We all understand the perils of a work driven culture. It can create a high level of stress with little down time to recuperate and unwind. But it was only in recent years after I moved to the United States that I found it more difficult to create that balance. I didn’t necessarily begrudge that – I had moved to Washington state because I was a little too laid back in my British Columbian state of mind.
Don’t get me wrong. At 12, I started babysitting in my rural Canadian hometown for two dollars an hour. I’m not sure if I had much of a break from employment after that. Canada has looser laws, varying by province, to let young people work before the age of 16 (different from the U.S.)
Enter my all-consuming well-loved non-profit job here in Seattle. I could always go in for more hours – there were so many projects on the go that I was genuinely interested in starting, feeding, and completing. Several years into the dream job, I got married to my longtime love and became pregnant. Slowly but surely, I saw that a paradigm shift was coming. Duh don duh – maternity leave.
Planning for my maternity leave was much like planning for the month long vacation I took before getting pregnant. The template was laid: find people to cover my duties, write lists of all the things to pay extra attention to. It was not unlike what my twelve-year-old self saw mothers do before they left their baby in my care. And like babysitting, my replacement was going to bring my job back to me and drop it back in my lap when I was done.
“Done”. That’s what I honestly felt before I had my baby. I would take an online course or two during my “time off” and then come back to work to pick up where I left off. My work friend had returned from having her baby several months earlier and was as industrious as ever. I could do this. Sheesh, I had worked three jobs while going to college at one point.
I was to come back to work five months after the birth of my child. If I had gone with the standard three months, I would have returned in the middle of a data cycle so I would let her wrap up all her reporting. And this would give me more time to bond with my baby.
Immediately after the birth of my daughter I saw that parenthood was more intense and physically and emotionally draining than work had ever been. The “no time off” sunk in hard in those first few days, but it was easy to swallow because it was instantly more rewarding than any work project I had ever taken on. Ahem, I left the college catalogue on the counter while I breastfed, changed diapers, and napped for five months straight.
New codes were written during my maternity leave. I started to socialize. I wanted to spend time with the other pregnant women I had met during my pregnancy – we were all holding babies now and had gone through this life change together. I started to eat dinner with my husband – our schedules had always been at odds but now we could talk about our day. I walked my neighborhood almost every day and got to know our neighbors.
I had been keeping up with a high school friend on Facebook throughout our overlapping pregnancies. After our babies were born, I brought up that I would be returning to work after the holidays. She asked how I could do that when my baby was so young – marking the first time I really felt I was judged outright for a major parenting decision. I had been counting myself lucky to have had two extra months to bond with my daughter and still have my job secured. And she knew nothing of our childcare plans. I was confident in my decision to return to work even if I had fears of leaving this wonderful time with my daughter.