The idea of going back to work seemed impossible. But the idea of not going back to work seemed impossible, too.
It’s one hell of an inner dog fight.
Is it “I am woman hear me roar,” if I put a career on hold for the new baby love of my life? Or is it, “I am woman hear me roar,” if I continue my career and put my child in day care?
I once texted a dear friend who went back to work and put her child in day care at 12 weeks, “I don’t know how you did it. You are much stronger than I.” Her reply was, “I share the same sentiments with you, as you’ve been home for seven months. I don’t know how you did that, you are much stronger than I!”
It’s a toss up. There are fantastic feminine qualities required for both life decisions.
I am lucky, Prudential offers six months of parental leave (for mothers and fathers). I initially thought I would head back to work after about three months, but when that time came and I had my mother over to watch the babe downstairs (for me to practice separation), while I could do some work upstairs, I found myself crying instead of working. I was back downstairs in less than 15 minutes, and I extended my leave.
I also came to terms with the fact that as our nation strives for better maternity leave laws, it would only be right for my daughter, myself and the principle of the subject to take advantage of the generous leave my company offered, albeit unpaid. It was time worth taking.
The hardest part of going back to work, for me, became finding great care. I visited many day cares in the the Syracuse area, and with each visit I left sick to my stomach.
As a first time mother, I knew that I would be over sensitive to everything that I would see during these visits, but I was not prepared for what I personally experienced. Teachers texting while “watching” toddlers, the look of misery on their faces, the harsh ways they rocked the babies, the filthy toys, the blankets over crying infants heads.
My adrenaline would start pumping with each tour. And the more centers I visited, the more likely I would be staying home. The more I checked the violations on the NY State Office of Child and Family Services website, the more likely I would be staying home. My husband and I agreed that I would find three finalists and he would visit those three with me. But I had to weed through the horror.
Once I found the teachers I liked (scratch that, the teachers I LOVED), the whole process really opened up for us.
We enrolled our daughter in the program one month before I would return to work, to help the both of us transition. Although she would take a bottle from mom, dad and grandma, she initially wouldn’t take a bottle at day care. I was glad that we had carved out time to work it out. I provided a bunch of one ounce pumped bottles for the teachers to offer periodically through out the day, and if she didn’t accept them over a four hour span, they would call me and I would come and nurse her or feed her the bottle with the teachers there with me. They also swaddled her, and she ended up taking the bottles within a couple of weeks!
Even though we had a one month head start, as my official return to work approached I still felt nervous. I would still cry. The newness and unknown was cutting hard to the core.
My husband and I questioned the idea of day care as we dropped off the registration form and check. Not because we doubted the center, but because it was a huge unknown. Were we doing the right thing? Wouldn’t I be the best care taker as her mother?
But as we have walked in and out of “school” as I call it, for the last three months, as the teachers have earned our trust and hers, the more and more I really, truly believe keeping her home would be the disservice.
I see that she loves it. At 9.5 months old, it’s clear to me that she loves her teachers. She reaches out to them. (The first time she reached out, I won’t lie, I cried in my car – but that’s really a great sign from a baby who is too young to communicate with words).
Her tiny friends in class crawl up to us at the door to greet us and they wave hello and goodbye as they learn those skills. She is already experiencing community, and she is understanding how she fits into her surroundings every day. There are a few kids in her class who are walking. She is standing and balancing, and my hope is that their example will inspire her to walk soon! She is learning social skills and making friends, and she is learning to be away from mom and dad.
And I don’t feel guilty like I initially did. I feel proud. Her daycare is a great place, we LOVE her teachers, and she is developing far beyond anything that I could create or manufacture for her at home.
If you are in the same boxing ring with that same inner dog fight — to work or not to work, my best advice is to simply try it.
That was our agreement. We would try it out and just see how things go, and with each baby step that we have taken in this process, we are finding a true peace with the current arrangement.
I never thought we would be content with a day care situation — but here we are … and should this change, we will, too!