Tomorrow I have to return to work after 14 weeks at home with my baby girl, and I don’t want to go. It’s not that I hate my job, although there are so many things about it that are incredibly hard. Rather, it’s that I want to be with her. I am not ready to leave her in someone else’s care for ten hours every day. I am not ready to think about things other than her care and our home. I am not ready to pour energy into other people’s children while some sweet girl at daycare pours her energy into my child. I’m not ready. I need more time.
In January, when I was home with my one-month-old, there were a couple of news stories about how the US has one of the worst maternity leave policies in the world. In many other countries, mothers are supported to stay at home for the first five or six months. In some countries, it’s up to a year! At my job, I had to cash in sick leave that I had saved up since I started working in 2003. BUT…I could only cash in eight weeks of leave (it would have only been six weeks if I hadn’t had a C-section!), and the rest of my leave I had to take unpaid, even though I had more days saved up that I could have used. For the last six weeks I’ve been at home, I have not received a paycheck. When I return tomorrow, my checks will be prorated for the duration of my contract, which ends in July. If I had been new to the profession or new to working for the state of Georgia, I would not have had hardly any sick days saved up and therefore would not have had any paid leave. I know several women in that position right now. When Elizabeth was born, my husband Jon was able to take two weeks paid paternity leave and then another two weeks of PTO, so he was home with us for a month and was paid for the entire time. I think that is a great perk that The Weather Channel offers. Of course it could be better, but plenty of companies have no provisions for paternity leave.
I’ve been reading Bringing Up Bebe, a book about French parenting styles compared to American parenting. In France, daycare is subsidized by the government, making it much more affordable for families. Almost every French mother works outside the home and leaves her child in fabulous, state-run childcare facilities that do not create a significant financial burden for the family. French mothers also stay home for five or six months before going back to work.
I think I would feel so much better if I didn’t have to return to work yet. I’m just not ready. She is still so tiny. And she just started smiling and cooing and squealing in the last few weeks. She locks in eye contact and gives these huge smiles that make her eyes squint, just like her mommy. She’s discovering toys and blankets that she can grasp and bring to her mouth. She is spending much more time just being pleasantly awake, compared to the 18-20 hours/day she slept in the first month or so. In the mornings, after I feed her around 6:45, we lay on the bed or on the rocker and she just kicks around and raises her arms in the air, smiling at everything she sees. She takes great naps in the morning after her first two bottles, and then most of the afternoon is spent awake, either cuddling, playing, or going for walks. She takes a shorter nap in the middle of the afternoon, usually when she’s in the stroller on a walk. The weather has been absolutely beautiful lately, so we have been spending much of the afternoon and evening outside. Her senses are on high alert outside, taking in the new sounds, smells, and sensations. Somewhere between 7:15 and 7:30, Jon and I give her a bath, a bottle, and put her to bed. After 8:15ish, we are on our own for the rest of the evening, which has been a dear and sweet time for us. Now that I have to return to work, my time with her won’t start until 5 or 5:30, which only leaves a couple of hours in the evening to spend time with her. And I can hardly speak about the evening demands of my high school assistant principal job, which come about at least once per week during the spring sports season. On those days, I will be at work until 9pm or 10pm watching other people’s kids play sports or sing in a chorus concert and only see my own daughter for a few minutes before I leave for work in the morning. I can hardly bear the thought. Tears spring from my eyes every time I think about it.
Tomorrow is going to be such a difficult day. I hope there is a fresh box of tissues in my office. I’ve already bought waterproof mascara so that I don’t look like a raccoon after crying throughout the day. I really need to focus on some positive things, like seeing friends and coworkers I’ve missed in the last 14 weeks, and interacting with the teenagers that I love. I know I’ll enjoy visiting classrooms and seeing the incredible teachers at my job inspire their students. Perhaps it will feel good to be in real clothes, although I haven’t worn pants with a waistband since July when I started wearing maternity clothes! And once that school day is over, I know that I will have joy in my heart as I drive toward my baby girl who I’ve missed the whole day long.