As our apartment door closed behind me a tidal wave of guilt, sadness and pain washed over me. I could swear my three-month old daughter Emma was screaming at me as I slowly turned the key to lock the door. The air closed in around me, suffocating every breath as one foot moved in front of the other. This was not just any day; this was my first day returning to work.
Three months ago if you would have asked me how I would feel about sending my daughter to day care I probably would have said, “It’s inevitable and it will be hard, but I am sure it will be fine”; a rational, calm, and honest response coming from a soon-to-be mother hen. Well, rational seems to have flown the coop the moment that screaming child was handed to me in the delivery room. At that moment my whole world changed and my focus was no longer on right or wrong, black or white; it was only about what was best for my baby.
I truly think that is the most difficult aspect of the life of a working mother – the desire to succeed in the workplace coupled with the need to care and provide for your children. It sometimes feels as if I have been ripped into two, and my two halves are battling each other to the death. But who will succeed? On the one side you have the Hannah who still displays the characteristics that she exhibited prior to becoming Emma’s mother. That side takes on extra projects, responds to email well into the night and prioritizes her job. The other side is somewhat newer and a bit wobbly at times, but is focused solely on each new day of child rearing. This latter side runs to Emma when she awakes from her naps; marks the new obstacles that she overcomes — “Are you sitting up already?” — and looks forward to that special moment where her tiny head rests on my shoulder, knowing that I am the only place she wants to be.
For my husband, Yacov, returning to work was inevitable, and not more than a few days after Emma was born he was back in his office — accounting firms don’t appreciate personal matters during busy season. While it was not easy for him either, it seems that this battle raging inside me is visible only to fellow mothers. As I walked through the motions on that first day back in the office, I felt a sense of camaraderie with each of them. That look of understanding and a nod of the head as each welcomed me back was enough to know she felt my pain too and knew exactly what I was going through. At one point I snuck into the bathroom to look in the mirror, certain you would find all my feelings written across my forehead, but instead I just saw me. It was then that I realized they weren’t seeing my hurt or pain at not being with my child but a reflection of their own. The realization helped me walk back to my office and go on with my day.
I am not special; many others are waging the same war. It is with this knowledge that I decided that I simply must keep smiling while I wait for Emma’s day care to send me a picture, to convince me that it’s ok and she’s ok. And when other new mothers return from their leave, my nod will be one of understanding of their need to provide for their family, of acknowledgement of the difficult decision they had to make, and offering the comfort that others have gone through the same turmoil.
It seems I will forever have to balance between my two sides and forever battle between my roles as a mother and an employee; the moment Emma was born the mêlée launched, continuing past the conclusion of my maternity leave. As each workday ends I find myself bolting out the door to pick up my daughter from day care. That rush of adrenaline returns as my eyes scan the room for her. That first day as I opened the door I found her cradled in a provider’s arms with a bottle in her mouth calmly awaiting my arrival. She seemed perfectly content with her day while mine had been among my most difficult to date. Yet the gorgeous smile that spread across her face when she saw me cross the room made the day worth it, and my two sides quieted down — at least until tomorrow.