No one told me the dirty little secret about becoming a mother ... that I would never feel the same about work.
“So, we need to talk when you have a moment,” my boss started, leaning on the doorway to my office. I was trying hard to figure out what I'd done wrong, when she continued, “I need to know: How soon will you be returning to work after the baby is born? Do I need to find someone to replace you?”
I breathed a sigh of relief that I wasn't in trouble and confidently told my boss not to worry. I'd be back in six weeks, maybe less. The thought of spending six weeks off work, at home, with a baby was far more intimidating to me than even the thought of labor. I was still panicking at the thought of becoming something I'd never planned for: a mother. For me, the suggestion of becoming at stay-at-home mother was too bizarre to even be considered.
A few of the older women I worked with had already asked me the same kinds of questions. They seemed surprised that I found it so natural and so easy to decide that I wanted to go back to work after my baby's birth. Through the conversations we had, they encouraged me to reconsider — to at least be home with my child while she was young.
I dismissed their concerns and attitudes as throwbacks to a different generation. Do any of these people know what year it is? I thought. Get real! We're not in the 1950s anymore. Of course I'm coming back to work.
Even at my large, nondenominational church, only a few women stayed home with their children full time. And there was an excellent church daycare where I could leave my baby. The workers at the daycare center, all friends of mine, were excited about the day when my daughter would spend her days with them. The daycare was on my way to work, and everything seemed to line up perfectly.
Over lunch, one of my co-workers, a woman in her late 50s, sweetly suggested, “You know, I don't think you've considered that you may feel differently about all of this after that baby is born.”
“Nancy, I appreciate your concern,” I said, “but I hardly see how giving birth is going to change my views. The housewife thing has never been part of my plans, and I don't foresee those plans changing in a few months.”
“You never know ... ” she said, smiling.
* * *
It was the look on her face, her smile, her tone of voice, and those words, “You never know ... ” that played in my head months later when my boss called to find out the exact day I'd be back to work.
It had been four weeks since I had given birth to my daughter, and I was struggling to figure out just how I was supposed to hand someone my precious baby and spend my first day back at work without her. I hated to admit it, but Nancy was right. Somehow giving birth did change the way I felt about having children, motherhood and my career.
I like to think of this as one of those dirty little secrets no one tells you about. At least in my case, Nancy tried to warn me, but that was only after I was pregnant. In all my years of formal education, not once did anyone mention the attitude changes motherhood brings to many women, or the instant change in priorities some women experience.
Growing up, the messages I received from every direction, including the media, parents, friends, family, teachers at school and my college professors were focused on career life and seeking fulfillment through work. Leaving your child, even a baby, in the care of others each day while you continue on with your career was something I always viewed as perfectly natural and normal.
And why wouldn't it be? Why should a woman sacrifice her career because she became a mother? We don't ask that of men, right?
The fact is, though, my husband didn't change as much as I did after our child was born. I found myself becoming more maternal, and I desired to be with my child more than I thought I would. In contrast, my husband admitted to me that for the first time in his life, he found himself becoming alarmed that he married a woman with a better job than his and felt more driven to provide for his growing family. Now, finding a better job that could support us — potentially without my income — seemed more important to him.
For the first time in my life, I realized that maybe that old-fashioned idea that men and women are wired differently is true. Up until that point, I was dismissive of the whole concept. My sudden change in feelings didn't make sense to me. I wasn't prepared for any of this because I really didn't think of the “stay home or not” question as an issue until it was too late to change plans.
Perhaps the most surprising thing among the rush of emotions I felt when my daughter came into the world was a new, overwhelming protective instinct. I had always been a pacifist, but I looked down at that sweet little baby, and I knew that I would be willing to kill or die for her. The thought scared me because I'd never felt that way about anyone or anything before.
Immediately after giving birth, I held the baby and wouldn't let anyone else take her, to the point that the midwife and nurses didn't know whether it was a boy or girl for at least 10 minutes. How on earth was I supposed to leave this baby with babysitters?
Eventually, I did return to work, part time, arranging my schedule so that my husband was home with our daughter during the hours I was at work. Because we had not prepared for a life without my income, it took a few years of part-time work before I was able to be home full time with my daughter, and eventually my other children.
As a professional writer and graphic artist, I have an advantage. I can earn income from home by freelancing. Eventually I was able to build a home business to make up for some of the lost income.
Still, despite the sudden urge to be home with my children, my new life as a housewife wasn't without its adjustments and struggles. I was relieved to be able to make part-time arrangements, but I still needed to sort through the ins and outs of my new career as a stay-at-home mom after spending years preparing for a career as a graphic designer.
We were forced to live on a tighter budget, clip coupons and shop for discounts. And I needed to learn to manage a day that didn't have an external schedule imposed on it, devoid of adult conversation and the intellectual stimulation I was accustomed to.
As I worked one Sunday morning in the church nursery with another mom with a new baby, she turned to me and said, “I'm envious that you get to stay home with your children. I can't believe how much I regret the decisions we made financially, thinking I'd always want to be working full time. I never realized how hard it would be, but I know I have to keep working.”
I know the feeling, and I believe many women who have spent their adult lives building careers know it too. The time to prepare to stay home with your children is long before those feelings hit after you become a mother.
Most of my friends and I, having found ourselves in similar situations, agree — the best course of action for any young woman who wants to keep her options open is to plan ahead financially for the possibility of being a single-income household. Doing this before you are even married will give you an even greater range of choices later on, should you, also, have a change of heart.
Copyright 2010 Kimberly Eddy. All rights reserved. International copyright secured.