As I was texting with my best friend this morning regarding how she is handling her upcoming transition back to work after the birth of her first child, she expressed a bit of hesitance at returning to the working world. I can’t say that I blame her – it can definitely be a difficult transition. Surprisingly, I found myself typing, “If you can afford not to (return to work), then you should enjoy the maternity leave as long as possible. They are only little once. Says the pot. ”
I called myself the pot, because these are not words I would have even fathomed when I was in the throes of making my own decisions regarding maternity leave. Since our conversation, I’ve found myself reflecting on the difficult choices I made regarding my career when my children were still newborns. I’m still not sure I made the right decisions and the right choices. Sure, it all worked out. My children are thriving. My career is blossoming. But I’m not sure I enjoyed that time enough. Those newborn days, especially after my girls were born, are a fuzzy blur in my mind. And even the moments that I’m currently immersed in sometimes feel like they are passing me by at record speed.
When I became pregnant with Bo, I was teaching full-time at a traditional high school (next door to my best friend) and naively assumed that I’d be able to go back to full-time, traditional teaching without a hitch. However, as my pregnancy progressed, I eventually decided to return back to teaching part-time when Bo was six weeks old. There were numerous factors involved in this decision, but I felt like this was the best choice at the time.
In many ways, this ended up being a blessing. I was still able to leave the house to teach for a few hours each day and briefly escape the monotony of babydom. I enjoyed and looked forward to my work hours each day and they made the time that I was with Bo more worthwhile. I was able to enjoy the best of both worlds.
In the interest of brevity, that spring I was hired to teach online. I juggled online teaching with part-time traditional teaching and in the midst of it, my husband was promoted and we eventually moved three and half hours from my mom, my best friend, and my lovely high school. I was twenty-six weeks pregnant with my twin girls, Clara and Anna, and decided to continue teaching online. I did not take a single day off work with Clara and Anna’s birth. I was grading papers while I was in labor. And as my online career requires – there are no “off” days, including weekends.
Looking back, I can’t say that I would necessarily change anything — but I also can’t say that these were the best decisions for my sanity. Juggling twin newborns, a 22 month old, and numerous online classes with 20 hours of childcare a week wasn’t easy. I did (and still do) consider my work to be my break from the rest of my life. I work approximately 20 hours each week. For me, parenting is more difficult than my work — by far. But I can’t help but wonder — what would it have been like if I would have had six weeks off work when the girls were born – to solely focus on them and their brother without any external demands. What if I would have had 12 weeks? Or 18 weeks? Or taken a full year? Would I still have the career I have today? Would my children magically be better behaved now because they had more of their mother then? Would I remember more of those first few months?
I’ll never truly have the answers to these questions. However, my gut reaction is not to let my best friend suffer this same fate. Just because I was crazy, doesn’t mean that she has to be. She should enjoy as much time as she can and as she wants to with her new little guy. Because it’s true — they are only little once.