I’ll admit it: Before having my daughter this spring, I sporadically fantasized about staying home. During a stressful work week, I’d imagine an idealistic lifestyle of leisurely stroller walks, engaging trips to the Children’s Museum, and chunks of time for myself when the baby napped. But our household requires my income, so I began my maternity leave knowing I’d be returning to work. Secretly, I wasn’t sure I would be too happy about it.
And then I actually experienced 13 weeks at home with a baby. I wouldn’t have traded the precious bonding with my baby girl for anything in the world, but I don’t think you’ll be surprised to hear it wasn’t quite the Mormon-housewife-lifestyle-blog fantasy I’d had in mind. Toward the end of my leave, I began to feel lethargic and restless. I followed friends’ advice to get dressed and leave the house every day, but I could feel my nerves beginning to fray. The familiar shadow of depression began to cast itself over my days, its pull turning otherwise happy moments dingy and gray. I stared down at my baby and felt pure love in my heart, but my life was beginning to feel monochromatic and dull. Anyone who has spent an extended period of time at home with a baby knows the monotonous grind can knock even the perkiest person alive down a few pegs, and I quickly realized I wasn’t cut out for it.
I knew the symptoms I were experiencing weren’t severe enough to be considered postpartum depression, and both my husband and I were on high alert for signs of PPD given both my personal and family history. I haven’t experienced any bouts of depression in almost a decade, partly because I have learned how to better manage these tendencies through healthy habits like exercise, sleep, and journaling. I wasn’t clincally depressed, but I knew, in the long run, my daughter deserved a better mom than I would be able to be if I stayed home, so a working mom I became.
I’ve been back at work for three months, and there’s no doubt in my mind that it’s the right balance for our family. I’m lucky to have a really enjoyable full-time job that also allows for some flexibility. On the good days, I feel like I’m firing on all cylinders, performing well at work during the day and bringing that energy home to my family. I’m fully present with my daughter from the moment I pick her up until she goes to bed. I make time for myself and my husband, family, and friends. I have created a life in which I am thriving.
A couple weeks ago, I dropped Lyra off at daycare, a task that usually falls to my husband. I took her out of her car seat and handed her to one of the caregivers, Tiarra. Lyra broke out into a huge, cheesy grin at the sight of her, reaching her chubby arms outward to be welcomed into Tiarra’s warm embrace. A thought wandered into my mind: “I could be jealous right now. My baby is thrilled to see this person who cares for her all day long instead of her own mother.” I paused, holding up this nasty thought to see what my heart reflected back at me. Do I feel jealous? Do I wish my baby only reacted that way to me? Do I wish I was the only one who cared for her?
The honest answer is no.
My daughter feels happy. She feels safe. She feels loved. She’s loved by me, of course, and also by many, many others, and that’s okay. In fact, it’s more than okay; it’s wonderful.