The day before
Will I have the same energy, drive and interest in my work? Will I sit at my desk and cry each time I glance at her 4x6 photo pinned to my cubicle wall? Will my boss provide more flexibility? Is my baby going to miss me? Will the sitter mess up my routine? These are just a few of the questions racing through my head as I prepare to return to what was once second nature -- work. Now that my daughter has entered my world, my nature is all too different. I want to run when I hear her cry, hug her when she looks upset and burst into laughter when she lets out a smile that lights up her entire face.
Mommy always knows what to say
My mother called to check on me and provide a simple set of encouraging words -- babies are resilient. I took the advice to heart and felt a little more secure about my little one's transition.
Getting out the door
I rise abruptly after snoozing several times. Dress in a button down shirt with loose slacks, keeping the look professional, and hurry to my daughter's room when I hear her wake to eat. I quickly yet delicately adjust my clothes, nurse her and re-adjust myself. Now I know to hold off on the work shirt until after I feed her. Right after our session, we throw her items in the car and make it out the door, although I'm exhausted from having been up late the night before packing her bag and gathering gadgets to place at the front door.
We drop her off giving her schedule and our phone numbers to the sitter, took a couple of pictures and get on our way. No tears! Either I'm completely at peace with her caretaker or too tired to face the reality that I'm leaving my daughter for more hours than ever before.
I arrive to work after bustling through traffic brought on by rain and I greet a colleague in the elevator. Of course he asks me, "How does it feel?" I sigh and smile, "I'm here." And then I notice a woman in the corner of the elevator who I don't know personally, but heard about through a co-worker. She had a baby a few months ago and returned to work extremely miserable. She was listening to my convo and I could see in her face that she knew exactly what I was returning from and could completely empathize with me. And I remember, so many of us women have to face this reality. Working to contribute to our household, leaving babies to the care of a trusted individual or facility. I'm not alone.
I arrive to my cube, the same space, the same office and receive a dry "Hiiii" from a co-worker who seemed to care very little that I was present. And then a co-worker, who's a friend, jumps at my presence and greets me with a joyful hug. Her welcome was far better and helped me to ease into the space again.
Others in the office asked questions or just smiled, mothers gave me the glare of compassion and some brought me up to speed with the details of work.
Making the bread
I follow up with HR to identify my designated pumping space and I'm not surprised to learn there is no such thing. After a few exchanges I receive a key to a locked and secure room. Excited? Not so much. The identified space is a storage closet. Yep, a room aligned with filing cabinets and a step stool. I eventually use it by rolling a chair into the space and turning the step stool into a table for placing my equipment. Despite how not sanitary the area must be, I could only think about the need to provide food for my child.
Working out the kinks
The dust hasn't quite settled but I made my way to the gym over my lunch break to take a walk on the treadmill. Most of my time was spent catching up with the gym regulars and honestly, who am I kidding? I'm so out of shape that anything more than a walk might've wiped me out. Now I'm back at my desk, eating lunch, checking a few of my backlogged emails and preparing for a 3 p.m. meeting. Yeah, 3 p.m. on my first day back. But you know what, I'm grateful for my job so won't complain. A few bites into my meal and outlook alerts me to prepare for the next pumping session. Didn't I just do that?! I scarf down my food, drink my cup of water, re-adjust my reminder for a later time and head back to that closet. This is a whirlwind.
I made it through the day! Well almost...
My husband picked up the baby and I came home to her sitting in his arms. She didn't seem to notice that I had left and returned and therefore greeted me with a melancholy smile. I didn't take it personal and instead was happy she was carrying on as usual. I called the sitter to find out the last time she was fed, which now I know to ask when we pick her up, and discovered that she had slept most of the day away. Well there went the schedule, out the window and in the streets.
I was soo tired but spent the remainder of the evening keeping baby girl awake with a swinging ball, a little TV, walking around the living room, wiping her down and whatever else I could do to have her burn the energy she didn't use earlier. I was determined to have her continuing to sleep through the night. After putting her down around 9 p.m. I had free time and hands -- to wash baby bottles and pack her things for the next day. My spare time is soo different now!
The extra activity worked!
My daughter slept for eight hours! Did I just type daughter? I have a daughter! It still surprises me when I think about it.
Pumping gets better
A new day and a new place to pump! A vacant office with a desk and a window facing the downtown skyline. Tomorrow I'll bring my disinfecting wipes for the dusty area. Today, I can only work around it. Two bottles filled, clean up and back to work as I hope no one realizes the extended 15-minute break and dirty pumping equipment I'm taking to the sink.
Wamp, wamp, waaamp
Things were going well until I sat in this meeting that involves a conversation about being certified in my profession. My mind tunes out the details and races with thoughts on whether or not I care about being certified, wearing a suit, attending a meeting or even being a professional woman. I pull myself together and focus on the following subject. An assignment I need to pick up again. Something on internal communications that is no longer nearly as interesting as it was before I left for leave. And my mind wanders again... will I see every assignment this way - meaningless? Will each work day feel this way -- meaningless? I place my thoughts on pause and tell myself to take things one step at a time. Just make it through, get it done and get home to baby as fast as you can.
I hadn't heard from the sitter all day so decided to call. The baby is awake. Victory! The sitter assured me she's doing fine. Cried a little but is now okay. The update left me feeling a little more connected to her. Now I can make it through the remainder of the day.
Baby is doing just fine and so am I
We pick up our daughter who is watching a Baby Einstein video with wide-opened eyes and a calm over her body. Content. Unshaken. She seems to have no idea that she and mommy will no longer spend their entire days together in the comfort of our home. As much as that reality hurts me, I'm comforted that she's doing just fine.
She's down for another night and I'm filling bottles again. This time daddy cleaned them and I can only hope he did a good job. Working as a team on such details is the only way we can balance me going back to work, so I've coupled my anal nature with flexibility.
The first couple of days weren't quite as difficult as I imagined they'd be. I have a peace that I don't understand, but will take in stride. The true challenge will come when I repeat this routine week after week and either keep this cool to stay on board or lose my marbles and get ready to jump ship.
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