May 17, 201309:28 AM
Living, loving, laughing, and learning in the new New Orleans
The Choices Moms Make
One of my very favorite mom blogs, askmoxie.org, has been running a fascinating poll all week called “How Do We Work?” She writes:
“It’s been a few years since we did a post like this, so it seems like it’s time for a new one. What I want to get at, through your data points, is why we make the choices we make about work and careers. There’s a popular misconception that women are stepping off the career track because they either don’t have the fighting spirit (solved by leaning in), or because men are taking 24 cents out of our purses every night while we’re asleep and we’re too tired to stop them, or because women who work are radical militant hostile feminists and women who stay at home are new-wave feminists who only wear Converse and have tattoos of quotes from Catcher in the Rye on their necks and make their own almond milk.
“In short, I think almost everything in the popular media about women/mothers working is full of crap and reduces us all. I’d like us to talk about what it’s really like. Are we actually stepping off the career track? How many of our decisions are limited and how many are choice? Please comment, whatever your work situation is and wherever you live. (Yes, being out of the paid work force is a ‘work situation.’) Your data point helps us all.”
I loved this post and all of the answers it elicited because I have been thinking so much about this recently. When I got pregnant with Ruby, I was 25. I had been working in an entry-level position at the University of Missouri Press, and I was promoted to a manager when I was about four months pregnant. I worked up until the day before my scheduled C-section, and I came back to work exactly 12 weeks later after unpaid leave. I feel guilty saying this, but I was not sorry to go back to work. Ruby was an intense, high-needs baby, and I needed a break. I needed adults to talk to, two hands to eat a sandwich or drink a cup of hot coffee and the relative silence of an office job. I also needed to feel like I was good at what I was doing – I am a huge perfectionist – and I was very good at editing jacket copy for academic books, proofing ads and coordinating mailing lists. I was an utter, miserable failure (or so I thought) at being a mom. I couldn’t keep the baby happy. I couldn’t make her sleep. I couldn’t even feed her without being soaked in baby vomit 10 minutes later because she had awful reflux. So I put the baby in a great home-based day care and went back to work. I was not guilt-free, not by a long shot, but my guilt wasn’t about not spending enough time with my baby. My guilt was about not wanting to spend time with my baby.
And then Ruby got kicked out of day care. She barely lasted a month. She was too intense, the lady said, this lady I had so carefully picked for her credentials, this lady who had won an award for being such a great day care provider. She was very sorry, she said, but Ruby was going to have to leave. My first reaction was pure mama bear defensiveness. “How dare she call my baby intense? My baby is perfect! That lady is crazy!” But as that subsided, I found a much more honest emotion underneath: relief. Sweet, gentle relief washed over me as I realized I wasn’t a bad mother after all! I was a good mother with an intense baby, a baby so intense that award-winning child care professionals couldn’t handle her for money.
A bunch of things happened after that. Most important, I started to forgive myself. Then Ruby started walking and then talking, and both of those things cheered her up immensely because she had more control over her world and could communicate in ways other than screeching. She grew out of her reflux and was able to start eating real foods without pain instead of nursing approximately 897 times a day, which was very freeing for me. We moved to New Orleans and found a fabulous day care (Kiddee Korner in Mid-City) where Ruby went from 13 months until she started pre-K at age 4, and even though they agreed that she was intense, they loved her for it.
When I had Georgia about a year ago, I was wary. I had such bad memories of Ruby’s infancy. But Georgia was great. An easy, happy baby, Georgia sleeps decently, eats well and smiles constantly. She had no trouble nursing, and she took to solid food with enthusiasm. Ruby’s early attempts to crawl and walk were met with fury and blind determination – she did both very early but with a great deal of struggle and frustration. Georgia just casually started crawling one day, neither late nor early, and seemed delighted to find that she could do it. She took two steps on Mother’s Day and then sat down on her bottom and beamed with pleasure at her cleverness.
All of this means that yes, I do leave Georgia in the care of a combination of nannies, college babysitters and my parents and my in-laws but …
OK. Full stop. Right as I was typing this, on Thursday afternoon, starting to discuss how much I’d like to stay home more with Georgia and yet how much fulfillment I get out of my work, right spang in the middle of a perfectly ordinary afternoon, my phone rang. My new babysitter, who just started on Monday, was on the other end, frantic, telling me that Georgia was choking and she had called 911. I don’t even know what, if anything, I said to my coworkers. I just know I ran out of the office and drove home as fast as I could. I am sure I got at least two camera tickets. When I pulled up, there was a fire truck outside of my house, and I ran, crying and hyperventilating, up the front stairs to find Georgia – fine, happy, pink and breathing and smiling and normal normal normal. She had coughed up whatever was choking her, and all was well again (the firemen did offer me some oxygen, though, because I was in such a state).
But jeez. After that, I never want to leave my baby ever again. Ever. Ever. Ever again. And yet I will because I have to.
Mothers are brave, no matter what choices we make. Staying home is brave. Leaving your baby with someone else is also brave. Most of the time it all works out. Today, we were lucky. I hope we always are.
And I’m sorry, but that is where I am ending this right now. I had to set the baby down to write this, and all I want right now is her in my arms forever.