Note: This isn't my usual travel or cultural piece, but it really hit home. Late one night after my first daughter was born, I sat down to write and this is what came out...
I used to laugh at people who said I would change my entire outlook on life when I had children. I had a career path, I wasn’t going to want to suddenly sit home and talk baby-talk. Of course I would love my children, but I would still have the same goals I always did, and I would do whatever it took to accomplish them. In today’s generation, they teach you that women can have it all—that you can have your baby, take a few weeks off, and keep right on going. I just assumed that was true.
I am someone who likes to be on the go at all times. I’ve climbed the Great Wall of China, whitewater rafted in Costa Rica, stood atop the Acropolis in Athens, rode camels in Morocco, and had hundreds of other amazing experiences in between. I need excitement—to always be focusing on my next big adventure. Before I had a baby, I never thought I would have any desire to stay at home full-time. I couldn’t picture myself home with a screaming child—changing diapers, getting spit up on, and doing piles of laundry. I joked that I would probably lose my mind on maternity leave and beg to come back to work early. Fast forward to a weekend away from having to report back to the office, and I would give almost anything for another week with my sweet little baby girl—dirty diapers and all.
It’s funny the things you think pre-kids and the things you realize post-kids. Until you have your own child, you can’t understand what the big deal is. You don’t quite get why people cry when they have to drop their child off at daycare, why someone would up and quit a lucrative career to live on a tight budget, or why some women still insist you can’t have it all.
I read an article the other day where the woman authoring it—someone who had held some pretty important positions during her career—said she finally realized that she could not have it all. When she was working 24/7, her children suffered, and when she focused on her children, her career inevitably suffered. She felt women in her generation had a problem admitting this, that they felt it would automatically set us all back to the 1950s or something. Quite frankly, I’d rather hear that truth than struggle to ‘have it all’ and wonder why I can’t do it when others act like they all can. If I've realized this in only a few short months, I don’t think it’s a secret. There are only so many hours in the day. Whether a stay at home mom or a working one, there simply aren’t enough!
I will inevitably miss out on things with my daughter while I’m at work. Maybe it will be her first word or her first steps or even her first injury. I might not be there to stare at her in amazement or clap for her accomplishments or kiss her boo-boo to make it all better. We’ll have plenty of milestones together, but I will miss things, and that makes me really sad. I think even moms who truly do want to go back to work face these same struggles and feelings of guilt.
I had no idea before I had my daughter that I would be able to stare at a baby for hours while she slept peacefully in my arms or how one little smile could brighten my entire day. I didn’t realize that the thought of someone else taking care of her would practically bring me to tears. But now when I see my baby look for her mommy, my heart breaks a little. Soon she’ll have to face a new reality—that mommy isn’t there every second of the day. I don’t know who the adjustment will be harder on, her or me!
That all being said, there are moments when I miss parts of my old life or just having time to myself. Many of these happen at about 2am when all I want to do is sleep and my little one has other ideas. There are days when I look around at 5pm and wonder what I did all day—the house is a mess, there is no dinner on the stove, and the only thing I can recall is changing a lot of diapers and feeding the baby what felt like 20 times. Somewhere in the midst of the chaos, I will eventually need to find time to do the things I love, too, because ultimately it will make me a happier, more fulfilled mom.
So now, as I head back to work, I wonder, how can I possibly do it all? How will I plan my meetings at the office around breast pumping? How will I keep up with the laundry? When won’t the house look like a disaster? How will dinner get on the table every night? When will my husband and I get a few minutes alone together? How will I possibly get enough time with my baby? The answer is: I don’t know. I don’t have all of the answers yet. I guess my staff will have to be flexible with meetings; the laundry will get done when it gets done—we can always buy more underwear; the house will go with the ever-popular "a baby lives here" decor scheme; takeout menus may invade my kitchen; date nights will have to be scheduled; and the baby and I will still have plenty of 2am wakeup calls together. Comprises will inevitably have to be made. Nothing is perfect, and nothing will ever be the same. I will do the best that I can with the understanding that I can’t quite have it all, and that's just going to have to be ok.