I’ve been back at work full time for five months now, which is a full month longer than the end-to-end dates of my non-maternity-maternity leave. And it all seems so long ago. We’ve pretty much got our morning routine down now (you know, except when we….don’t) and I can barely remember those days where 3 a.m. to 3 p.m. was just a long, dark blur.
When did she stop sleeping on my chest on the couch? When did we switch from the tiny bottles to the big ones? Let’s try to remember….
I took leave from work in three distinct segments, with 2-3 weeks at work in between each. As a result, I had three very distinct experiences that stand totally apart in my memory. Here’s how it breaks down:
Part I: The Glorious Fog
Dates: January 14-February 6
Weather: Who knows? I literally didn’t go outside for days. Actually, it was shockingly mild. On the mid-January day that we brought her home, we went for a long walk through the park in lightweight jackets.
What we did: Slept, ate, climbed the stairs with a crying babe, napped on the couch, got up a lot at night
What we watched: Friends. Antiques Roadshow. Chopped.
What I wore: Pajamas
The best part: Our daughter was born! And came home with us! Holy shit!
The worst part: Medical tests and hospitals. Her newborn screening turned up some scary genetic abnormalities, which–since her genes aren’t our genes–we had no way of knowing about beforehand. And since she was born far from our local hospital, everything from the parking garage to the doctor was brand new and strange. Everything turned out OK–and we gained some information that will be vital for us and for her to know in the future. But it was a terrifying turn in weeks 1-3 of her life.
What I remember: Sitting in the dark, rocking, singing, snuggling in the middle of the night. And that glorious moment where she would go *back* to sleep at 6 or 7 a.m. and I would too. Bed never felt so good.
Part II: Getting through the days
Dates: February 23-March 20
Weather: Wretched. Freezing. Windy. Icy.
What we did: Dance parties. Attempts at tummy time.
What we watched: Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries
The best part: Wearing her. A LOT. Smiles. Listening to lots and lots of Disney music. Friends came to visit us during the day and we pretended to be Ladies Who Lunch.
The worst part: Dealing alone with the dog/baby combo. The dog consistently needed to be taken out in a blizzard right when the baby was hungriest/tiredest/crankiest–and then would refuse to do her business. Too much snow to use a stroller and icy sidewalks made it SO dangerous to wear her and tromp around…but what were my options? I remember one day trudging through shin deep snow (which means the dog was up to her shoulders and could not comfortably relieve herself), cutting wind, baby was wailing, I was crying, the tears were freezing to our faces….somehow these moments pass. In, like, 5-10 minutes, shockingly enough. But right then and there? You really feel like you’re going to be in the snow with an anxious dog and a screaming baby for all of eternity.
What I remember: Our first girls-only road trip to visit my family! She did great in the car, I got to introduce her to so many of the most important people in my life, and this was my first experience with parenting “in the wild,” that is, outside of my house, without all of my stuff, amenities, etc. The first time she slept through the night (in the baby sense of 5-6 hours continuous sleep) was on this trip.
Part III: A Heart Divided
Dates: April 13-May 1
Weather: Finally starting to turn! Walking the dog suddenly becomes a pleasant activity instead of the absolute worst part of every day.
What we did: Napped. Worked.
The best part: Spring! Being able to go outside without it taking 10 hours to bundle up.
The worst part: This was a hard stage for me, baby-wise. We were well beyond the newborn novelty, but she still couldn’t really do *anything*. Smiling, yes, yay! But still needed a LOT of physical support at all times. Not yet really even grasping or moving toys or anything, which seems crazy now! And the newborn mewling had escalated to full on rage wailing, which was EXHAUSTING. I was ready to get back to work (as described below) and while I tried to treasure these moments with her–I knew they were running out!–but I also had a lot of other stuff on my mind. I was fairly anxious and frantic. I had some heartbreaking moments where I thought, “shit, I am not cut out to be a full-time parent!” which turned into lots of valuable and necessary thinking about the difference between parenting and round-the-clock-infant-care-giving: two entirely different things which necessarily overlap, really, for only a few months out of whole lives.
What I remember: Honestly? I remember working. I worked a lot in this stage. There were deadlines, there were phone conferences. I went into the office for a couple of meetings and I took a lot of phone calls at home and the babe sat in on a few Skype conferences with me. Then she started taking fairly consistent, substantial afternoon naps (hey afternoon naps? What happened to you? Where did you go?), and I would mostly work through these. For a couple of these weeks I wound up claiming only half days of vacation time because I was seriously working steadily for so many hours–sometimes with more productive results than if I’d spent the whole day in the office. It’s one thing to check email, but I was not going to take full vacation days on days where I spent 4-5 hours working.
And now? I feel lucky and thankful to have the arrangement that we do. I do wish that during the week I could spend more than 1-2 hours with her per day. It makes the mornings and evenings both precious and hectic. And there are sad moments where I realize I don’t really *know* her day-to-day habits and preferences as well as I could? should? would? But we could have things a lot worse than consistent 8:30-ish a.m.-5 p.m. hours and a <10 mile commute. She loves her daycare and they love her and she’s thriving there. And we do our best to make up for lost time on the weekends–helped(?) by the fact that she barely naps during the day. There is no such thing as “having it all,” but for the style, pace, personality, priorities, and needs of our family, this comes pretty close, which is something I try never to take for granted.