I will return to work next month. It’s been almost a year since I went on maternity leave. A year is a long time, and a short time. There’ve been days that felt like they went on for a year. Birth is hard, for babies and for the people who birth them. Some days feel like they happened only last week. I remember the days lying in my hospital room, watching the light change on the red brick wall I could see from the sash window. I remember the days where baby slept so much that I felt the fog of sleep deprivation lifting. I remember days where nothing I did seemed like the right thing.
It has been a good year, and a bad year, and an average year. I’ve felt regrets over significant things and trifles. Does going back to work make me feel guilty? The honest answer is no, not even a little bit. I am very lucky that I have the option to work part-time in a role that stretches me just enough to feel like a challenge but not so much that I feel stressed out on a regular basis. The real guilt I feel is that I’m not doing enough, because the time management skills I had before I had children seem to have disappeared.
I used to fit so much into my days. I would work, study, meet friends, continue hobbies, take holidays, relax with books. I still do most of these things but they feel fragmented now and I find it hard to focus on some things that used to come naturally. I wish I’d written more during this past year. I wish I’d pushed myself more. But what would have been the point, I wonder. And how could I or should I have done this.
I beat myself up by comparing myself to the other mothers who get so much done, or achieved so much more than I did before children came along. I wonder if the me I am now couldn’t sustain more ambition than I seem to have settled on. I wonder if an external force could have propelled me forward. I wonder if my age could turn into a motivator.
I’m not sure how I measure my success in life. Is becoming a mother a metric of success? I was lucky; I conceived easily and my children haven’t presented some of the myriad challenges other parents face. Is it having a secure job? I’m not sure; my job is part of my life but I wouldn’t be considered a wild success in the role. Is being married a success? Surely not; meeting someone you want to marry is largely down to luck and chance.
Part of me hopes being back at work will push me out of the mother identity a bit. Every time I’ve been on maternity leave my world seems to shrink a little. I have a vague sense that there should be more. Maybe there is, if I could lift the hood a little.
Baby Orchid has been ex utero for nine months, which is a milestone in my book.
Nine months ago I was enjoying newborn snuggles and the sunrise making the bricks outside my window a glorious colour and the painkillers post c section.
I’ve lost most of the baby weight, mental and physical. It was a difficult pregnancy for myriad reasons. It was worth it.
It is amazing. What’s also amazing is that since Baby Orchid made his entrance into the world abortion has become a normal part of antenatal health care.
Knowing that women who face what we might have faced had the worst happened now have options makes me happy. Every single day.
Our family is complete.
This time four weeks ago I was trying not to think about how nervous and hungry I was, and that the green surgical stockings I had to wear were just like the socks I had to wear as part of my school uniform. It feels like less and more time has passed. Baby Orchid is blooming and life with three children is generally ok.
I’m coping with less sleep deprivation than I did last time around. Baby Orchid alternates between the co-sleeper we borrowed from a friend and our bed which is thankfully king sized so not as much of a squeeze as might otherwise be the case. I’m an inherently lazy, take the easy route type of parent so breastfeeding (especially lying down) is part of that. Every time he wakes he gets fed and I doze and we both get some rest.
I feel guilty about the number of disposable nappies we’re going through. I need to sort out our cloth nappies and wipes and organise our changing baskets so we use the ones that aren’t as bad for the environment. I feel great that we’re using so many babygros and vests which have already been on at least two other babies.
It’s not all perfect, I’m feeling and looking tired. I’m getting a bit touched out by the time the evening rolls around. I’m wishing I could get in the car and drive somewhere for a change of scenery. But this stage will pass. It’s already been four weeks. Another four weeks and life will be even more normal.
I know this baby will be the last one I will ever had so the knowledge that all the firsts with him are also lasts is playing heavily on my mind. I didn’t have a particularly enjoyable pregnancy (I never do) but underneath the inconveniences of pregnancy I tried to force myself to remember that this was the last time I would do this and to lock away some positive memories.
Baby is what others would call a ‘good’ baby, especially at night. I’m wise enough at this stage to know this is very little to do with anything we’ve done and almost entirely down to him. He wakes once at night, after doing a nice stretch of sleep for a few hours, and then goes right back to sleep after not too much fussing. Last night it took me much longer to get back to sleep after feeding him because I spent too much time looking at his little face and I have to admit I didn’t even mind because I know I won’t be doing the newborn hazy phase of life ever again.
I gave birth on the 25th September and escaped from hospital five days later. I was really worried about the hospital stay this time around because the last two times I didn’t enjoy the experience at all. This time around it was pretty good though. The food was a pleasant surprise, my TV didn’t work so I was somewhat cocooned from the rolling news coverage that’s standard these days and I knew this was the last time I’d be in hospital post birth so I kind of surrendered to the whole thing.
Since getting home I’ve had a babymoon. My days are spent feeding the baby, eating, watching crappy daytime TV and sleeping. We’re very lucky that my husband gets paid paternity leave and can take the time off work to keep everything else ticking over. We managed to get out to lunch together with the baby yesterday, which was some much needed headspace away from our home.
I’m loath to mention sleep because so far we have been incredibly fortunate and baby wakes once a night for a marathon feed. We’re cosleeping and managing to get a nice few hours in between the waking, much more than we ever got with our first two children. Knowing this is the last time we’ll go through this is a bit bittersweet. I’m still coming to terms with it, to be honest.
I am a parent who works outside the home. So is my husband. We both grew up in households with parents who worked outside the home. I realised after I went back to work when my first child was 11 months old that I felt no guilt whatsoever. And I never have, not for a moment. I’m quite certain my husband doesn’t feel guilty either.
I am lucky and privileged that working outside the home is a choice I have made freely. It gives us more options as a family and I feel better as a woman, wife and parent for making this choice. I enjoy my work, I don’t feel a great passion for it, but I like having a part of my life that’s all about me.
The Constitution of Ireland has a clause which infers that my rightful place is within the home and that I contribute to the common good by my life within this home, where I sit writing this. I do not agree. My rightful place is within wherever I choose to do the most good. Sometimes that’s at home, on the days when I don’t leave this home to go to work. Sometimes that’s volunteering in my children’s school. Sometimes that’s on a march with my husband and children. Sometimes that’s my place of employment.
I don’t know if other women who work outside the home or who choose to stay at home to parent fulltime also feel no guilt. But I hope they don’t. And it is perfectly normal not to. Thankfully we’ll be having a referendum on the ‘women in the home’ clause, not as soon as I’d like. I’ll be voting to repeal it, and voting for political parties who want to ensure that every woman, be she a parent or not, or working or not, is able to make the right choices for herself, free of guilt.