For the next six months I threw myself into figuring out what to feed her, how to get her to nap, what smocked dresses to pre-purchase for the next holiday, and which books to read to her before bed. That summer I spent long days at the baby pool with my mama friends. We had wine and play dates, potluck lunches before naps, and long walks with our first babies in our still-clean strollers. I played tennis, volunteered and went to baby music class. I was all in, in all ways possible.
Until I wasn’t.
Slowly the discontent began to creep in. It blurred the edges of consciousness – I couldn’t see it in front of me, but it lurked. It compounded during long weeks of rain when I was trapped in the house with a restless toddler who colored the bathroom tile with lipstick, took the shortest naps ever, and ate only macaroni and cheese. I began to compete against myself in the most inane tasks – getting the laundry folded and put away before my husband got home; making a complicated chocolate soufflé for dessert on a Tuesday, walking and walking until my daughter screamed to get out of her stroller and run.
I felt myself drowning in motherhood, unable to escape the drudgery no one had told me about, unable to hold onto myself – slipping away from the connected and challenging working world I had been a part of, losing my professional contacts, my sense of self-worth, and all of my brain cells. And the sadness began to envelop me. In retrospect, I wonder if I didn’t have some slight postpartum depression or anxiety. None of those things crossed my mind at the time – I was only vaguely aware they existed. I only knew that if I didn’t go back to work, I’d sink into an abyss and my daughter (and my marriage) would suffer for it. Work would be my lifeline.
I loved my daughter, but I did not love being a stay at home mom. And I felt horribly guilty for feeling that way. Everyone around me was (or seemed) perfectly content with staying home. Few people in my neighborhood worked after having babies. Their mothers had never worked. I had a great opportunity to stay home – and I felt terrible for being miserable. I never realized I would feel like this, back when I quit my job. It had never, ever occurred to me that becoming a mother would force me give up so much of myself. It is a great thing in some ways — I’m so much more patient and forgiving of others now. But in other ways, giving up so much of myself felt like drowning. Working helped me hold onto who I was as an individual – not just as a wife and mother, sister and daughter.
When my daughter was almost two, I found a job through a friend who offhandedly mentioned there was an opening in my field at her organization. It was relatively flexible and I would have enough vacation to be home over all the school holidays. I signed my daughter up for daycare, put on the first nice clothes I’d worn in years, and packed up diapers and lovies, and took her in. The second she realized I was leaving her she began to scream in terrified wails. They had to hold her to keep her from chasing me out the door. I will never forget her face that day. In that moment, I regretted my decision to go back to work. I regretted all my selfishness that would force her to stay the next days, weeks and months with total strangers.
And then I drove to my new office. And I began to get myself back. Eight years later, I know that going back to work has been the best decision I could have made – both for me, and my daughter. I saved myself out of love for her, so I could give her the best mom possible. And now, an additional three kids later, I am able to give all four of my children the best of myself because every day I get up and I go to work. And I will never regret that.
Meg Sacks is the mother of four – including twins. She is an office mama with 17 years of corporate communications experience and is also a contributor to Jacksonville Moms Blog. Meg attends All Saints Episcopal MOPS and she started the St. Mark’s Episcopal MOMSnext in Jacksonville.