The first three weeks are done. I’ve officially stepped over the threshold into the “working mum” phase of my life. It’s kind of a relief, no longer to have it looming in the future… no longer to feel panicked at how fast time is going by. No longer to wonder and worry about how it will be.
They say it helps a baby to cope with separation from the mother – to be able to go to sleep without her – if they are given an item of mum’s clothing that smells of her, to use as a comforter. Well, since I am the one with the separation anxiety, I took one of my daughter’s worn cardigans to work with me on the first day, so that I could discreetly hold it to my cheek and breathe in her scent from time to time. I left her sleeping and headed out into the dark February morning to rejoin the throngs boarding the bus into town, then the tram, then into the office, everywhere smoothly moving through its workday routine as if nothing had happened, as if I was merely waking from a very long dream.
It was a long day. By the time I stepped off the bus on my return, I was crying and my feet were running, taking me down the street to see my baby as fast as they could. She was eating her dinner and as I appeared in the kitchen doorway smiling through a tearful greeting, she looked momentarily confused, and then beamed at me. She touched my face all over with her sticky hands and I stroked her baby hair. We had a lovely few minutes… and then, for her, it was as if I’d been there all day – completely back to normal. (I was still a mess all evening!)
By the second or third evening, I wasn’t crying and by the fourth evening I didn’t even need to run down the street. It helped that I could see she was doing just great with her daddy, and that she didn’t appear to be upset with me for being gone.
But the days are still long.
The abrupt switch of focus, spending 7 and a half hours a day on something completely unrelated to my baby when I formerly could hardly snatch half an hour away, is strange and feels like a difficult thing to demand of my mind. There is a sense of dislocation in being suddenly immersed in a world that has been carrying on without me. It doesn’t help that it’s a new work area and a new team. It might be a while before I get to feel productive and satisfied. I don’t believe “baby brain” is real, but some days I am just so tired I have little confidence in what I’m doing.
I hadn’t realised that being in the office again would remind me of being pregnant. But of course! The last time I was working there I was hardly aware of anything but how pregnant I was. And it was all ahead of me – giving birth, the summer and a big period of leave with a baby I had yet to meet. I was wrapping up my work; now I’m unwrapping again and there is something quite sad about knowing that here begins the rest of my life as a person split in two. Where my little girl used to keep me company with her kicks and rolls in my big belly, now I drift around the office with a too-flat tummy and a heartache – walking wounded, as if the placenta has only just been ripped out of me.
As if to make up for this, we are having more togetherness during the night than ever before. Around a month ago she began refusing to go back in her cot after her first night waking. She will go back to sleep in our arms, but, as if by some sixth sense, knows when she’s being lowered into the cot and immediately wakes up and complains. So now me and her spend the rest of the night on a sofa bed in what was intended to be her bedroom. It’s incredibly cosy and sweet, and we both sleep just as well as we could.
She typically wakes me for her final night feed some time between 6 and 7am, after which I make sure she’s gone back to sleep, and then creep out of our little den and get dressed and out the door as soon as I can: thanks to flexitime, the earlier I get to work, the earlier I can come home.
It is exhausting getting up that early when I’ve been woken at least twice during the night. I am concerned about my ability to cope with this in the long term, unless I can somehow persuade her to give up night feeds and sleep through – which seems like a pipe dream just now.
It’s not like I can really recover much on my days off. After all, days off aren’t really days off any more, and it’s been painful adjusting my habitual expectation that a non-working day means as much sleep as I want and a chunk of time that is my own. Even though I haven’t had a day like that in nine months! – it is just another association with work, I guess.
Since her dad has now taken on the role of primary caregiver, though, there is certainly the option for me to do other things – and I have a list of jobs as long as my arm and a big drive to get them done. But I feel terribly guilty for wanting to do anything other than be with her. It feels awful that sometimes I would rather buy furniture online or research future childcare options because these things take less energy. It’s all a balancing act. I also need a bit of down time – and so here I am typing this post in a cafe while her dad has taken her with him to a band practice.
We are all surviving, I guess. And that’s a positive?