It is amazing that no matter how prepared I think I am, regardless of what I think life is going to bring me, what actually awaits me around the corner is a total and complete surprise.
I delivered my third child a little over seven weeks ago. Adding her to our sweet family was the happiest of all of my life’s surprises, but my pregnancy felt long and agonizing. I was so happy to have another child, but as much as I appreciated having a healthy pregnancy, I felt physically and emotionally drained…especially in the last three weeks (little Miss decided to come over a week late!). I was happy one moment, crying the next, and trying to continue to move forward in my career, while raising a six- and ten-year old. I was ready for this pregnancy to end so I could enjoy my maternity leave, and run immediately back to work.
I love my career, and I would readily call myself professionally driven. When I found out I was pregnant with my third child, one of my first thoughts was of how the timing of the pregnancy would affect my career. I had decided our baby-having days were over, and I was fully focused on advancing in the workplace. So when I became pregnant, I was ecstatic, but also sure that my career-focus would remain strictly in place. While on maternity leave, I had planned to read professional books, listen to my Human Resource podcasts, and go to several work-related meetings. I thought I knew how I would feel. Heck, I had done this “momming” thing twice before…right???? I should know what to expect.
Don’t get me wrong, I loved my time with my first two children…but I felt very ready to return to work when the time came. I missed the challenge that my career offered me, I missed the routine…probably most of all, I missed talking to real, adult people…I had some great conversations with my tiny little tots, but they didn’t add a lot of content aside from a few giggles, gurgles and bodily gas sounds. So I thought this maternity leave would be the same. I thought I remembered how I felt and what I thought. I was wrong.
I love my job, and I am so extremely grateful to be working where I am and in the position that I am in. I know that when I return to work, I will fall right back into that excitement and passion that drive me to do what I do professionally. But in this moment, this moment only a few short weeks out from dropping my baby off and leaving her every weekday for nine plus hours….for the rest of her life…I don’t feel excited. I feel sad. The overwhelming thought that I keep having is of the first time she opens her eyes from a nap, looking to see me, and I won’t be there, and the thought gives me a tremendous guilt.
And this experience…this mix of reality, joy and heartbreak, is exactly what it is like to be a mom. I’m wondering if maybe I did have these feelings with my first two children, and much like the pain of childbirth, those memories faded with time, and all I remember is the happiness of the time with my children and the satisfaction I found in my work when I returned. Could that be? How do we forget the feelings that come with this stage in life?
I am so passionate about supporting women, whether it be in the workplace, at home, or in the community. But I must admit that I had forgotten about the difficulties of pregnancy. I had forgotten about the physical exhaustion and sickness that comes with the first trimester. About the sleepless nights in the third trimester when you can’t roll over and have to take a bathroom break every thirty minutes. About the absolute inability to think of anything but your child’s arrival in those last few weeks before baby comes. And now, about the absolute joy of having a newborn…and the pain that comes from separating yourself from them to return to life….my life outside of being Mom.
Now, after this unexpected third maternity leave, I am reminded. I am reminded of the beauty and difficulty that comes with having children…actually birthing, nursing, diapering, rocking, bathing…whispering sweet songs to, stealing midnight smiles from, holding close to your chest, living in your bubble where all that exists is you and them for just a moment…I am reminded.
In a few weeks, I will return to work. I will return to my routine of working mom. I will find joy in my work as I always have. My baby won’t remember this time we’ve had together, so she won’t even know to miss me two weeks down the road. I will provide for my family financially. I will set an example for my children of what hard work and dedication can bring them. I will soak up every free moment that I have with them after work and on weekends and vacations. But I hope not to forget this feeling I am having right now…and all of the feelings I’ve had over the past year. I hope I can use these memories to lift up and support my co-workers as they go through the same moments, that I can be a better friend and mentor because of my experiences.
It is impossible to understand the feelings that a parent experiences until you’ve walked in their shoes…and even after that, it is easy to forget and minimize these moments. But these moments matter.
As for me, I hope to enjoy every sleepy grin, every midnight feeding, every unintelligible jabber while this time slips away. I will be thankful for this time that I never expected, my third maternity leave that I never hoped for, and now could not live without.