It has been a month since my return to work after having a baby. Usually, we ask moms about their first day back and whether it was difficult to leave their babies behind and if the drive to work was a tearful one. These questions, and others, are completely valid; while some mothers sob at the thought of being away from their little ones, others are relieved to have a break for a few hours before returning to the chaos (or calm) that is motherhood. My experience was a little different because I had to make the decision whether I would return to school (as I am a teacher) under the pandemic that is Covid-19. It was not just about leaving my baby behind for me but it was also about putting my family (husband, baby as well as my mom and brother who care for her during the day) and me at risk. Wesley and I had a tough choice to make and, after weighing up the pros and cons, we decided that returning was the best choice for our family. I will share our process and my experience in this post so please keep reading if you are interested!
My maternity leave lasted until the middle of May and I had taken unpaid leave until the end of the second term at school, giving me six months at home with my new baby. This decision was made at the end of 2019 and I had spent the duration of my pregnancy saving towards the month’s salary I would lose. It meant that I had a longer time at home with Scout but also that I would not have to return in the middle of an exam cycle with a heavy marking load. When Covid-19 struck, the school calendar changed and I was left having to decide whether I would return three weeks earlier than anticipated or take three more weeks of unpaid leave. We chose the former for a few reasons. Firstly, I would return with only one grade at school which, in hind sight, gave me a chance to adjust to being ‘out there’ again. My work place has put measures in place to help us follow protocols that make me feel safe. Secondly, I felt that it is a terrible time to throw away my income, especially when the future is as uncertain and Wes and I agreed that if the situation at schools were to become worrisome, that I would take more leave when I felt I needed it. Mostly, after evaluating the various risks at play, we had spent a lot of time in prayer and I felt an incredible sense of calm about our decision; I believe that God has been walking beside me through what has been a challenging time, despite having peace about the decision to return.
I have some good days, when I feel fine when I return from work and am happy to go on with my mommy and wife duties but I also have really bad days, when the anxiety of contracting the virus and what it would mean for my reality as a mom is almost crippling. I must say that Wesley has learnt to be supportive and that, over time, he has realised that I sometimes need a sounding board for my feelings. I am experiencing what my friend Denzil terms ‘caution fatigue’ and find that I am okay while I get ready for work in the morning but that having to put my mask on and take my sanitiser creates a sinking feeling that this is my reality, that going to work is risky. But here’s the thing: it’s the reality of many moms out there who need to support their families and supplement the household’s income. My situation is not unique and I have so much respect for every mom who has had to be brave on a daily basis. Many moms have also had to make the tough decision to send their little ones to day care centres because they have no other alternative for child care. If you asked the moms and dads around you, I am sure that they would share varied responses and anxieties around the virus but I can guarantee you that the decisions that have to be made are complex, so I want to encourage you to support the decisions that parents are making and to err on the side of caution when sharing your own fears and thoughts around what families need to do to survive (both mentally and financially). I mentioned this in a caption on Instagram, that while I recognise that working from home has its own challenges (I see it with my husband who is working harder, for longer hours, and who misses the company of his colleagues and a change of scenery) it is also a great blessing in that you are able to keep yourself safe and have peace of mind, that’s if you are still staying home and practicing social distancing. While I would love to be working from home I will admit that coming to work has been good for my mind in that I am able to step out of the pressures of motherhood for a little while, speak to others, use my brain and then return having had something else to do. Even though the stress of safety cancels out some of these pleasures it is lovely to sit down and actually complete a task, which is virtually impossible with my growing and busy baby.
So no, I did not cry on my first day back; I was too busy worrying about protecting myself against an invisible monster that has changed the way we live and has had devastating effects on the health and livelihoods of so many in our country and across the world. But I also don’t check in on Scout and spend very little time thinking about her because I not only know that she is well taken care of but because the productive and professional parts of me needed stimulating and, if you follow me on Instagram, you would have noticed that even though I am working and taking care of a baby, I have been posting quite a lot too. I am at my best when busy and having experiences outside of my home again has sparked creativity that I felt a little starved of. On most days I leave work feeling that I have accomplished something and then, being fulfilled as an individual, I am more than ready to take over and look after Scout when I get home! She is getting so much more out of me now; I look forward to playing games with her and I spend far more time cuddling her. I am more patient and am no longer waiting for the next nap so that I can do something for myself, if that makes sense. So just because she is not on my mind the entire time I am away, it does not mean that I do not miss her and, let’s face it, nothing beats the smile that says, ‘Mommy’s home!’ at the end of a day at work. So the decision to return has brought different joys to my experience as a mom and, to be honest, I am becoming more resilient as the days go by.
What I have learnt from this experience is that everyone responds to crisis in a different way. We are all in survival mode and it is okay if your mode of protection looks different to someone else’s. What we need to do is respect everyone’s way of coping, as long as their behaviour does not intentionally put others at risk. So, for me, I strip down and wash all of my clothing on a daily basis. I do not socialise with my colleagues beyond a passing chat in the corridor and I do not eat food that is shared or that I need to touch to eat while at work. At home, I sanitise our surfaces regularly, and spray under my shoes before leaving them at the front door to limit the amount of outside germs that I take in with me. These are my necessary protocols for me to feel proactive about caring for myself and my family. I am sure not to socialise with others because I feel it my responsibility not to put others at risk as I am in a building with hundreds of people, daily. But my weekends are also sweet, a time to unwind and live (almost) worry-free as I don’t need to keep up the daily routines of sanitising when we do not leave our home.
It felt really good getting this down ‘on paper’ and I hope that some of your experiences have been validated or that this post has given you some perspective into another reality. Let’s continue to take care of ourselves and our loved ones and I want to encourage you to allow yourself to feel through where you are, whether good or bad, and to be patient with yourself as you move through this new and different world.
Until my next post,