Over a year ago, I had to tell my boss I was pregnant and would be taking a maternity leave. He was shocked. I had always been the type to say I wanted to focus on work and enjoy my single lifestyle. Announcing my pregnancy meant telling him I was a different person than I’d always claimed to be.
I really struggled with how becoming a mom would meld with who I was beforehand. I was my job. I thrived in my ability and passion for the work. I’d happily stay late; I’d come in on my day off; I felt important when I was phoned at home. That day in December when I broke the news to my boss, I held back tears as I explained that I knew I couldn’t always be that person anymore.
I felt guilty for leaving the job. I’d only been back for three months when I announced that I would be needing a mat leave. I had spent so much energy earning back my reputation (I’d left the job for a year before this for what I thought would be a better opportunity). I promised I was there to stay and would do anything to build up the programs and staff underneath me. After all this, I would know let the job and my boss (who I greatly respected) down.
As the months went along, I started to get more comfortable with the pregnancy and excited about becoming a mother. The feelings of excitement enabled the guilt to somewhat subside. I also powered through my remaining months, setting large goals for myself at work and accomplishing them all.
The first month of being a mother and not at work was easier than I thought. However, the regular emails or texts from work helped with the feeling that I was still needed. And then they cut off my email. Which felt like they cut off a part of me. I was personally hurt – even if this was work policy, I thought surely I am needed enough that they would ignore policy.
Now fortunately, sleepless nights and days filled with the cutest baby on earth helped me to push these feelings of unimportant aside. I was spending time with my parents out of town and completely out of my regular routine.
Lately, I’ve returned casually to work to supplement my income. I have to constantly calm feelings of anxiety: “have I forgotten everything?”, “am I out of touch?”, “is my temporary replacement better than me, will they want me back?”. Watching my replacement in action revs up the anxiety, while easily falling back into my role (although casual-time) has been calming my anxiety.
But last week I got to feel the opposite side of some of these emotions. My year of maternity leave seems to be zooming by all too fast. I have to return in July. Already I feel the panic of having to leave my little girl. I want to be with her. I don’t want to hand her over to someone else every day. I phoned my boss to ask him for an extension of one month. His response, “will you come back after that? or are you going to want to leave?”. I felt was being dismissed as a mother. I was no longer an equal, I was someone who was going to be more interested in my child and not in her job. Now some (or all) of this might have been my hypersensitive conscious, but I still felt like I was stuck in this awful position.
Pregnancies, maternity leaves, and parenthood are often seen as a inconvenience to work sites. And who is to blame but the mother. Somehow I’d become this same inconvenience. One I’d even mocked myself. I was torn between feeling it was my right to spend time with my daughter to feeling guilty for asking for the time in the first place.
There are so many definitions of the perfect woman, of the perfect mother. Can you be both the perfect woman and the perfect mother? Does one contradict the other? Are all those views of myself as a strong interdependent woman changing now that I have a daughter and dream of having a complete family? Even today I was told (by a stranger) that I shouldn’t be working, that I should be home cherishing my time with my daughter.
I don’t know that I’ll ever answer myself. I may be defending each side of what a woman’s role is (or at least my role). I do know that I love my daughter and am happier with her in my life than I ever remember.