Leaving for work
As the summer of 2011 came to an end, I had to face what I had been dreading for months: going back to work. We left PA at the end of August so that we’d all have two weeks to settle into a routine before I had to go into the office for the first time. If I didn’t go back, it would mean that my job protection was gone and the company would be under no obligation to take me back later.
We hadn’t given much thought to childcare at first because I had no intention of working for maybe up to two years after the birth. Then things changed and we decided it would be best for me to go back for a few weeks or months just to see how the situation would play out. D works for a company that grants paid bonding leave for the non-birth-giving parent also, but he had used up this leave in the summer to stay in PA. Fortunately we thought we could afford for him to take a few weeks without pay (under FMLA) as long as I was bringing in a paycheck. So, he would be the stay-at-home parent until about mid-October. We both hoped that my work situation would be resolved by then, and that I would be home full-time after that.
D is a great dad. He is every bit as qualified as I was to be alone with an infant, but I still worried about being away all day. I knew from my first three months with the baby just how challenging it is to be home alone all day long with no breaks and no one but Barney or Elmo to depend on for some distraction. But I also knew that neither one of them should miss this opportunity to bond.
D is also much better at getting the baby outside than I am because of the stairs. There were days when I was home alone with him that I couldn’t face the thought of climbing back up the four flights, so we just didn’t go out. D had also mastered the use of the Baby Bjorn. While the baby sling seemed totally natural to me for holding him around the house, it really isn’t great for long walks in the neighborhood. But the first time D put the Baby Bjorn on me and got the baby situated in it, I freaked out. It made me feel too claustrophobic and to make things worse, I couldn’t unstrap myself out of it at first. I practically ended up ripping if off, and that was it for me, I was never going to try it again. I see other mothers, even tiny little petite women, just breezing around the streets with their babies in a Baby Bjorn, and I’m just so impressed. I’ve even seen women with a toddler in a stroller and a newborn in the Baby Bjorn. How do they mange to get out of the house?
I was a complete bundle of nerves that morning. There were a couple of nice people left at work who I was looking forward to seeing, but only a handful. The rest of my gang had moved on to other jobs. I was going right back into the same situation that had driven me into therapy because of the stress while I was pregnant. There really wasn’t much to look forward to, except at least I wouldn’t be worried about having a miscarriage or going into premature labor because of the stress.
Finally, I couldn’t put if off anymore, and I had to kiss my baby and my husband good-bye and head to the subway. It felt completely strange to be alone, well, as alone as one can be on a packed 1 train heading downtown. By the time I got to the front of my office building, I was crying. I almost turned back, and I knew that D wouldn’t blame me. He had left the decision whether to go back or not completely up to me. Then a cab pulled up right next to me, and out jumped my friend Abbi. She was my angel that morning. She saw how upset I was and took me to the coffee shop to calm down for a few minutes and then rode up the elevator with me. I don’t think I would have made it to my desk without her. Then I got to my desk and my sweet pal Claudia had decorated it with blue storks and “It’s a Boy” posters. I felt better.
As I walked around the office that morning, it was really funny seeing the reactions. I had been gone almost 6 months, and most people had assumed I had quit or was fired or just never even missed me at all. Every time I’d get one of those looks, I’d say, “Did you see a ghost?” and laugh. I also told the sweet people who welcomed me back not to get too attached to me.
I made it through the day, and I rushed home to see my boys. I walked in the door to find D sprawled on the couch with his arms flung out to his sides. The baby was in the crook of his right arm, sleeping. D looked shattered. He had finally gotten the baby to fall asleep, and he was afraid to move. I could tell it had been a lot rougher than he had expected, but he was as determined as I was to stick it out.
Next time: I’m on vacation, but D is going to write about his month as a full-time parent
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