Becoming a mother activated a tense, frayed worrier in me that I’d hardly ever seen in myself before. It didn’t help that my pregnancy was fraught with quite a few scary scenarios that left me wondering if my child and I were going to come out of the pregnancy unscathed (or at all, in my deepest fears). I had hoped those fears would be healed and become a distant memory after a beautiful, empowering, natural birth to a lusty, healthy baby. Instead, a concern of mine was gaining steam as my belly grew larger and my daughter’s due date approached. My body was not a hospitable place for a child and my pregnancy had greatly weakened me for delivery, when I would most need my strength. This fear wasn’t entirely misplaced.
A traumatic delivery left us all wounded and weak and my daughter was whisked to the NICU. The next week of my life my soul danced through stages of faith, peace, levity, black fear, panic, meltdowns, and exultation. Every bit of my body, soul, and mind were ravaged by this experience. The calm, laid-back mother I pictured myself being morphed into someone trying to keep the bile down and smile through the worry clawing at my throat. She was only in the NICU for 8 days, but there was so much uncertainty. What had gone wrong? No one was entirely sure. Would she be ok? They wouldn’t know until the relatively new form of treatment was completed in 4 days. She couldn’t eat, she couldn’t be held. I spent those days wanting nothing more than to be with her, just to have her in my arms, reunited with my body where I knew she belonged. She was torn from me when she needed me most, and my body was barely capable of sitting in the wheelchair long enough to stay by her bassinet for 20 minutes those first days. From her first days I felt like I could never get enough time with her. We are always filling the hole of that stolen first week, always trying to catch up.
I always planned on going back to work. I really love working and I also need to work to pay bills. My employer has always been incredibly understanding and accommodating of my need to be with my daughter. They allowed me to bring her into work when that was feasible, work from home, and be forgiving and flexible when I had a hard time saying goodbye in the mornings. And for the first few hours I’m at work, it’s great! I know my daughter is well-cared for and I enjoy the adult interaction. But the rest of my day is spent slowly unraveling and fraying at the edges feeling her little heart calling out to mine. I think of the look in her eyes when she sees me at the end of a long day, “Where have you been?” they say. My commute home is torture, how can I get there faster? I have precious few waking hours each weekday with my daughter and I’m desperate not to miss out on a minute.
And I know I’m not alone. I’m not the only mom mourning lost hours with my baby. I’m not the only mom with a one track mind the minute 5PM strikes, who’s making her way to her baby like the world might end if we don’t have time to laugh and cuddle and hold our babies before bedtime. Because it feels like the world will end. They are our world. We always feel like we’re making up for a deficit. On top of it we’re worn the hell out from working, and then being our best mommy-selves at home (because we have to give them the best we have in the few hours a day we have together), keeping our homes running and functional, and honestly, the impossibility of it all is ripping us to shreds. When do I take time to rest and care for my body? I already feel like I short-change my daughter during the workweek, how can I rob her of more time on the weekends?
I’m not here to propose any solutions. Sometimes I think I have answers. But truthfully, most working mothers face a brutal and inhuman reality. We’re all floundering in this unsupportive system and all we can offer each other is “me too” and “it’s so hard, I know”. But don’t think those words of empathy and encouragement are meaningless. The chorus of women saying, “me too” is my hope that we’ll find a way to quiet that unraveling worrier inside that feels we’ll never be enough.